WATCH: Swinney postgame press conference with Deshaun Watson, Eric Mac Lain
|Tuesday, January 12, 2016 1:20 AM- -|
DABO SWINNEY: Well, first of all, just what a year. What a year. I'm incredibly proud of our team. Obviously we wanted to win the game and we came up a little short, but I think that at least the nation saw tonight why we've been so successful. They saw the heart of our team. This is a team that just has incredible will to win and heart, and I think they gave us everything that they had. They competed. We out-gained them. I thought we physically matched up great with these guys. Really proud of that. But championship football is a game of a few plays, and that's really what this one came down to, just a few plays.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, first of all, just what a year. What a year. I'm incredibly proud of our team. Obviously we wanted to win the game and we came up a little short, but I think that at least the nation saw tonight why we've been so successful. They saw the heart of our team. This is a team that just has incredible will to win and heart, and I think they gave us everything that they had. They competed. We out-gained them. I thought we physically matched up great with these guys. Really proud of that.
But championship football is a game of a few plays, and that's really what this one came down to, just a few plays.
Give them credit for that. I want to congratulate Alabama. Obviously they've been a great champion, and again, it was a slugfest out there, and I thought that they – obviously the couple of special teams plays were huge momentum plays, but again, I'm just proud of our team because they kept playing, kept fighting all the way to the end.
But it's just truly a few plays that make the difference, but for us, you know, this is a great experience for our team against a team that represents the best, and really happy for Coach Saban. Four National Championships, I mean, that's an incredible accomplishment. It's really hard to win one, and to have won four. For them, they had a lot of adversity in the game, too. We really, I thought, hurt them in a lot of areas, but again, they hung in there and made those few plays.
But for us and our team, first time in 34 years to have an opportunity to play for the National Championship, seven years ago when I got this job, from day one I said that we would win a National Championship again. It was just a matter of when. And we've just got to go to work and build our program, and that's what we've done.
I just can't say enough about our seniors. These guys have changed Clemson forever. They finished in the top 10 three out of their four years, won a bunch of games, set all kind of records at Clemson, and again, tonight came up a little short, but give Alabama credit for that.
But there's no doubt that we will be back. It won't be 34 years before we're going to be back, I promise you that.
Our team is built to sustain success. We've got the right ingredients from a toughness standpoint, talent standpoint, and then just, again, the will to win and the culture that we have in our program.
We'll learn from this, we'll grow from it, and I appreciate our fans. I thought that the crowd was amazing tonight. I really, really appreciate our fans. My heart breaks for them, too, because, like I said, it's been a long time since we've stood on top of the mountain, but we're not quite there, but we can see it, and we'll get there.
But really love my team. We'll go back to work on Thursday and kind of regroup and get ready for 2016.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Dabo, first of all, congratulations on an outstanding season. On the onside kick, what were you so hot about on the sideline?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, we had the same play against South Carolina last year, and we caught the ball and they took it away from us, said that we didn't have an opportunity, didn't give them – no matter what, they have to have an opportunity to catch the ball. I was just arguing the call that went against us. That was really it.
Hey, great play by them. It was a great kick. First of all, he put it right in a good spot, and their kid did a great job of going and getting it. It was a huge play. But then we followed it up with a bust for a touchdown. So it was a combination of mistakes. It was one thing to give up that play but that doesn't mean you don't go out and do your job on another play. But it was a huge momentum play, but we overcame it. We came back and put ourselves in a good position there, and again, we missed the tackle on the tight end out there in great position, just don't make the play. Had a few miscues like that. Had a great situation on offense a couple times and missed a throw to Renfrow. We had a snap issue. But we just had some little miscues like that. But again, give them credit, they took advantage of all those opportunities and they created their own opportunity, as well. That was a huge, huge play in the game because I felt like we had all the momentum and were getting ready to get the ball back. We were confident in where we were, and it was a huge play.
After the Orange Bowl, you said there was no question in your mind that the guy next to you is the best player in the country. I assume today validates that in your mind?
DABO SWINNEY: No question. No doubt about it. That's an easy answer for me. He's special. He really is. Like I say, we out-gained them. We had 550 yards of offense. Really pleased with how he played. That's one of the things Coach Saban was talking to me about after the game. This guy, he's special. Again, he's got great toughness, great heart, a great mind for the game, and just made some huge plays all the way to the end. What a great throw and catch by he and Leggett at the last touchdown there.
But I'm glad he's on our team. Glad he'll be back next year. Where is this thing next year? Is it in Tampa? Is that where it's at? We'll see if we can reload and go do it again.
Dabo, what did you see on the breakdowns in coverage in the secondary that allowed Howard in particular to get open so often?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, well, we just had three busts. We just had three critical errors where we just didn't do our job.
Just talk about how special this season has been. I know you guys wanted to finish it off, but one more time about the run – 14 consecutive wins, 17 consecutive wins, and then just coming up a few points short.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, well, you can't let one game define you, and I think that's – right now all of our hearts are broken. We really wanted, obviously, to win this game and to be 15-0. Last year's national champion was 14-1. This year's national champion is 14-1. We stand toe to toe with everybody in the country. This program doesn't take a backseat to anybody. We can play with anybody. We can beat anybody, and that's a fact.
It's not just this season. This goes back for a long time now. We've won 20 something out of the last 20 something. We've been very consistent. But this year was special. It really was, because a lot of people – we're the third-youngest team in the country. We played 28 freshmen, and a lot of people, I think, didn't think we would be very good this year. We had five new linemen, four new starters in the defensive line, new kicker, punter, snapper, holder, lost Mike Williams in the first game, and yet we're 14-1 and I guess we finished No. 2. I guess that's how it works.
We had a great season, and it's something that I think it was kind of the next step for us, you know, to get to the – we needed to win our league again, and we did that. We wanted to get into the College Football Playoff, and we did that. We won it, won our playoff game, earned ourselves an opportunity to compete for the National Championship against the best team in the country in Alabama and had a chance to win it, just came up short.
I think we can take great confidence from this season. There's a lot of things we can learn, and that's what we've got to do with this.
I think win or lose, you have to continue to grow and challenge yourself to get better, and that's what we'll do. We'll go back to work and challenge ourselves and have a great off-season, great spring, finish up recruiting. We've got a bunch of guys coming back next year, and we'll have a chance to have another heck of a team.
Deshaun, if somebody would have told you before the game that you would have the offensive numbers as a team that you had, yards, points, the whole bit, would you have expected to win this game? Would you have thought there was any way you could have lost this game?
DESHAUN WATSON: Not really. I mean, going into this game, I was expecting to win. I thought we should have won. But like Coach Swinney said, there was a few plays that we didn't really capitalize on, and I missed some throws, we dropped some balls, and just had some missed miscues. Just some little things like that is going to really force yourself in a hole, and it's hard to beat a team like Alabama if you make those mistakes.
Eric, fifth-year senior, just what did this season mean to you, and going through this with these guys one last time?
ERIC MAC LAIN: It was pretty special. Obviously at the offensive line that was the question mark of the season, per se, so to do that with those bunch of slappies it was pretty fun to see them grow as players and men. Great to see this guy make great strides. Really looking forward to watching them as their careers unfold, and Clemson is going to be very special.
Deshaun, are you going to be able to kind of put aside the loss and just kind of reflect on the performance you had and a performance that showed a lot of people out there who you really are and how you can play this game?
DESHAUN WATSON: Not at all. At the end of the day, I wanted the W. All the stats doesn't really matter to me. I just wanted to get the win and do something that we haven't done in 34 years. But at the end of the day, I love my teammates, love my brothers, and you'll see us in Tampa next year, so ...
I just wanted to ask you guys what the locker room was like after the game.
ERIC MAC LAIN: Obviously pretty sad. At the end of the season comes a conclusion and not the way that you wanted to. A couple of tears here and there, but I think ultimately guys were happy to be here. I think that we gave it our all. Obviously we left it all out there. I don't know if there was too much more you could have asked from them. Kudos to Alabama for being the better team tonight, but I'm very confident that Clemson will be okay.
Deshaun, where do you most need to improve heading into next season?
ERIC MAC LAIN: Nowhere.
DESHAUN WATSON: I mean, just my whole game. I mean, it will really start when we get back to school, start watching this film, fix some of the mistakes I made, and just getting back rolling. Putting on some weight, getting in the weight room some more, and taking that next step in my game and level. I talked to Derrick Henry after the game, and we're going to try to link up after the off-season and learn from him and just really build that relationship. He's the Heisman winner, national champion, so I'm trying to do the same thing and just learn from guys that have been there and done it.