Swinney says Tigers won despite Bryant's poor play, youth and defensive lapses


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Kelly Bryant flexes his muscles after a late touchdown
Kelly Bryant flexes his muscles after a late touchdown

Kelly Bryant played his worst game of the season, and Clemson still won. Clemson made a ton of mistakes, on the road against a ranked team, and still won. Clemson took a ton of younger players on the road against a senior-laden team, made mistakes, and still won.

It was that kind of night in Raleigh.

Head coach Dabo Swinney spoke to the media via teleconference Sunday night to discuss the win.

“What a win. Heck of a ballgame. Really proud of our team. It was an incredibly veteran team that we were taking on in N.C. State,” Swinney said. “I’m just proud of our guys in how they responded. I saw a lot of growth in our team, especially from the last road game. We did so many things better. First, we responded. We were down at halftime, just like at Syracuse, but we responded way better. The reality is when you watch the tape, we really didn’t play a great game, but we were still able to win on the road against a top-20 team. I think that’s a real sign of growth. We’ve got 36 guys that are either brand new players or guys that are having big roles for the first time in their career, and I see them growing with every lesson and every week.

“I’m encouraged by that. We really didn’t play a great game but to still win the game I think speaks to the heart of our team. It’s hard to go on the road and beat three top-20 teams. It’s the first time since 1950 because it’s really hard to do. This team has put themselves in a great position. Everybody knew what was at stake and there was no way for us to continue to have a chance to compete for the division without finding a way to win that one. Just a lot of great efforts by a lot of people and a lot of toughness. Just really proud of how they responded.”

Swinney said the game was the worst of the season for starting quarterback Kelly Bryant.

“Offensively, we did a better job with our snap count and we handled the noise. 224 yards rushing - averaging 6.4 yards a carry,” Swinney said. “We really did a good job outside of one time on third down. We were 7-of-16 on third down, 2-of-2 on fourth down, no sacks against as good of a d-line as we’ve played and only three yards in tackles for loss. Incredibly encouraged by what I saw there. Another positive is that it was Kelly’s worst game that he’s played all year, but yet he was still able to lead his team to a win and I think that’s a sign of some growth and maturity with Kelly in that he doesn’t have to play perfect to win. Really impressed with him. If I ranked the game, this would be his worst performance. I’m just proud of him. A lot of things that we can learn from the tape. Had a couple of critical penalties that could’ve cost us on some undisciplined stuff. All in all, offensively, I’m just pleased with how we were able to run the football.”

The defense didn’t play as well as Swinney would have liked but made plays when it had to.

“Defensively, it’s the most yards we’ve given up. We really didn’t play well. We had a terrible first half. Didn’t play with great details,” Swinney said. “They had 27 first downs and really had their way throwing the ball on us. That quarterback is outstanding. He is a definite pro, no question. Really disappointed with some of the details we played with - leverage on the ball, alignment, playing zone coverage and staying at home in your zone. We didn’t do a great job in the redzone.

“A lot of mistakes, but at the of the day, N.C. State had only had four turnovers in their first 35 quarters of play and we got two turnovers in the last three possessions. Proud of our defense for hanging in there. We did do a great job on third down, they were 3-of-13. The third quarter, I thought was the difference in the game. Our defense forced four punts in a row and had some big plays. Huge plays by K’Von Wallace and Ryan Carter. Two by K’von - knocking the ball away and the other on the interception to end the game. A lot of room for improvement.”

Swinney said the Tigers will now go back to work and prepare for the last three games of the regular season.

“We just go back to work. We all know what’s at stake at this week. We’re going to have play smarter and keep growing this football team. I’m proud of them,” he said. “Special teams, the punt return by Ray-Ray McCloud may have been the play of the game. Just an unbelievable effort. The pooch punt by Kelly was a huge play in the game. It gave us field position for a few drives. I thought our kickoff coverage team continues to do a great job of coverage. One of the bigger plays was on the hands team with Trevion Thompson coming up with the ball. If they get the ball with three timeouts, you’re in trouble and that was a huge play.

“We didn’t play our best game but we still found a way to win and that’s something I’m proud of and how they responded on the road better than they did last time. We’ll get back to work. We’ve got another huge challenge. We all know what Clemson and Florida State mean. There will be a championship on the line for us and for them, they’re battling for a strong finish to their season. I know we’ll get all that they’ve got. I look forward to getting back in the valley.”

On Tanner Muse playing with big cast

“He (Tanner Muse) had to have a little screw put into today. He’ll play this week with the same type of club on it. I think The Citadel week, they’ll have him in a much smaller brace.

Dexter Lawrence injury update

“He actually played really well when he played. I thought he did a great job down on the goal line. He had a guy fall on him again. He’s just banged up and battling that ankle. He got hurt against Georgia Tech and he’s trying to get it better. He’s just working through it. It’s something he’ll manage, but it’s not anything that’ll keep him from playing.”

On if he’s impressed with Alex Spence

“I’ve definitely seen some maturity. He was actually 2-for-3, but there was a timeout during one of them - I’m looking for every silver lining I can get. He’s really handled the pressure in practice. He nailed the first one. He’s better than he was the last time out on the road. He’s actually done a good job kicking off. That one was just uncharacteristic and just bad. He mis-hit it. I see his confidence growing and hopefully, that will pay off for us as we go down the stretch run.”

The status of corners Mark Fields and Marcus Edmond

"I don't know until Danny (Poole) tests them in the morning and lets me know," Swinney said about the availability of Edmond and Fields. "I would love to have them back, that's for sure. We will be ready either way."

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