Swinney knew in August the Tigers had a chance to return to Playoff
|Friday, December 8, 2017, 7:55 AM- -|
ATLANTA, GA – Early last Sunday morning, as the confetti flew, and No. 1 Clemson celebrated another ACC Championship. head coach Dabo Swinney leaned over to defensive end Austin Bryant and whispered, “They didn’t think we could do it.”
Swinney knew they could do it.
They are the Tigers, a team that lost most of its offense, perhaps the best player in school history and a bevy of talent across the board. Other teams were picked to win and make a trip to this year’s College Football Playoff, but Swinney knew this team had the chance to be special.
He knew in August but wanted to see how quarterback Kelly Bryant reacted to game situations.
“I felt like in camp we had a chance, but I just had not seen our quarterback really play in any meaningful, stressful, game situations,” Swinney said Thursday night at the College Football Hall of Fame. “How is he going to respond? You try to create all that stuff in practice the best you can.”
The first big test came against Auburn. Bryant completed 19-of-29 passes for 181 yards while running for 59 more in a 14-6 victory.
“The Auburn game, knowing that we are playing a really good team and a great defense, especially, and watching how he handled the moment that was big,” Swinney said.
But that game was at home, and the next week saw the Tigers travel to Louisville. The Cardinals had momentum, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and the motive of revenge against a program they had never beaten.
All Bryant did was lead the Tigers to a 47-21 victory.
“In watching our quarterback, I really felt like I had other pieces to have a chance to win week in and week out in place,” Swinney said. “After those two games, I thought this kid has a chance to lead us.”
Swinney felt like Bryant’s early success was not only good for his confidence but for the team’s confidence in him as their new leader.
“I think he needed that early success to kind of establish himself as the leader because the guys all respected him, but in that position, you have to play well and he played two great games,” the Clemson coach said. “I think that was the confidence, early, that this team needed and we have just kind of grown throughout the year and have gotten a little bit better along the way.”