Dabo previews N.C. State

CLEMSON - Dabo Swinney previews Saturday's showdown in Raleigh.

Opening statement...
Swinney: Open up with happy birthday to coach Brownell. We are back on the road this week and playing at a tough place at N.C. State. They have a tough environment up there. They are a very capable team. They've gone to Virginia, a team that controls its destiny in the Coastal Division, and beaten them. They shutout North Carolina. We have to play much better than we have to win.

Their quarterback has a big arm. He throws the football in some tight spots. He's a very good player. They play a couple of running backs - No. 24 has been around and is very talented. He catches the ball very well. He's very involved in their passing game. We'll have to do a good job there. They have three receivers who they spread the ball out to. They all have 30 catches. We will have to matchup well with them. Their tight end is always involved. Coach O'Brien always does a good job of involving the tight end in the attack. The center is outstanding. The left tackle is as well.

Defensively, they are playing their best football right now. They are playing really tough on defense. Three of the top 12 tacklers in this conference. We know all about David Amerson - he has 10 picks and we recruited him hard. He has 10 picks and they have 20 as a team. That's a big concern for us after having turned the ball over the last two ball games.

Their linebackers - No. 35 and No. 42 are as a good as anybody we've played. Very good football players. No. 35 leads them in sacks. No. 6 - their receiver is an excellent returner - punts and kicks. That's a concern. For us, it's about having a great week of practice. Every game is critical. There's a lot at stake with us every single week the rest of the season.

We have to play like a champion. We won our division and we need to play like that. The other thing I'd like to mention - is that N.C. State is hosting their annual Toys for Tots - they are an organization through the military that offers hope through gifts. Tom O'Brien was in the Navy and he called me about this last week. You can bring one toy or 50 toys. Or you can make a monetary donation. You can do that as well at the game. My family will be participating in that. It's a great cause and hopefully the Clemson family as well.

Your spot in the championship game is secure. What are you telling your guys this week to stay focused on N.C. State?
Swinney: Well it's a tenth win. We haven't won 10 games here in 21 years. That's a big deal. Most of these guys weren't even born 20 years ago. It's about being our best. Being the best we can be. The best of the best are never satisfied. Lord have mercy we have all kind of improvement to do. Turn on the film. We have a lot to do in order to get better. Hey- we've got a chance to win seven ACC games. That hasn't happened at Clemson since 1983. There's plenty on the table out there for these guys. Yes, we are the best in the division and we've earned that. Let's go from good to great. And that's going to be a tough challenge. We have to focus on playing the best we can for four quarters Saturday. This is a very important game.

Any extra emphasis on where Tajh places the ball this week after what happened last week?
Swinney: Yeah. We've had seven turnovers in the last two ball games, and eight in the first seven. Heck yes that's a concern. We've just got to be smarter. A couple of them have been kind of flukey. It's ball security. As I said Sunday on the phone, Tajh and his success is sometimes not a positive because he has so much confidence he can make through every throw. He thinks he can throw it through this camera lens in front of me. He's special. And he has so much confidence in his receivers that these guys are going to make a play for him and bail it out. But the last couple of weeks we've got teams dropping eight guys. So we have to be smart. We had third and 18 Saturday and if he checks down we get 20 yards. We just have to dial him back and be a little more disciplined. You don't want to lose his mentality because that's one of the things that makes him special. We'll coach him hard and do a better job than the last couple of weeks. He's played 10 games as a starter and he'll have a chance to start over 40 games in his career and he's only 25 percent of the way there. He's still an improving player and a learning player. I love how he never quits. I love how he always responds. That's really good for us.

Harping on that same point - your team has shown the ability to come back from double digit deficits. How do you simply get ahead and start strong and finish strong?
Swinney: Well that's a great thing to have in your football program to never quit. At the end of the day it's a 60 minute game. You aren't going to win every game by 21 points. Every football game is a microcosm of life. Good things happen, bad things happen. We've come back now from 14 points or more three times. That's a good quality but we have to get out of those situations to begin with. That's part of where we are right now as a football team. We are making mistakes - we go into the half at 14-7 and you are playing a championship caliber team. You have to give the other team a ton of credit ... but you have a touchdown run back on you on a punt. Then you fumble. Then they score and score again. And we didn't even blink. But we came back and our offense was explosive. We never feel like we are out of it. There's never a sense of panic with this football team. They believe in what we are doing and understand the problem. We have to get more guys really committed to performing consistently at the level they are capable of performing every single play. That's our issue right now. Sometimes we'll have nine of 11. Or eight out of 11. When you are playing a solid team and you don't have everybody on the same page- mistakes leads to issues. We didn't punt the ball well the other day - 30-something yard punt with a three second hang time. But we came back, got stops and won the game.

How closely do you follow the BCS this time of year?
Swinney: I don't think you should really even think about that stuff until the ninth game. Then you can start seeing where your potential is. Now where we are ... there are probably three undefeated teams. Every game is critical. We are focused on trying to have the best finish we possible have. The next two and a half weeks we are going to play three ball games. We have a plan to finish strong. Hopefully we can have a great bowl game and close this season ranked as high as we possibly can. I don't worry about other people but I do know where we are and I know where our potential is.

Will you rest Sammy Watkins Saturday after the injury?
Swinney: It's really going to be up to him. We are going to keep getting him ready to play. He looked a lot better yesterday. He felt better. It will probably be on game day. It depends on how he feels. This is the most important game right here. If he's not 100 percent and he's not confident then we'll hold him. If we were playing the championship game this week, he would definitely play. No question. I've had the injury - you can play with it but it's painful. You get a shot and you go play. It takes a little bit of time off from pounding (to heal). We'll see where he is by Saturday. If he's not still there yet, then we'll hold him. It's going to be determined.

How has Brandon Ford improved the last couple of games?
Swinney: He's improved greatly. Still a work in progress. We all know he can catch the football. He's got a good player he's playing along side there in Dwayne Allen so he's had to maximize his opportunities. The game he had the other day was spectacular. That's what we need from him. We need to get him in there a little more and cut some of those reps from D.A. when we have the opportunity to. D.A. had a lot of snaps the other day.

Would you do anything different two years ago when you went to South Carolina and didn't play well having already clinched the division? Does that help you prepare for N.C. State and the Gamecocks this year?
Swinney: I wouldn't do anything differently than I did two years ago from a standpoint. Maybe the players would do somethings different. We put everything we had into every single game. Prepared as hard as we could. This game is not complicated. It's not. We go down to Columbia that year, return the kick, and our best player doesn't play the rest of the game. Then we go back down and turn it over. You turn the ball over against good teams that's what is going to happen. It's about preparing to do your best every single week regardless of the opponent and regardless of what happens. I'm a big basketball guy - and Michael Jordan is someone I admire a lot. Every time he showed up he got the best effort from every opponent when he came to town. He was so mentally strong and focused on being the best. Jerry Rice was like that. And there are other guys. But that's the mentality you should have as a team. When Clemson comes to town and you are a top 10 team you are going to get people's best effort. So you have to be ready to perform at the highest level every single week regardless of what has happened in the past. If you don't, you'll never live up to your potential.

How has Coty Sensabaugh developed from a signing day guy to now a starter and a pretty good player?
Swinney: Well he's gone from a guy we took on signing day to an NFL prospect. The scouts really really like Coty. He's improved each year. He's been a work in progress for five years. Football is important to him and he wants to be a great player. He had a lot of limitations when he got here. He was very small but he has worked very hard to develop as a player. Givens had two catches for 16 yards the other day? The big reason why was because Coty was in his grill. He's going to have a real chance. A really good chance (at the next level). I'm really proud of him. He'll be a captain this week.

How big of a loss is not having Phillip Price starting at left tackle this week?
Swinney: Price is a big loss for us because he's a good player. We will get him back - just a matter if it's South Carolina or the Championship Game. We had a couple of missed assignments there once we moved Brandon outside. David Smith will get some work out there as well. Those guys are competitors and we are going to practice hard this week and push them. We've got to get them to perform a little bit better, for sure. Out offensive line has played a lot of snaps. Brandon Thomas has given us some flexibility. And it's a luxury to have David Smith, a guy who has started most of his career, to be able to put him in.

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