Swinney talks ACC Championship

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Dabo Swinney, Andre Branch and Tajh Boyd talk about the ACC Championship win over Virginia Tech on Saturday night.


Opening statement...
Swinney: Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to announce that I will be taking my Clemson talents to South Beach, baby. I wanted to say that. We're excited. Man, it's just a great time. Awfully excited about going to Miami. Played like a champion today. These guys just truly had the heart of a champion all year, and obviously we had a couple of stumbles along the way, but I think the Packers were 8 and 8 when they went into the playoffs last year. And I told them it's about postseason. What's happened has happened.

Kourtnei Brown and the Clemson Tigers are headed to Miami to play in the Orange Bowl.
We're a championship program and tonight we added to a great tradition. And I think this was our 18th overall and 14th ACC Conference Championship. It's our first time to win 10 games in 20 years. It's our first time to win an ACC Championship in 20 years, first time to go to the Orange Bowl in 30 years. We set a couple records tonight I think for the most wins versus winning teams and the most wins versus ranked teams, and I think we tied the record for the highest ranked opponent to win against.

So it's just great to be a Tiger, and we're 10 and 3, and we're excited about representing the ACC in the Discover Orange Bowl. Really looking forward to that. I've been to the Orange Bowl once before, and I'm just tickled to death that these players are going to get a chance to experience it for themselves.

I'm very humbled by what God has done in my life, and let me just tell you because I had somebody say something to me the other day, let me make this real clear. I'm thankful to the good Lord in the good times and the bad times, when we win and lose, and I want to make sure everybody understands that. But we've been down in a valley for a couple weeks now, and these players locked arms, came together, pulled the rope in the same direction, and they charged the hill today. They charged back up the hill.

One of the things I told them is there's been a lot of walls built around this program over the last 20 years, whether it be people that don't believe, doubters, whatever it is, and slowly but surely we've been kind of knocking those walls down over the last couple years. Some people try to build them back up as soon as we knock one down, but today they knocked them down. I'm just thankful to be able to do something that's not easy to do. It's a very difficult thing to do, and the credit goes to the players. Certainly our best game of the year, offense, defense and special teams, by far our most complete game. And one of the things I've told them all year is if we can get everybody to be accountable and do their job, it's not going to be close. We're going to really put it together and overwhelm somebody, and tonight was the night that we put it together against a very good football team in Virginia Tech.

They've been a great champion, and tonight we're honored to have a chance. Our players were outstanding. We'll talk about that, but I just do want to say thank you to Terry Don Phillips. I don't know if he's in here and President Barker and our board of trustees for allowing me the opportunity to lead this program. It truly is an honor and a blessing to be able to take this team back to a place of our where it was our program's greatest moment down in Miami. This was our 30 year anniversary of our National Championship team, so to be able to go down there and celebrate is an awesome blessing.

Also want to just offer our condolences and our prayers to Chester McGlockton's family, obviously one of our all time greats at Clemson, and it's been a very difficult few days. We've got a lot of people that are very, very close to Chester, and it's going to be a very difficult few days coming forward. Our players honored him tonight. I promise you, Chester would have appreciated how that defense played tonight. They were outstanding. Chester McGlockton ironically was No. 91, and it's been since '91 since we've been the ACC champions. Just really happy for our players and how they honored him tonight.

And also my aunt passed away today, my father's sister, my Aunt Betty, Betty Chandler. I found out literally right before I got on the bus to come over here. I just want to remember her and all of my family, my dad and his sisters and everybody back home. I'm just happy we were able to win tonight and bring a smile to their face.

These players were awesome. Play makers make plays in championship games. We've been pretty ugly here the last few weeks, and tonight we got back to our formula. We created turnovers, we took care of the ball. My quarterback showed back up. I told him, I said, we've been like a team with the flu or something, and we got a penicillin shot or something. We got better. We needed some early momentum, we needed a spark. Tajh hit Dwayne Allen early, and that's the spark we needed, and then we just kind of put it together from there, defensively, special teams and so forth.

I wouldn't trade anybody for my quarterback here in Tajh Boyd. Andre Branch, let me tell you, I couldn't be more proud of a guy and how far he's come from the day he got to Clemson. To see him leave Clemson as a champion and to have an opportunity to play in a BCS Bowl, that's what it's all about. He's one of those guys that has been a great leader for us, and he's believed, he's supported me in everything we've been trying to do, and tonight our defensive line was dominant, and Andre Branch is a big part of that. It's an honor to be able to share the stage with these guys, and it's an honor to be able to represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl.

With that, I'll take whatever questions you may have.

Tajh, you stood about 65 feet down the hole 11 months ago in tears, and you said after a 6 and 7 season that this would never happen again, in fact you promised it. What is that like, and would you have ever thought that in 11 short months you'd be the MVP and sending the Tigers to a BCS Bowl?
Boyd: We all have dreams and aspirations, and that was definitely one of the goals coming into the season. Coach also promised us that things would change. He's like, I promise you, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure we win games. He went out there and went out on a limb and hired Coach Morris who came from way removed in high school. Coach is like, this is going to work. We believed in everything he told us, and definitely came out there and just put the plan to use.

It's just a pleasure working with the guys. This off season, this summer, we were running gassers at 5:45 in the morning, and every gasser we're counting down, first game, second game, championships, it went in order like that. We got a lot of help out here and a lot of support, and we're one big happy family, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Tajh, obviously the last couple of weeks you've had some difficult times. Can you talk about how you got back to the player you were the first eight weeks of the season?
Boyd: Somewhere you've just got to find out and dig deep into yourself. Obviously you do get a sense of complacency, and if you let it, if you let the outside world influence how you carry yourself and how you act, I mean, that's just one of the life lessons learned. I feel like that's one of the things that happened, and it happened for a reason, to let you know that all you can really do is believe in yourself and your family, which is my teammates. I mean, I'm just proud to be here.

Andre, did you guys go back to being confident with each other after being down?
Branch: Yeah, coach just pretty much challenged us as a team. He said we never put a game together where we played together. We felt like this was the right stage for it, and we just showed everybody what we were capable of doing.

Coach, how did you all stop David Wilson tonight?
Swinney: Accountability, simply these guys can tell you, we had a nice little meeting on Monday, I probably should have done it three weeks ago because we really don't have an ability problem, we have a little bit of an accountability problem and responsibility and dependability. So it was a challenging week. Just like you discipline your children, sometimes you need a little tough love, but you've got to respond. And they responded the right way.

We were accountable. We played our gaps. We had guys lined up where they were supposed to. They took ownership in the plan. We tackled well. We created pressure, and we just said we're going to stop the run tonight, and I'm just really proud of them, and I'm proud of our running back, Andre Ellington. He was big time special tonight on a big stage. He was one of the big keys in the game for us because we were able to run the football.

What happened between the first half and the second half? Did you guys make any sort of specific adjustments?
Swinney: No. I told them at the half, my exact words were, man, I love it, I love it. This is championship football, it's 10-10 and we're going to get a stop right here, we're going to go score. Special teams, we need you to be solid for us. We gave them really ten points. We were really disappointed with the double move because we knew it was coming, and we had a great call defensively and just didn't do our job right there.

And then my man down here gets a personal foul, and they get three points off of that. So we were really disappointed that they had ten points, but we felt really good about the confidence that was starting to grow in the offense, and we just needed to finish some drives. I felt like we were winning the field position battle. We were getting backed up, but we were able to move it out and then punt them deep. So I felt good about that. It was just a matter of not making some of those mistakes.

"Once we got that first stop and that first score in the third quarter, you could just sense the momentum. And that's one of the things I've said all week."

Once we got that first stop and that first score in the third quarter, you could just sense the momentum. And that's one of the things I've said all week. One of the real key intangibles, or X factors, if you will, in a championship game, and I've been a part of many of them, is momentum, especially early momentum. And we got early momentum, and we just never really let it go. But defensively Coach Steele and the staff did a great job. But the credit goes to these players. They got off blocks and did the things that we really hadn't done a very good job of the last couple ballgames.

For both of the players, what does it say about this team in particular that even despite the losses at the end of the season you guys won the games that mattered the most?
Branch: Pretty much we know what we're capable of doing, and we're just one family. You know, we don't listen to the outside world, like Tajh said earlier. Basically like Coach Swinney always said, we play for each other. So yeah, we lost some, but we can either pout about it and keep losing or we can man up and just do what we're capable of doing. Boyd: Oh, as well, like coach said, it was accountability, it was responsibility, and we hold each other to a standard.

Thursday, before we headed out to practice, coach made us stand up and give a pledge, and everybody stood up and told him, and they guaranteed that they were going to do their job and they were going to give all. We don't have a game next week or the week after, so everybody played and laid everything they had on the field. The results were different. That's all you can really ask for. But we definitely have some great players here, and I mean, they just came out and just played today.

How big was field position in the second half?
Swinney: It was critical. I mean, just huge. I thought we did a great job all today. I'll tell you, their punter was unbelievable. Holy cow. We didn't know where to line up. He'd punt one short and then he'd punt it 70 yards. I thought they did a good job, as well.

But the key for us is we were able to put some drives together. And even when we didn't score, one of our main goals is to end every drive with a kick, whether it's a punt, a field goal or an extra point. So we had some 1st downs where we ended up getting stopped, but we were able to create that field position for our defense. Really loved how our defense was playing, and we kind of played to that, especially down in the fourth quarter, and that was certainly a key, key part of the game. Once they had to become a little one-dimensional, it kind of became a defensive lineman's type of game.

This has certainly been an emotional week for you between Thursday and the couple passings you talked about. Can you describe the emotion and the passion you guys played with, that you injected into your team today, culminating in the hug with your mom at the end of the game?
Swinney: It all starts with the player. It doesn't matter if I can stand on my head. It doesn't matter. They have to play. They have to believe in each other. They have to take ownership. As I told them, we don't have an ability problem. So all the credit goes to the players.

I'm just fortunate to be here. I got this job three years and two days ago, and this was my dream. This was my vision, to be up here one day holding an orange. It's been a process. It ain't been easy. And let me tell you, anything worth having isn't easy.

So I'm just happy for our players, because since the day I got the job, I walked into every meeting I've had ever and I carry two signs, one that said believe and one that says you can do it, because that has to be the foundation, because we live in a world that doesn't believe in you, and there's been a whole lot of unbelief at Clemson for a long, long time. I've seen it firsthand.

But these guys believe, and the thing I've told them all along is if you're going to change Clemson, you have to change it from inside. It's not going to change on the outside. It just is what it is. You've got to change it from the inside, and our players have bought into that. So again, listen, I can do cartwheels and stand on my head and do whatever. The players deserve all the credit because they get it done, and that's what our program is about. It's about the players and leadership and guys being about the right things, and nobody deserves it more. I'm happy to be here, and I'm happy for our staff because they work so hard, our support staff. But let me tell you, this is the players' game. They're going to be rewarded with a great trip to the Orange Bowl.

Last time I was there, imagine this: Tom Brady went 80 yards to tie the game on us, and we lost in overtime, missed an extra point. I'll never forget that. But it was a great trip, and I can't wait for these guys to be able to experience it. All the folks at the Orange Bowl just do an incredible job, the Discover Orange Bowl, and just happy to be there.

I know your coach is back and forth through the media with Coach Spurrier. It's definitely fired up the fan base. I'm curious whether it had any effect on you guys at all.
Boyd: Honestly, not really. Coach Swinney said something similar to us, and I back Coach Swinney up 100 percent, though. I definitely love Clemson. Wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I mean to the point where it's like fighting for one of your brothers or sisters. You don't let anybody talk about them. But in a sense, though, coach was just speaking how he felt. Some people can take it in either regard, but I definitely feel like he said what he felt. That's all you can really ask for from a coach, and whether it's sticking his neck out for us, we'd do the same for him. Definitely appreciate having him as a coach and I love him to death.

Swinney: Listen, I've got nothing against Coach Spurrier, just so you know. I love Coach Spurrier. He's a good man. I've had nothing but respect for him for a long, long, long time. I mean, that deal this week, listen, it was a response. And my job is to be the leader of this program. I'm going to defend my players in this program, in this staff, Clemson University. It was something that was out there all week, and it was never I'm thankful that he says he didn't say it. But none of that matters right now. But there's no problem or anything like that between me and Coach Spurrier. It is what it is.

For coach and for Tajh, what was it with the game plan or just with the personnel match ups that enabled you guys to score so many points tonight?
Well, I felt like coming in that we needed to try to get Tajh off early with some confidence type throws, ran a couple of nakeds, boot legs early in the game. I felt like we had a good game plan as far as the running game is concerned. We always like our match ups with our skill guys. We felt like if we could get Tajh off with a little confidence and just create a spark then we could get it rolling. That's really what happened. We hit some short throws early that kind of kept the chains moving, and he audibled to one, it was one of them no, no, no, no, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes plays. I saw it coming. That was good. As I told Chad, it's good to see him have his confidence back. Our protection was pretty good, so we did some things protection wise to max it up, to give ourselves an opportunity to get in a little bit of rhythm. But they just played. They just played.

If you would elaborate on that a little bit more, please, what you and Chad did. It seemed as though Georgia Tech was never able to get into a rhythm defensively. You kept them off balance. What specifically were you guys able to do to prevent that from happening?
Swinney: I want to say about the defense, we had all 11 guys pulling the rope in the same direction most of the night. We covered people up, we protected, we gave him some plays that were pretty easy to execute early, and then we kind of ramped it up. He made some big throws, had some guys make some big catches. We felt like we'd have an opportunity for a couple double move type plays. We hit a big one to Sammy in that regard. 21 out for them, that was big. He's a great, great football player, so that was certainly a big loss for them when he left the game.

We just won some match ups, but it starts with the guys up front. Our offensive line was awesome. Awesome.

You guys were able to score 21 points in 4 minutes and 24 seconds. That was part of an explosion. Can you talk about that?
Swinney: Well, we got stops and we put it together on offense, defense, special teams. We scored, we had the momentum, then you kick it off and you get a stop, you get it back with good field position. They had some critical penalties tonight, too. I think they had about three penalties in a row on kickoff, I believe, on their kick return. So it kind of backed them up and created good field position for us. Our defense got the stop. They punted and we got good field position.

So any time you can win the field position battle, you can play on a 50 or 60 yard field as opposed to an 80 or 100 yard field then your odds of scoring go way up. And again, the momentum, we just kept it going, and the way we were able to run the football was to me the real key.

Andre, can you talk about how that fumble right at the beginning of the game on their first play kind of set the tone for the whole night?
Swinney: Coach Swinney always talks to me about being relentless and being a senior leader. I knew going into it from watching film what type of play they were going to run. Coach Swinney always says big players make big time plays in big games. I feel like that set the tone for the game, and once that happened I knew what our offense was capable of doing, and they scored.

Tajh Boyd threw three touchdown passes and picked up the game's most valuable player award.
Can you guys just talk about the defensive pressure you were able to bring tonight? Defensively over the last couple weeks, you weren't playing the type of football you wanted to play, and tonight you played an aggressive style of football and really took over the game.
Swinney: Yeah, they did. We had a great plan, but again, we had a great plan last week. These players executed, and they took ownership and accountability. They did the things that they have to do to be dominant. You've got to win the physical match ups to have a chance against a great team like Virginia Tech, which is a very physical football team, and they just really will challenge you in all aspects. That quarterback and that running back, shoot, this was a huge challenge for us. But again, all the credit goes to these players. They took the challenge. I thought we did a tremendous job defending outside. There wasn't a lot of space, and when their balls were thrown, they had a couple great catches. We had good coverage, but we defended and competed. And then these guys up front created some pressure and they had a lot of discipline with their rush lanes, and we got some push inside. So when we did scramble, we were able to rally and keep it to minimum gains.

Branch: David Wilson is, if not the best running back in the nation, one of the tops, and Coach Swinney pretty much put it on the D line and said if they're able of running the ball, then it's on the D line. You know, that was just a challenge for us just showing everybody what type of players we have, and we just meshed all together the whole night. Our DBs were playing physical and the D line and linebackers, we just came and played like one family and one unit. We made them one dimensional, and once we did that we already knew what type it was, we pinned our ears back and brought the pressure. You beat them by 20 points in the regular season, you beat them by 28 tonight. Is this just a more talented team than Virginia Tech? How do you explain the domination?
Branch: We played as a team, point blank. We played as a team and we played relentless. That's all I have to say.

Boyd: Again, this is one of those games where nobody gives us a chance. Coach Swinney walked in before the game, and he's like, I really don't like talking about it but I couldn't help myself but to watch ESPN today, and he's like, nobody picked us to win, again. Maybe that was a problem with a few losses, but I do feel like we match up well with anybody in the country. I feel like we have the best players until the country here at Clemson, and we just had some mishaps here and there. But when things are rolling, they're definitely rolling. I love it here, enjoy it here. The players are great, and we're going to Miami.

Branch: All the way to Miami.

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