Swinney looks ahead to Gamecocks

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney met with the media on Tuesday, and his first order of business was to assure everyone that while winning the ACC Atlantic Division was great, the team moved on quickly to preparing for this Saturday’s noon kickoff against South Carolina.

"We've quickly turned the page to South Carolina,” Swinney said. “Our players have bounced back pretty good. Last night [at Monday’s practice] I thought they had good spirit and focus. Today will be a critical day from a preparation standpoint. We'll get a lot of heavy work done today. It's always fun to play the rivalry game.

“It's important to this state and these programs. Some schools, I don't know if they have a rivalry like we have here. It's a neat thing and it's fun to be a part of it. For us, it's the next game, it's the next goal. We'll prepare the same way today, tomorrow and Thursday and game-prep on Friday before traveling to Columbia. The next goal for us is to try to win our state championship, as it should be.”

The Gamecocks come into the game with a 6-5 record, having lost three straight, but Swinney South Carolina is extremely dangerous.

"Offensively, they've done a lot of different things throughout the season,” he said. “For our defense, it's a challenge. They've been very multiple. One thing that jumps out is that [quarterback Stephen] Garcia has played well for them. You can tell he's really grown from where he was last year. It'll be critical for us to get after him and affect him. He kind of makes them go. In particular we have to do a good job of keeping him in the pocket. He can go. He's fast.”

The Gamecocks rank 97th nationally in rushing offense, at just over 116 yards per game, but Swinney said stopping the run will still be critical for the Tiger defense.

"Something that's critical for us every week is to stop the run,” he said. “If they can get a run game going against us that makes it difficult. We have to do a good job against the run. They have several guys they'll run in there. That goes for us to win against the point of attack. That's a key for us in any football game. They're much improved on the offensive line.

“They've had some battles they've been in. We'll have to win up front to have a chance. They've had an open date. We'll have to prepare for the wildcat. We'll have to prepare for trick plays. After watching last week, I'm sure they took a bunch of notes. I would. They throw a lot of deep balls, so that might be a factor. Our secondary guys know that. They do this every year.”

The Gamecocks rank 17th in the nation in total defense [Clemson is 12th], and Swinney said he likes what he has seen on film.
"Defensively, their defense is really good. They were very good last year, since coach [defensive coordinator Ellis] Johnson came in there. They play hard. Their safeties are really good tacklers. Their corners are young and talented and have gotten better over the course of the season. They're very disruptive up front.

“No. 91 [Ladi Ajiboye] is a heck of a player inside. No. 40 [Eric Norwood] is all over the place and makes a lot of instinctive type of plays. And they line him up in different spots. Our kids are very familiar with them. No real surprises there. We have to win up front. We have to be able to run the ball. That makes things go for us and allows us to have some balance.”

Even though he grew up in the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, Swinney said he understands the deep feelings the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry brings out in each school’s fans.

"It's a great rivalry. It's very similar to what I grew up in. The people just do not like each other. They talk about it all year. It hasn't had the national effect as much as maybe the Alabama-Auburn game. Those two teams are in the same conference, the same division, so that's different. This game historically has not had as much effect on a national scene with rankings and championships. But make no mistake; it doesn't take a backseat to any rivalry. It's a great rivalry. It's good old-fashioned bragging rights."

Swinney was asked if he would make any decision on Saturday based on how it could possibly affect the Tigers a week later against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, and he said he could never overlook the Gamecocks.

"Nope. Not at all. It's the biggest game of the year. Why go play a game if you don't want to win? It's a chance to get our ninth win of the season. It's an opportunity to have seven wins in a row. We practice, we meet and put a lot of time into a ballgame."

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