Dabo previews Wake Forest

CLEMSON - Head coach Dabo Swinney previews Saturday's critical matchup with Wake Forest.

Opening comments...
Swinney: Good to get back to work. It's been a good open date. We've gotten healthy. That was really our No. 1 objective. A lot of guys benefited from the time off. They had a spring in their step last night at practice that I hadn't seen in a while. It was good that they got a few days (off). I'm ready to get back going. I like watching the games but I'm more excited to be a part of it. It's been a great season season in Death Valley up this point. Our fans have been awesome. I hope they come in Friday. I'm excited to see our fans and the atmosphere they are going to create.

This is the biggest game of the year and we have a lot at stake. It's the next game. We have a chance to play for the division title. That's our next goal. We've been working towards this goal all season long. It's a chance to get our ninth win. It's a chance to be undefeated at home. First time since 1990 if we can do that. That would be a great legacy for this group.

Wake Forest has had a really good year. To be honest, I know their record is 5-4, but they are probably capable of winning all of their games. They had five turnovers against North Carolina so that probably got a way from them a little bit. But what I like about Coach Grobe- his teams always compete. This is a tough out. We will get the very best they have and our guys know that. They are very improved offensively and that's been key to them this year. It's a veteran offensively and their quarterback is playing good for them. Very capable backs. No. 22 is a strong runner. Very talented receivers. No. 2 is probably as good as there is in this league. They try to get him the ball in different ways. They want to get the ball in his hands because he makes things happen.

They do a great job with their formations. For us, we've got to try to make them one-dimensional and not have the balance they want to have and try to stop the run. Then we have to play well in space. We have to tackle well. Defensively, we have to play very very hard. I was just watching them play Virginia Tech - they flat got after Virginia Tech in the first quarter and a half. Those guys were relentless on defense. They play a little odd stack but against Notre Dame they stood up the whole game. A lot of movement. Never in one place. Lot of zone pressure. We have to catch movement. That will be a big challenge for our offensive line.

Their secondary is as good as we've played. Very athletic. Very aggressive. Very well-coached. Their safety has five picks and they get their hands on a lot of balls.

For us, we have to take care of the ball. Obviously in our last outing we did a poor job of that. We have to get back to priority No. 1 and that's protecting the football and doing what we do. Tempo is key. It's about us finishing. We've had a good year, but if we are going to have a great year, we have to finish. That's all we are focused on - to play the best four quarters we've played all year in Death Valley.

Did the off-week come at a bad time considering it was after the first loss?
Swinney: No. You never want to lose. We needed the break. Our guys have had good focus all year and they were disappointed. But they handled it well. They came back to work on Monday of last week - listening to them talk they are saying the right things. Their eyes are forward. Let's learn from it and don't let it happen again. That's what you are supposed to do. You can't sit there and dwell in it. Us coaches probably do that more than we probably should.

It probably helps that the division championship is on the line this weekend too, right?
Swinney: Absolutely. This is what it's all about. Winning your second division championship in three years and finish unbeaten at home for the first time in 21 years. Absolutely. And it's senior day. This is the last time these guys are going to play at Death Valley. For us that played, we all remember our last game. Whether it was in high school or college. Ironically, my last home game was against South Carolina. My last game in high school was against Thompson High in Pelham.

Did Andre Ellington practice last night?
Swinney: He practiced. Took every snap. Looks good.

What are you working on with your defense right now?
Swinney: Just trying to get everybody to do their job. It's a shared responsibility. That's critical - to have 11 guys do their job. We've just had some inconsistency in our execution that has cost us. Give the opposition some credit too, now. Our guys know what the reality is. Stay focused on fixing our problems and try to play better this week.

How much of those inconsistencies on defense this year are due to depth?
Swinney: Well there's a big drop off for us right now. I've alluded to it many times - the biggest difference with this team was experienced depth (or lack thereof). Right now, we are very talented, but we just don't have the experienced depth that we want or that we are going to have. We've just got a risk-reward that we are always dealing with. If we look at our snaps, we've had more guys play more snaps defensively than we have in a while. That's the depth. Plus the type of games we've had. We've fought for our lives and haven't had many coffee breaks outside of North Carolina. We've got a lot of guys that have made significant improvement that y'all haven't seen.

You talked about the memories of "last games," can you address the Wake Forest issue that seems to happen with Clemson the last several years?
Swinney: It's a good football team. Coach Grobe does a good job. They are well-coached. It's not just Clemson. They've beaten a lot of teams and won the conference. They recruit well for their system. If you look at their roster they mostly redshirt everybody that comes in there. They play their style. They play the Wake Forest way and it gives them a chance to win. Yeah- I was a part of a couple of games against those guys when it didn't go our way. But I've been on the good side more than the bad. I knew it was going to be a dogfight for Notre Dame and it was. Home field advantage is a big deal in college football.

Can you provide examples of the younger players who are improving behind the scenes?
Swinney: Deshawn Williams, Grady Jarrett and Tavaris Barnes. Stephone Anthony. Even Tony Steward is hurt now. We have a lot of guys who are learning and going through the game day process. They are watching others and learning. Learning from others' mistakes. They are absorbing. It's like having money in the bank. At some point they will be able to tap into that.

Is the unpredictability with Wake Forest similar to what Georgia Tech wanted to do against you?
Swinney: A little different. I'd say there is more movement with these guys. They both are an odd style of play defensively. Georgia Tech mostly wants to be a two-safety type of defense. Wake Forest wants to be a one-safety type of defense. Obviously the style of play can dictate that - with matchups.

Can you talk about Tajh Boyd's maturation process since the loss?
Swinney: We expect him (to bounce back). It's what we expect. He didn't play very well. He'll be anxious to get back out there Saturday, like all competitors, and play well.

Can you speak to the senior leadership of this team?
Swinney: We've got really good senior leadership. Most are either starters or solid contributors. That's what you want. Hopefully at some point we are going to have this thing where you have veteran juniors and seniors are guys that you develop through your program. One of the things we've done a good job is to develop leadership throughout the team. I meet with the seniors twice a week. Back before we got going last spring, they selected a couple of sophomores and juniors to join them. That helps. Marquan Jones is an incredible leader for this team and he's been in a touch situation. He's been right there- teaching and helping and working on special teams. That's what team is all about. Same thing on the defensive side with Andre Branch, Coty Sensabaugh and everywhere. That's been the difference in our football team. We are talented - but the leadership is what you have to have in place to get where you want to go.

Was there any one area of fundamentals you focuses on during the off-week?
Swinney: Ball-security. You aren't going to win many ball games putting the ball on the ground. When you give away momentum on the road it's a mountain to climb. That was our biggest thing. Focus on our plan to win - here it is. It's the effort. It's ball security. It's turnover. Instead of focusing on scheme it's on our core fundamentals.

Stephone Anthony was one of the headliners in the last recruiting class - can you talk about his progression?
Swinney: He's a great player. He's going to be a special, special player at Clemson. He needed the week off. He's been battling a mid-foot sprain. I expect him to finish strong for us. He's very focused. Very intelligent linebacker. If you draw 'em up that's what you want. He's learned a lot this season and he's got some good football in front of him this year. Has the potential to be a great great player.

CUTigers.com Top Stories