Tigers have the "juice" for Bama this time around, know they belong


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Clemson plays Alabama for the National Championship next Monday night
Clemson plays Alabama for the National Championship next Monday night

Dabo Swinney’s football team is back at work, preparing for a title game rematch with Alabama next Monday night in Tampa.

The Tigers lost to Alabama in Arizona a year ago, but this time around Swinney thinks the Tigers have a little more juice.

“Well, I think offensively we're just deeper at running back. I think that last year when we came to Arizona, we had four freshmen at wideout. Renfrow was a freshman, Ray-Ray was a freshman, Trevion Thompson was a freshman, Deon (Cain) was a freshman, even though he didn't get to play in the game, so we were younger at receiver,” Swinney said on a media call Tuesday. “We did not have Mike Williams last year, and we had a true freshman at left tackle in Mitch Hyatt. I think we're just better across the board offensively. We've got more guys at running back. We're more experienced at receiver. Even though we've got a true freshman at right tackle, I think we're better up front. And then Deshaun Watson is a better player right now than he was last year.

“And then defensively, I think that we just were a little bit -- we're more consistent than we were this time last year. We were very good, a top-10 defense last year, but too many big plays, very inconsistent at times. This year we've been a much more consistent defense throughout the season, and a big part of that is, as I said earlier in this conference, is we've just had more competitive depth, which has just helped us, and I think we're healthier. Mackensie Alexander was banged up, and he was our best corner guy, and he went out early in the game. Shaq Lawson was coming off of injury, didn't really get to practice all week for the game, was able to play. So we weren't quite as healthy as we are this year, as well. That's probably the biggest differences.”

The Tigers are also healthy and have more “juice.”

“I think from the season standpoint, we had more juice than we did last year. Last year we were -- two factors: We played 10 straight, which is a huge challenge, but we were also, as I've said many times, top heavy, especially defensively,” Swinney said. “We were kind of one deep when it comes to guys that were really ready to play championship football. We had the first group, and then we were a lot of freshmen behind that. Just not a lot of depth and experience competitively, and that took a toll on us. Guys played a ton of snaps. This year, as far as the bowl, we were able to get rested up and get ready to play Oklahoma last year, and it was the same. But this year the biggest difference in our team, which is something that I saw back in camp, was we just kind of had more competitive depth.

“I felt like we were going to have more guys functionally ready to go play winning football at a high level. That's the way it's been. Right out of the gate, you lose our starting D-end in Austin Bryant, but just more guys, so Christian Wilkins is able to step up and more guys ready, and I think the experience that we had last year was huge for a bunch of these guys, Kendall Joseph was a freshman last year. So we just have more competition, and then I think the bye week was big, too, from just an overall timing standpoint in allowing us to kind of regroup and have a strong finish. But we're a healthy team, much healthier than we were this time last year, and again, we've got more depth than we had this time last year.”

The coaches have already had two sleepless nights getting ready for Alabama.

“As far as the transition and stuff, we had excellent preparation for our playoff game. That's really kind of more the bowl experience for us, as far as how we go about getting ready for that type of game. This is a different animal. Obviously we don't have as much time to prepare for this one. But the transition has been very good,” he said. “We did lose a day of prep compared to last year just because we -- last year we played on a Friday and traveled back on Saturday and coaches got to get in the office on Sunday. But we didn't get back to Clemson until after 9:00 Sunday night, so we tried to get as much work done as we could on the plane, on the flight back, so just been a long couple of nights here for us as coaches, but player-wise, got back in here yesterday and had a good start to our prep. So we'll have good work here in Clemson. We'll practice here Friday morning before we'll travel down Friday afternoon to Tampa to resume our prep.”

Swinney also said that this time around, his players know they deserve the chance to play for the title.

“They know they belong, they know they're good enough, and just maybe the emphasis on how thin the margin for error is when you get in some of these games,” he said. “You know, some games you can maybe make a few more mistakes than others and maybe you're that much better than that team and you overcome that, but in games like this, and we've had several games where you're playing really good teams, really good teams, you just don't have a lot of room for error, and I think our guys have a great appreciation for that.

“As far as last year, just they made a few more plays than we did in a highly competitive game. That was the difference.”

Alabama parted ways with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin on Monday, but Swinney said he doesn’t see it making a difference in the Crimson Tide’s play calling.

“Not really -- I guess you've got some nuances that might be a little bit different maybe from a play call or something like that, but you're not going to -- it's not like they're going to come out and run the triple option. They're going to dance with who brung 'em,” he said. “They're going to do what they do. It's just as simple as that. Maybe it would be a little bit different if they had a month to get ready, like that first game, but you've got basically a game week to prepare. You're not going to vary too far from -- and why would they? They've been really, really good. They've won 26 in a row. I don't think they're going to do much different. Like I said, there may be some little nuances here and there, but it'll be within the framework of who they are offensively, and again, why would they change.

“Nobody has stopped them. They've been incredibly successful. The quarterback has played very, very well. They've run him. They've got outstanding backs. They've got the best receivers we've seen, a great tight end. They're going to do what they do. They're going to play within the scheme of their system, and then I'm sure that the way the game goes dictates maybe how things could get called. If they get up on us, then they're going to call things a certain way if they're behind. So those are all things, in-game adjustments as you go, but as far as just the scheme of things, they'll do what they do.”


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