WATCH: Swinney previews ACC Championship
|2015-12-04 14:22:11.0- -||
DABO SWINNEY: Good to be with all of you today. Appreciate everybody showing up, and it's good to be in Charlotte. Appreciate the great job that this city does in hosting this event. It's exciting. I think this is awesome for our league, a sellout, and got two great champions, three teams from this league in the top 10 right now, and two of them battling it out for the champion of the ACC.
It's just exciting to be a part of it as coaches and players. You start your season, for us 124 days ago, and it kind of comes down to one day, four quarters away from achieving what we all set out to do at the beginning of the season, and that's to be the ACC champion.
Our team has had a great week of practice. Got a lot of respect for North Carolina, Coach Fedora and the job that they've done. It's been a special season for them, as well, and I don't have any doubt it'll be a great game tomorrow night at 8:14, I think, when we kick it off.
Any questions from you guys?
Q. I know you're just more concerned about having one more point than North Carolina and winning, but would you be shocked if this were a 14-10 game?
DABO SWINNEY: I'd be shocked. I'd be pretty shocked. You've got the two top-scoring offenses in the league, two of the best in the country, and two teams that really put a lot of pressure on defenses in every regard because both teams can run the ball. Both teams are committed to running the ball. Both teams can throw the ball down the field, got skill all over, got two great quarterbacks.
So yeah, 14-10 would surprise me, but anything can happen. That's for sure.
Q. They were a good offense last year, North Carolina, they're a great offense this year with Elijah Hood. If you're going to pick a focal point, is he the guy you're trying to shut down primarily, or is it a whole --
DABO SWINNEY: Do you see that No. 8 against NC State last week? These guys, I don't think you can focus on one person, and I think that's what makes us difficult to defend, and we're kind of mirror images of each other in that regard. They've got a quarterback that is their second-leading rusher, big, strong guy. They've done a great job with their protections, very few sacks, just like we've given up very few sacks. Hard to get to him, and again, they keep you off balance with him being involved in the running game. Great job with their screens and misdirection, and then shots down the field. They've got some guys that can go get it. No. 13, he might be the fastest guy we've played this year, and we've seen some really good players.
They just put a lot of pressure on you. I think if you focus on one guy, they're going to beat you with somebody else.
You've got to -- you try to take something away, but you've got to play the game. You've got to respond to what's going on in the game and get dialed in early on what the plan is going to be.
But it's going to be a challenge for us; there's no question.
Q. Given the way ticket sales have gone and your head start in that you clinched your side first, do you perceive you'll have a home-field advantage tomorrow?
DABO SWINNEY: No, no. I think that the game is played between the lines, and they'll have a great crowd. We'll have a great crowd. But you've got to play well for that crowd to be an advantage. Our focus has to be on not who's in the stands and all that but how we play, and getting prepared to play our best four quarters of the season. But I know we'll have an excellent crowd. There's no question that a couple hours -- we've got people drive to Clemson, they drive seven, eight, nine hours, watch a ballgame and then drive right back, so I know they'll come a couple, and we're probably closer to a lot of them being up here. But this is a great place, and North Carolina will have a great turnout, but at the end of the day, it's all about how we play in the game.
Q. After the last few weeks of playing teams that didn't make it into a bowl game, did UNC jump out on tape and everything that they do on both sides of the ball?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, they jump out on tape. Just put it in there; they're explosive. Playing great on defense, really doing an excellent job there, and again, they're as explosive a team as you'll see in the country right now. They're a top-10 team. They're a complete football team, great in special teams, got return guys that can change the game with one touch. They jumped out big-time.
Q. Talk about the last time you were here in 2011 with your quarterback. Boyd was your quarterback, and now you have Watson. They're both sophomores. Talk about both of them and what you see between these two games.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think Tajh was a redshirt sophomore. Deshaun is a true sophomore. I think that Deshaun is just -- he's just further along than where Tajh was at this stage. Tajh was kind of starting to come into his own a little bit. Didn't have quite the foundation that Deshaun had when he showed up at Clemson.
But both great competitors, both great ambassadors for our program, and the reason we were here in '11, one big reason was No. 10, and there's no question a big reason why we're here this year is our quarterback.
Most championship teams, they've got a great quarterback, and both of those guys certainly were that.
Q. Where have you seen the biggest improvement from Deshaun from freshman year to this year?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, last year he was just trying to assert himself and kind of earn his spurs, if you will, trying to -- he hadn't played, and so now you've got to go prove it. So the biggest thing is he's the guy. You know, this year he's really asserted himself as the leader of our team. He's really taken on that role. He's just done an incredible job, but just the experience, the experience that he got last year from the success that he had, he's bigger, stronger than he's ever been, and as a result, more confident than he was this time last year. Not that he was lacking confidence, but when you're doing something for the first time, it's always different the next time around, so he's just able to draw on all this experience that he had last year, and then just another off-season of developing mentally and physically. Very, very smart player, very sharp from a football IQ standpoint. But that's the biggest thing.
Q. Do you look at this game with so many things out there for your team to accomplish as a national quarterfinal game? Do you see that a win is the only way you can get to the playoff?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, we don't control any of that stuff, but it is what it is. Every week has been a playoff game. Every week -- when you get into November and if you're in the hunt, it's a playoff every single Saturday. I mean, it really is, because at the end of the day, that's what it's going to come down to. Our schedule allows us to compete to be the best in the country, and if you can win, then you've got a chance to keep moving forward, and that's what we've been able to do. It's been a fun season, it's been a challenge every single week, and we've tried to make every week the biggest game of the year. Even though some of y'all want the next game to be the biggest game of the year, we've just refused to buy into that. We've made it everything about that game, because it is the biggest game of the year, because if you lose it, then it completely changes your opportunities.
So we've just looked at it that way all year long. We've played 48 quarters, and now we're down to four, and we're going to have to play four great quarters. We don't control what other people do and all that type of stuff. All we know is that we control our destiny right now, and let's focus on just playing well, and we can live with whatever result we get.
Q. Day before the game now, about to go through your walkthrough. How are you feeling and what do you want your team to take away from the experience of walking through this stadium knowing the next night is where their futures are going to be determined?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, we just had a normal week. We haven't tried to do anything differently from a preparation standpoint. We actually did our walkthrough in Death Valley earlier today. They're on the bus on the way up here. They're just going to stop by and just kind of -- we've got a bunch of freshmen, a bunch of guys that never been here, so just stop by so they can kind of see the stadium and be able to visualize where they're going to play, and then we'll get on with our business. We'll go to the hotel and we'll do what we do.
We've got chapel at 5:50, dinner at 6:15, and they'll go to a movie. Deshaun and I are going to go to the banquet tonight, but then we'll meet again as a team about 9:15, have a team meeting and wrap it up, put them to bed, and get ready for game day.
We've got a routine that we have for late games, a routine for a noon game, 3:30 game, so don't really change anything as far as our preparation.
Q. We talked a lot probably early in the year about the impact of Mike Williams' injuries for you guys, but it seems as the year has gone along it seems that Deon Cain has matured more and more into that role. Is there a point in the season when you kind of saw that this kid is not a freshman any more. He's ready to kind of be that guy that we rely on in our downfield game?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, he's just gradually throughout the year, he's just gotten more confident with the bigger picture of what he's doing, and as he's gotten comfortable with his experience, we've put a little bit more on his plate as he's been able to handle it. He's done a great job. He's stepped up -- Ray-Ray got hurt, and he kind of helped us there for a couple games, Charone not having to have so much pressure on Charone, the combination of those two has been really, really beneficial to what we've done in the passing game. But all those guys have done well.
But Deon, we felt like by the end of the year he could be pretty doggone special, and he has done just that. So give him a lot of credit, and Jeff has done a great job with him, just bringing him along. Like I said, and not giving him too much too early because I think sometimes you put too much on a guy and then all of a sudden you have a bad experience, and you're just not quite ready, then you lose your confidence.
We've just kind of managed him, and now he's at a point where he really is comfortable with everything that we're asking him to do.
Q. Do you feel like no matter the outcome of this game that the ACC deserves a spot in the playoff?
DABO SWINNEY: Absolutely. I mean, we've got three top-10 teams in this league. You know, the third-best team in this league just beat the SEC East champion. We've got a pretty good league and getting better. And getting better quickly with some of the coaches that are coming into this league. I don't think there's any question that the ACC should be wherever, in one of them games. But what do I know? I just hope we're the one there.
Q. Along those same lines, if UNC wins tomorrow, are they a top-four team?
DABO SWINNEY: I don't think about losing, so you're asking the wrong guy that question. Other people, I just think about winning. That's all I'm focused on is us trying to win the game.
If it doesn't go our way, ask me again.
Q. Following up on that, I think people expect Alabama every year to be in that mix and be in that picture. Clemson is sort of new to this pedestal. Is that something you still have to prove, the ACC as well as Clemson, that they belong here?
DABO SWINNEY: I think we've got to prove everything. We've got to earn everything we get, and that's just the way it is. That's okay. That's fine. I wouldn't want it any other way. You know, we just put our best foot forward. This isn't the only good year we've had. We've been very successful for many years now, and I think seven years ago when I got this job, the message to our team was if we're going to -- we can't worry about the ACC. We need to worry about Clemson, and the way we help the ACC is for Clemson to be great, and the only way we can change some of the perceptions that some of y'all may have about Clemson or whatever is you've got to play people, number one, and you've got to win your share of those games. You know, we've just slowly kind of gone through that process. This is our seventh year, and I mean, you can look -- five years ago there was a whole different rhetoric out there, and you couldn't really -- you really didn't have much -- you just keep your mouth shut and go to work. But now seven years into this it's a very different deal. Sometimes people don't want to look at the facts, but this league is 7-1 the last two years against the SEC. You look at the outside-the-conference games that our league has won, it's factual. I mean, it's just -- some people don't want to look at that, but it's factual. Georgia Tech, Mississippi State in the bowl game last year. We've played LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Auburn, Georgia, I mean, you go on and on, and we've won.
But it seems like with the ACC there's always, well, there's an excuse or, well, they did this or did that. But you just keep going, and now you look at what we've been able to do, again, three top-10 teams, I think us and the Big Ten. You don't luck up and do that. I mean, you earn yourself there, and the SEC has been -- is a great conference and has been an incredible conference, but this league -- I'm not saying we're the best league out there. That's not my point. I think this league top to bottom is as strong as anybody, and people will argue that, and I mean, I'm a part of it. I know great players and great coaches, and you look at the NFL Draft picks, we're first or second on every chart NFL Draft picks.
I think the best coaches in the world or best league in the world is the NFL and they're coming to the ACC to get more players, it's us and the SEC by far. You look at the national award winners that come out of this conference, you look at the academics that we have in this conference, and that really kind of separates us, to be honest with you. I think this league from top to bottom is just tremendous and well-positioned for the present and well-positioned for the future. So we take great pride in that.
But the main thing for me that I tell our guys all the time because sometimes you hear some of these schools, yeah, man, we're in this league. Well, what kind of team you got? It ought to be about the program. I mean, you need to have a great program. Let's don't carry a banner because you're in the league but you're 1-11. You know, it's about the program you're in, and we've got a bunch of very strong programs -- I think last year we had, what, 11 bowl teams, commissioner? 12? Two years in a row, 11 bowl teams? I don't know if that's ever happened.
It's just for whatever reason, we sometimes don't get the credit, but all you can do is go play, and hopefully we can produce a great champion that can go into this playoff and win it, you know, whether it's us or North Carolina, win it, and that would be two out of three years that the ACC has won the National Championship. Maybe if we can win three or four in a row, maybe we'll get some credit, but I don't know, we've got to go earn it. That's all I know. Just keep playing.
Q. I think Deshaun is undefeated as a starter going back to his freshman year. How much of that is due to his sheer talent, and how much is due to the intangibles he brings with his leadership and the demeanor that he has?
DABO SWINNEY: I don't know how to break that down as a percentage, but I mean, he's certainly incredibly gifted and talented from just a skill set standpoint. His ability to beat you with his arm and his legs. But the intangible part of it, his mind, his heart, his work ethic, his preparation, his commitment to preparation, his leadership ability, you know, his poise, those are things that -- that's what makes him special. He's just a complete package. I mean, he really doesn't have a weakness. I mean, he really doesn't. There's really not one thing that I would grade him down on as far as he can throw the deep ball, he's very accurate. He can beat you in every -- he's a multi-tool player, beat you with his mind, his heart, his legs, his toughness, and that's what makes him special. He's a tough out. Eventually he's going to lose one, but he's not going to be an easy guy. He's like Mariano Rivera stepping on the mound. He's a tough -- he's a tough one to beat. He's not perfect. He's not some superhuman man. He makes mistakes, but you're going to have to beat him. I mean, he's not going to beat himself.
Q. A few personnel questions: How limited is Ray-Ray with his knee? Do you still plan on having Lakip handle extra points, and who do you have starting at right guard?
DABO SWINNEY: Maverick will start at right guard, he's done a nice job for us. Crowder will be ready to go, too Both of those guys will play a good bit, I'm sure. Lakip is going to kick extra points, and Ray-Ray is much better this week. I think he's more -- he's closer to 100 percent, and you know, he's mad that he's got to wear that brace, but that's just what he's got to do right now. But hopefully when we get back going for bowl practice, he can come out of that brace into a little different type of deal. But he's doing well. He's doing well. We're full strength.
Q. Brett Venables said earlier in the week with this 10-week stretch that you're on, you've done a good job of keeping it fresh, stay focused, stay hungry. What have you done specifically to mix up the routine during the week to keep these guys energized during this long stretch?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think everything counts when you're dealing with a team, whether it's your team meetings and how you meet with them or the amount of time you meet with them, and just trying to engage them in a lot of different ways, but I think when you've played -- this is our 10th straight week. Appreciate that there, commissioner. (Laughter.)
This is our 10th straight week, and it's just tough, and that's just the hand that you're dealt. You've got to play it.
And so I think last year we played several games, but we had a bye week right there toward the end. We played like on a Thursday, Wake Forest, had the weekend off, and then we played our last three games, so our schedule was a little different because we had a little bit of a break. But 10 straight weeks, I've had to kind of manage some things a little differently as far as some of our competitive work, length of practice. This time of year I really believe less is more, so just -- and then just having some fun, making sure that they're staying loose and having some fun, and as we've tweaked a couple things with our practice schedule, making sure I take care of our scouts, too. That's what nobody ever thinks about. Nobody ever thinks about those scout teams, but making sure we've got the schedule where they get a little bit of a break so we can have the type of practices that we need.
Just little things, nothing major. Nothing really too far outside of our routine but just a few tweaks that I felt like were going to be critical for us being able to sustain the level of play that we were going to need down the stretch.
Q. Talk about the challenges because in 2011 you were here and then you haven't been here since then. Talk about the challenges of playing in this league? Are the teams getting better or is it just one of those games you couldn't get over the hump until this year?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, we've won the division four times, and this is our third time in the ACC Championship game. It's just hard to do. I mean, we've got good teams. Florida State won about 52 in a row, I think. Seriously, they win the National Championship, then they're in the College Football Playoff. They're in our division. We lost one conference game last year, and I think we only lost one the year before.
But I mean, heck, you've got to go undefeated, at least in our division, if you're going to get here. And same thing over in the Coastal. It took an undefeated, unscathed year. It's hard to do. It's hard to win. Our league, our division which I'm in, you look at Louisville and NC State and the job that Doeren is doing there, he's just done a tremendous job, obviously with Florida State and ourselves, and nobody wants to play Boston College. It's unfortunate that they had some injuries offensively, but they are a tough out, and then Wake Forest and the job that Clawson is doing. I think they were a top-25 defense this year, and he's got that program going in the right direction. It's just a challenge every single week.
But I think Florida State -- we finished in the top 15 three years in a row. Two of those three years top 10, and we couldn't even win our division. It's difficult. That's why I'm pretty strong on my stance about this league, because I know it's very competitive throughout, and getting better.
It's just hard to do, but you know, again, seven years, four division titles, and our third appearance in the ACC Championship Game is something that we're really proud of, and hopefully we can continue to be one of the better teams.
Q. Do you feel like your team is playing its best football at this point, or is the 10-week grind, are you playing good enough football at this point?
DABO SWINNEY: No, I think every win, every week, as you get down in this part of the season, you'd better be playing your best football. We've had eight straight games of 500-plus yards. I thought we played -- we've had some turnovers, but we've still been able to win, and I think that's -- to me I look at that as a positive because we don't have to play perfect to win.
But I really, last week I thought -- I thought we played our best football in the fourth quarter in crunch time on the road with your rival. You're up 28-10 going into the fourth quarter there, and next thing you know, bam-bam, a couple slants and a fade, and it's 28-17, then your offense goes out and makes a nice play, fumble the ball, now they get it and we get a busted play for a quick touchdown. It goes from 28-10 to 28-25 in like two minutes, and all the momentum on the road, all that stuff, and I just saw a complete football team rise up. Offense goes right down the field, four third-down conversions and scores, kickoff coverage makes great kickoff and great coverage, defense gets a three-and-out, offense goes back out there, moves the ball down the field, takes time off the clock, sky punts the ball, pins them deep, defense goes out and gets four downs, get a stop on downs, offense goes back out, moves the ball, field goal, kicks it.
We've been at our best when we've needed to be. Whatever situation it's been all year long. And that's really what it's all about. It's just finding a way to win. You've got to give the other teams credit, too. That's what nobody ever wants to do. Other teams have good players and energy and great effort and good coaches, and they make plays. But no matter what the situation has been presented to this team, they have found a way to win.
So I think we're going to have to play our best football team because I think that's what it's going to come down to. Same for North Carolina. I think both teams will put their best foot forward.
Q. Jay Guillermo one of your offensive lineman thought about leaving football. He's an all-conference player this year. Talk about his story and how special this is for him, having growing up 45 minutes away.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, it's an incredible story because I wasn't sure he was going to play football anymore. It's a reminder that these are real people, and they're young -- not only are they real people, they're young people, and young people kind of lose their way sometimes and make mistakes or make bad decisions or just get off track, whether it's a bad relationship, something is going on in their family life, the next thing you know the walls kind of come in on them, and a lot of times they don't know how to deal with it. He just got himself in a bad spot and didn't know how to get out of it, and his thing was to just kind of turn away from football, something that he loved. But we just put our arms around him and tried to help him through that, and I really didn't know if he would be back, but I give him credit because he really got himself together, and his family was great. He's an incredible story, because the thing about it now, you look at him, he's as good a leader as we have on our team. He just shows up -- I've never seen a guy have more fun practicing every day than Jay Guillermo. Just always great energy, but I think he has such an appreciation for it now, way more so than he ever did before. Just what a great story, what a great year he's had, and really happy for him. A lot of great lessons that he learned through that process.
LARRY FEDORA: Okay, we are excited to represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game. Our guys are really looking forward to pulling into Charlotte today and finishing this season where we started.
Q. I asked Dabo about this: Would you be shocked if this was a 14-10 game?
LARRY FEDORA: Wow. I hadn't really thought about that. I don't know if I'd be shocked, as long as we've got the 14 I'll be happy. (Laughter.)
Q. Do you feel like if you guys win this game you deserve a spot in the playoff?
LARRY FEDORA: I most definitely do. I definitely do. I think if we beat the No. 1 team in the nation, then I believe this team deserves to be in the College Football Playoff.
Q. Talk about the mood for your team this week, how they're preparing for this game and how also you've lost players to injury. How is that going and talk about getting ready for the game tomorrow?
LARRY FEDORA: You know, it's really interesting, this group, whether it was Tuesday of this week, Wednesday of this week or Thursday of this week, you could have picked out the first week or the sixth week or the ninth week or the -- these guys have been the same. I mean, they really have. It's not like you think, hey, we're getting ready to play for the championship, so they're out there gunned up running around, going crazy in practice. That doesn't happen. I mean, they have really just kind of stayed at one level all the way through, you know, and it's been fun to watch, actually, because it hasn't been a deal where as a staff we've come off the field and said, wow, today was really rough, had to really push them. We haven't had one of those days. They've just kind of been the same way, haven't been too high, haven't been too low. They're going to be the same way in pregame. They're going to be the same way in the locker room, and they're just a different group. It's made it fun. You know, we do, we hate to lose Sam Smiley. Our guys always understand they're one play away from it being over, and we hope they all play like it's their last play. Dominique Green will step up and he's got experience, and the rest of the guys will pull up the boots around him, and we'll play good defense.
Q. You said back in February you thought this team could win the Coastal. This was before spring practice, before fall practice. Why did you believe that back then?
LARRY FEDORA: Well, I really believed it because of all the adversity we had last year and all the adversity we created for ourselves and just the whole culmination of everything. I was really hoping -- I felt like we had the pieces of the puzzle. Now, whether or not we were going to make it all melt together, that was still the question at that time, but I really felt like we had the pieces of the puzzle to be successful and win the Coastal.
Q. Jeff Schoettmer talked about in the locker room a few feet away, after losing to South Carolina they said we're going to be back here to play for this championship. It's one thing to say that, it's another thing to do it. Can you talk about that?
LARRY FEDORA: Well, they did say that. We did say it and they meant it. You're right, it is one thing to say, but everything these guys have said this year, and they haven't done a whole lot of talking, they really haven't, but everything they've said and the things that they talk about in our meetings, they've done. And it hasn't been me that's had to push them to do these things. I say, hey, guys, I want to do this and I want us to do this, and then those guys go back to the team, and they say, hey, this is what we're going to do, this is why we need to do it and this is how we're going to do it and then they do it.
They've done a great job of leading this football team. They really have.
Q. You were talking about the amazing consistency of preparation for your team this year. Are you confident in the 'Quise you're going to see tomorrow night after --
LARRY FEDORA: Very much so. I've got as much confidence in 'Quise as anybody that's going to step on that football field. He's going to go out and he's going to play the game of his life. He's going to do an exceptional job leading, and he's going to be very consistent and calm, and he's going to have a great game.
Q. Clemson has been on this stage before. Obviously you guys have not. How much of an advantage is that for them and do you look at that as a disadvantage for you?
LARRY FEDORA: I mean, there's no doubt. Experience is always something that you never can replace. It's going to be -- they've been here. They've been in this situation, so they understand it. They know what's expected. Our guys haven't. This will be our first time. Carolina hasn't.
But really because of the consistency and the way these guys have reacted all year, I just don't see them being any different, and I don't think they need to be any different. I don't need them to do anything -- I've told them, you're not going to have to jump over any small buildings or anything to make this happen. Just go out and do the things that we do. I really think that'll be enough.
Q. Quinshad Davis is finding himself in the record books in his senior season coming off of injury. What has he meant for the program the last few years and kind of his contribution for what he's been able to do for this team?
LARRY FEDORA: Well, first of all, if you guys don't know Quinshad you need to get to know him because he is an unbelievable kid. He is very unselfish. Even though he has all the records, that's not why he came to Carolina. He came to Carolina to win and to be part of something special. That all came with it, and it's because he doesn't care who gets any of the credit. I mean, if he doesn't catch a ball in a game, you never hear a word from him. He's not one of these guys that's -- I'm open all the time, I'm open all the time, throw me the ball, throw me the ball, and believe me, for that position that's hard to find. It's really been a joy to coach him. He's a guy that we always know is going to show up and you can count on him. It doesn't matter if it's Tuesday in practice or if it's Saturday in a game. He's going to be the same. He's going to show up and he's going to make plays for you.
Q. You said that you've told them kind of throughout the week and leading up to this game that the moment is not too big. Will you do anything different pregame just to kind of reinforce that?
LARRY FEDORA: I'll talk about the things that we've been talking about all week, which is what we do every week. We have keys to victory that we feel like we need to hit. We'll talk about those. We've been emphasizing those just like we have every week, and the kids understand that, and that's one thing I think they have a comfort level with the consistency of the way we do things. As coaches we pretty much stay the same way.
The one coach that I've got to work on the most is myself, and so -- but the rest of them, they've done just a great job of being consistent with these guys all the way through, and I think the guys appreciate it.
Q. From facing Deshaun last year to now going against him in this title game, how has he evolved as a player and how tough of a challenge is it to game plan for him?
LARRY FEDORA: Extremely. The guy is a great player, a great player. One, because he can beat you with his arm, which he threw, what, six touchdown passes against us last year in his first game as a starter, to if a play breaks down he can break your back with his legs. He can extend plays. And the thing I think that's most impressive about him is his poise. I don't think you ever see him get rattled. No matter what happens in a game he's the same. To be a leader of a team, to be the other guy, that's pretty special. To know the guy is always going to be like this.
And they've got a rock that they can rely on, and I think he makes it extremely difficult for a defense.
Q. Obviously there's been a cloud over this program for years. I'm wondering if winning erases that cloud and changes the conversation about North Carolina football?
LARRY FEDORA: Yeah, I don't know if it erases the cloud, but the sun is showing through the cloud. Before it was so dark you never could see the sun, but now the sun is filtering through.
You know, everything that caused that cloud was long before we ever got there, so all we had to do -- we knew the sun was coming through sometime, we just had to keep our nose down and keep it working. And it is, the cloud is disipitating. Is that a word?
Q. It is now.
LARRY FEDORA: There you go.
LARRY FEDORA: That's the word I was looking for (laughter). Y'all don't make me look bad now.
Q. When you started this job a few years ago and kind of mapped out the course of the program, are you guys on track for where you thought you would be at this point?
LARRY FEDORA: Well, I really wanted all this to happen last year, you know, I really did. I thought year three that we had the pieces in place, and I did a poor job last year with the football team, and so we didn't achieve those goals. But I think now, yeah, we're where we want to be, and I think our program is just going to go from this point. I think because of the things that have happened in the past and I think the future is extremely bright for where our program is.
Q. Is there any edge that can be had when playing in an NFL stadium that you've already played in this year? They've got that visual of what it's going to be like. Is there any slight edge that they can go back to the first game of the year and see some of the things that they did --
LARRY FEDORA: I think so. They're not going to be big-eyed when they walk into the stadium. They've been here. This is actually the third time our team has been in this stadium, not this season but our team. These guys have been here. They've been in that locker room. They know it's special, and especially for these kids from Charlotte. We've got quite a few of them on our football team, and they know it's special, but they're not going to walk around in stadium and looking up in the stadium like wow. They're here to play a game. They know that it's 53-and-three-quarters wide and 100 yards long and all those things, and they're going to go out there and play.
Q. What's the difference in your team from where they were when you brought them here they beginning of the season to where they are now?
LARRY FEDORA: I would say the biggest thing is they have a lot of confidence, and they have a lot of confidence in each other, you know, and so going into the first game, nobody really knows. I've never been on a team where you knew what you had going into the first game. You hope you have things. You think you do as a coaching staff, but you just don't know until you get hit in the mouth and you have to overcome some adversity what's your team going to be like. This team, if you think about it, we lost the first game, and so we were written off at that time. All they did was keep doing the things that we asked as a coaching staff.
Then we go on the road against Georgia Tech and we're down 21, and they stay consistent and they win the game. And now they start really believing in each other and knowing that they have what it takes to get it done. You go on the road against Pitt, who was a ranked team, and it's a short week and you're playing at night in Heinz Field, and they get it done there.
You go on the road in Blacksburg where everybody in the country wanted Coach Beamer to win, I mean, and I understood that, and then we did some things to try to make that thing closer, but we found a way to win.
This team throughout the year has shown they have tremendous grit, and that's one of the key predictors to success, and we've got it, and I think they've shown it throughout the season.
Q. In your tenure at Carolina, has there been a more anticipated game than this one?
LARRY FEDORA: Probably not. I mean, how many years has it been? 35 years? There's people that have never seen it happen in their lifetime that are Carolina fans.
I would say they're pretty excited about it.
Q. Kind of along those same lines, you guys are playing in state, you've got a lot of kids from the area, got a chance to be a spoiler in the playoff. Have you guys had a chance to step back and realize that you're in a pretty fun position? I know you said everything hasn't really changed, they're still kind of focused, but are you having any fun?
LARRY FEDORA: I'll tell you on Sunday.
You know what, when we got to November, we talked about where we were as a team, that even though we had done quite a few great things in our opinion to that point, we were still going to be remembered for what we did in November. So there was still pressure on those guys throughout November.
But my message to them was, hey, you've got to enjoy this at the same -- you've got to enjoy the process because it's a process. To get to where you want, you can't just get there and then look back and, wow, where did it go?
So I think our guys have enjoyed the process because they've been so consistent. I just think that they've put in a lot of hard work, but they've enjoyed it, also. I wish I could say the same for myself.
Q. You talked about Deshaun Watson's poise and how he makes plays with his feet. The way he uses intermediate routes and deep balls with all the weapons he's got, is your defense confident that you can match up?
LARRY FEDORA: We know that's an issue because they live by the deep ball. I mean, they really do. You get out there and they can throw it down there, and they're not just throwing it, they're catching it. He's putting the ball on the money. He really throws the deep ball really well.
Our guys understand that challenge. They know what has to happen.
But our DBs are pretty confident in themselves. They know these are going to be probably some of the best receivers they've played against and they know this is the best quarterback we've played against. But I don't think they're going to be afraid to go out there and do it. They're confident.
Q. You've kind of talked about what worries you about Clemson's offense. Defensively what's kept you guys up? And then if I could get you to comment on Ruffin McNeill being let go at ECU today.
LARRY FEDORA: Let's start defensively for them. I mean, Shaq Lawson, No. 90, up front, I think he leads the league in sacks, I believe. They are really good up front, very good up front. Their linebackers can all really run. They don't have to be in nickel or dime. They can do it with their linebackers.
And then their back end is by far the best we've seen. How many teams have a 6'4", 220-pound free safety? I mean, that guy is a freak. So they're really good. They're really good. You watch the third-down tape, and you go home and you can't sleep because they're No. 1 in the nation in allowing third downs converted. They're allowing 24 percent.
And then you've got Venables over there who does a tremendous job. I mean, just does, everywhere he's been. So you know they're going to be prepared and ready to go.
It'll be a tremendous challenge for us. It really will.
Q. And Ruffin?
LARRY FEDORA: Yeah, I don't -- I was just told about that before I came in after we got off the plane, and I was kind of shocked, actually. I know Ruffin personally and played against him back when I was at Southern Miss and at Carolina and think the world of the guy, so I hate to see that happen.
Q. In your fourth season, seems like that's your favorite number, No. 4 --
LARRY FEDORA: That was my number in college.
Q. So your first four years at the other school you win a conference title, now you're on the fourth year here and you're on the brink of winning a conference title. Why is 4 a good enough for you?
LARRY FEDORA: Well, that was my number in college, so maybe that's why. I don't know. I think we have -- I have a plan that's proven, you know, that you can build a program. It's not a microwave plan. It's not a quick-fix plan. It's to try to build something that you can sustain, and so we put that plan into place when we first got here and we've continued to work that plan, and it just so happened that it happened in the fourth year.
We never sat around and said, okay, this is a four-year plan. We want to win now. We didn't come in and tell all the seniors to take a backseat, we were going to play all the freshmen because we've got this plan. No, we've got all -- we've played all the kids that have bought into the program, whether they were seniors, juniors, didn't matter. This has been the right mix with this team, and they've been fun to coach.
Q. I think 'Quise threw three interceptions here in the opener, has only thrown five since. How important has him protecting the ball been to your success?
LARRY FEDORA: Well, if he doesn't do that, we're not sitting here. If he doesn't take care of the football, we're not here today, I can assure you. That is our No. 1 key to victory in every game we go into is taking care of the football, and if you go back and look in the games that we didn't turn it over at all, we've been pretty dominant. If we take care of the football, we give ourselves a great chance to win.
Q. The Coastal has made some new coaching hires including Mark Richt and Justin Fuente. Do you have any thoughts about the way the Coastal seems to be reshaped with some of the guys coming in?
LARRY FEDORA: Not just the Coastal but the entire league, wow. Look at the strength of the ACC right now. Look at the coaches in this league and look what they're doing with these teams. You're going to be able -- you can put the ACC up with any conference in the country. I mean, I have the utmost respect for Mark Richt and the things he's done and the type of man he is. And I don't know Justin that well, but I'm really looking forward to meeting him and getting to know him. I've heard just tremendous things about him. My offensive line coach and him are good friends, so I really look forward to getting to know him. But all I can say is wow.
Q. I think this is going to be your latest kickoff time of the season. What challenges does that present and how do you plan on occupying the guys tomorrow during the day?
LARRY FEDORA: Yeah, there's a little bit more time in the middle of the day for us, for them. They get to sleep a little bit later, which they'll all like, but we'll still do -- our plan will be exactly the same. I mean, it really will, it's just there's some more time in the middle. They'll handle it. They'll do a good job with it. We'll go and see if it's enough. We're not going to do anything special.
Q. Elijah was very well versed in the history of no Carolina team has ever won 12, haven't won an ACC title since '80. Is that something you guys have talked with them about? Where does that come from? And with this opportunity are people ignoring the fact of how big it would be for you guys to be ACC champions?
LARRY FEDORA: Well, I mean, I try to make sure that they know the significance of all of this, and throughout the year we've talked about the things that we've done historically at Carolina because it was important, you know, going into the year when I had our meeting we seniors at our senior dinner at the beginning of the season, we talked a lot about the legacy that they leave and how important it is, and that they are the ownership of this team. I mean, and so whatever they wanted to really achieve, it was up -- we would.
Now, you can't just talk about it, you've got to make it happen. And so those seniors have done that, and so they all understand the significance of what we've done historically, and we've talked about that throughout the year, is each time we've made some type of step, we've made sure they know about it.
They understand how important this is, they really do, and I think they're excited about playing in it.
Q. Did South Carolina reach out to you at all?
LARRY FEDORA: I wouldn't -- you know what, I wouldn't talk about it if any school reached out to me. I have nothing but -- all I'm going to talk about is what we're doing here and playing Clemson for the ACC Championship, and if it was six weeks ago and you asked me that question, I wouldn't have answered it then, either. I don't answer to rumors.
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