Dabo previews South Carolina

CLEMSON - Head coach Dabo Swinney previews the annual grudge match with the Gamecocks.

Opening comments...
Swinney: Hope everybody is doing well today. This is an exciting week in college football. It's an exciting week in our state, every single day - for every home in the state. It's a ton of fun to be a part of this rivalry. It's a huge game. This is one of those rare moments in the series where both teams are ranked. Big ball game. Really looking forward to being a part of it. South Carolina has had another good year- good season once again. They've done it in a little bit different fashion. They've done a great job in finding ways to win. No 5 or 21 and they are finding ways to win- that's a credit to their team and their coaches.

Their quarterback is getting better. He's gaining confidence each week with what they ask him to do. Same thing with No. 22. They have weapons on the outside and you better know where they are. No. 1 is a great player. Same thing with No. 9. No. 23 is a guy they like to get involved - whether that's with the wildcat or getting him in space. They have weapons. It will be a challenge for our defense to make sure we are sound and don't give up big plays.

Defensively, you might as well line up all of those guys in the NFL. They are No. 5 in the country. Similar to Florida State and North Carolina - they are tall and lanky guys coming off the edges. Really good defensive line. Linebackers play well. The secondary guys have been there forever. They are very aggressive and force the issues and you have to come ready to play. Big challenge for us. No doubt about it.

Special teams has been critical in this game the last couple of years. They have really talented return guys. We haven't done a good job with our punt coverage the last couple of weeks.

The bottom line in a game like this we know a lot about them and they know a lot about us. We have to take care of the football and give yourself a chance to be successful. Players got to play. That's the bottom line in championship-type games. Guys have to show up and be ready and do their job. Take care of the football and give yourself to win the ball game.

I don't know if we've given ourselves much of a chance in this game the last two years with the turnovers we've had. Can't wait to get down there. Electric atmosphere and will be a great game to be a part of.

It seems as if this team has lost its momentum the last three weeks. What's happened?
Swinney: Y'all want some grand answer. 11 turnovers in three games. None of the rest of it matters. We are lucky we didn't lose three games. We have a lot of guys playing some great football. Really good football. You turn on the film and watch Malliciah Goodman and Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson and Coty Sensabaugh. We aren't giving ourselves a chance. We have to lead the nation in turnovers the last three weeks. Turnovers, critical penalties, six sacks given up - we aren't playing our best. The effort is good. That's unquestioned. We grade that very tough. Our execution has not been as good. We executed at a high level ... but the last couple of games we have not. We've guys operate outside of the system. It's the little things. We are not a 5-6 football team. We are 9-2. You turn the film on and you see the mistakes you made and you know why you got beat. The two losses we've had - we had four turnovers in each one. And both were on the road and that's a recipe for disaster.

We expected to be 11-0 right now. And we are not. We have to get better. But after 11 games headed into week 12 we have all of our goals written over there still in front of us. Last year that wasn't the case. That's what we have to focus on. Let's be who we are. We've got volumes of tape of us doing the right things. That's what we have to get back to doing.

Second straight week facing a team that forces turnovers in bunches. How do you become more efficient in preventing turnovers?
Swinney: Just be who you are. Do what you are coached to do and play within the system. Do your job. Everybody has to do their job to protect the football. We were as good as anybody in the country the first part of the season. The last three outings we haven't been very good and that's why we have struggled. We've practiced well. Meetings have been good. These guys are focused. Just on game day we've made critical mistakes. We've had some young guys make mistakes but you have to line up and compete. We've had times when we have to overcome it. We haven't done that as well these last three games.

Where does short-yardage rank on your list of concerns headed into this game?
Swinney: Big. Again, it's little things. There's nothing major. It's very simple things we just aren't doing. You scratch your head because it's base. As base as you can be. Few guys that haven't done their job and we aren't asking them to do anything. It's simple. That's frustrating as a play caller. Chad's got a call sheet and we've worked all week and it's exactly how we've practiced. Nine guys blocked in perfect and one guy doesn't do his job. That's where the accountability and that focus needs to be had by every single player.

Sammy Watkins should be close to 100 percent Saturday against the Gamecocks. (Getty Images)
Does it take longer to develop offensive lineman than any other position and do you need to redshirt those players to get the most out of them?
Swinney: I don't think there's any question, the offensive line is the most technical, physically challenging position on the offensive side of the ball. No question. We've had some grab bag - moving guys around and stuff like that. But we've played 11 ball games. We are seeing what we are preparing for. No excuses. Need to play better. Robbie Caldwell is an outstanding offensive line coach and does a great job. We had bad missed assignments the other night that caused problems for us - but it wasn't anything we weren't prepared for.

What's the injury situation?
Swinney: We are improving. Encouraged by what I saw from Phillip Price. Hopeful he's going to play. He thinks he's going to play. Didn't have high expectations going into yesterday but he looked pretty good. We are going to challenge him today. If he does well today we'll go live with him tomorrow. Everybody else should be back. We've got a whole page full of guys with this and that but that's just football at this level.

The concerns you had about depth during the preseason - have those come to fruition?
Swinney: It's been an issue for us all year. Two-fold - one is we've had to play some guys a whole bunch of snaps because of the type of games we've had and the schedule and some of those guys have had to play more than we would like - even some of the back-ups. You have to play through that. We've had some young guys that have performed well at times and other times they've cost us. That's unfortunate but that's all part of playing freshmen in critical situations. At this point everybody has depth issues. Everybody is hurt. Everybody has got key guys out. We've been pretty fortunate. It's caught up with us these last couple of ball games but that's football.

The 2009 class- is this where that catches up with you?
Swinney: Yes. We didn't sign a whole bunch of guys that year. We are who we are - a young football team. Next year we will be mostly sophomores and below but we'll have more guys with experience. That's all part of taking over a program and building a program. I would rather have done just what we've done and get the right guys, instead of the wrong guys.

Losing three in a row to these guys is on the table Saturday - is that something you talk about trying to avoid this weekend with your team?
Swinney: No. We don't spend any time talking about that. What happened last year or 20 years ago doesn't matter. South Carolina has been a pretty good football team. They've beaten Alabama here in the last two years. They've beaten Florida twice. They've beaten Tennessee and Georgia. They are a very talented football team and so are we. That's what makes this game great. None of that other stuff matters. It's about these four quarters.

How do you think South Carolina has done progressing after Lattimore's injury and the loss of Garcia?
Swinney: They've done a great job of playing to their strengths. They've done a great job overcoming adversity. It's about getting better and that's what they've done.

How you describe the relationship between you and Steve Spurrier?
Swinney: Very professional. We don't have the same music on our iPod. Very professional. I have a ton of respect for Coach Spurrier. He's 67 years old. I've watched him my whole life. I've played against his team. I've coached against his team. One of the winningest coaches in college football. Have a ton of respect for him. Good person. Really sweet wife. She's been very encouraging to my wife. She's reached out to Kathleen on many occasions. I want to line up and whip his tail on Saturday, but that doesn't diminish my respect for him. Being in this state you can be put in some odd situations. We play golf together once a year and that's an interesting day. I hope when I'm 67 I can look back and some of the same accomplishments that he has over his career- winning a National Championship. He's helped South Carolina achieve things they've never achieved. Good man. Good football coach and looking forward to Saturday night.

Dabo Swinney said Tuesday he expects Tajh Boyd to be "dialed-in" again this weekend against the Gamecocks. (Roy Philpott)
How critical is it to get Andre Ellington involved in a game like this?
Swinney: Critical. We haven't given him a whole lot of chances. When he's been involved and when he's been a factor we are at our best. He's a big part of what we have to improve upon to win this thing. And he's got to play - he's got some improving to do. We have to make sure he's involved.

Their offense - how has it changed with no Stephen Garcia and Marcus Lattimore?
Swinney: They are a zone-read team. They will throw the power in there and throw in some draw. They will run the zone-read from 100 different formations. They will make you play fundamental, disciplined football. Their quarterback has been a weapon. That's who they are. We have to prepared for that and be very disciplined in how we defend it. We have to tackle the back and defend the quarterback against these guys. Sometimes they'll just run a quarterback sweep and try to get five yards. They've been very patient in how they operated the offense as of late.

What do you say to the people who would like to see this game moved to earlier in the year because of the championship game weekend after?
Swinney: Who are you going play? They are all tough. It doesn't matter. They are tough. Let's play North Carolina this week! Wofford. Let's play Wofford. Every game is difficult. I don't buy into that- some people do. If you want to give us an open date that would be great but that's not going to happen. I was part of the first championship game in 1992 and I remember Coach Stallings was ticked off going into that championship game. We were 10-0 going to play Auburn and that's all we were thinking about. And we were jacked up - and then we had to go beat Florida in the SEC Championship game. And all of that prepared us to beat Miami in the championship game. I love rivalry week. Everything shuts down for four quarter. It's such a pride-oriented thing regardless of what is coming after that. I always liked following Auburn all year and seeing what they did. If you play in the beginning of the year you don't know who you are playing. My thought here is if you move it - who are you going to play? It takes so much time to prepare for an opponent. It doesn't matter who you play?

Would you be OK moving this game to a Thursday or Friday night to help it gain more publicity?
Swinney: I would be fine with that. That might serve the championship game well. You play Thursday night and then you get a couple of extra days to get well. I wouldn't have a problem with that.

Can you talk about Bruce Ellington and how they use him out of the wildcat?
Swinney: Yes we will see that. He's a very talented, dangerous athlete. If he's on the field you better know where he is.

What about Alshon Jeffrey?
Swinney: Well we don't have anybody 6-5, 200-something pounds. He's made a bunch of big plays on us over the years. One of them was out of the wildcat. Little "V" route ... a throwback. That was one of the big plays they had in the ball game. He's a challenge.

Has Tajh lost some of his confidence the last few games?
Swinney: Yes. Sure. He hasn't played well but it's not anything that isn't fixable. It's just a matter of him operating within the system. Just do your job. Operate in the system. The system is proven. that's a fact. We don't have a system problem. We've had an execution problem. He's played better, sure. But he'll be dialed in and ready to go. I like how he's responded. It's all of us. I wish I could tell him his career is going to be perfect and he'd never throw an interception. If you handle it the right way you'll be fine.

Shouldn't those be issues that we would have seen earlier in the year as opposed to now?
Swinney: Yeah. And I'm glad they didn't. Because we got film. I can tell him- you see this right here? You see this right here? We've got great video. Tajh has re-written the record books this year as a first-year starter. Offensively, we've re-written the record books this year. I wished we won by 21 every week. But sometimes you hit a slump here or there. Listen, Tajh is going to win a bunch of games at Clemson. Young player, but he's had great success this year and will have his moments. He's prepared well. You have to take it to the game field. I anticipated having some of this a little earlier but he was really dialed in and has played great the majority of the year.

Will Sammy Watkins be full-go?
Swinney: Yes.

Did you take offense when Steve Spurrier said he didn't want to be a CEO type of coach who backed off of play calls?
Swinney: No. To be honest with you, I don't read or get many comments from anybody.

When you were sitting next to Jadaveon Clowney at the basketball game last February- were you thinking you were going to reel this guy in?
Swinney: I don't know if I was thinking that (laughing). We gave it a good run. He's a great player. I had the opportunity to get to know him and his family. He's a good young person that is really really talented at what he does. Not surprised at all to see the season he's had. And he's just going to get better. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about the ones we don't get. I feel bad for Marcus Lattimore. You never want to see guys have injuries like that. He's another guy I really liked in the recruiting process.

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