Dabo previews Georgia Tech

CLEMSON - Head coach Dabo Swinney previews No. 15 Clemson's matchup with Georgia Tech.

Opening statement...
Swinney: Good morning everybody. Another big challenge this week with Georgia Tech. It's a rivalry game. It's always, always a tough game. We've had some knock down drag outs with these guys but we haven't won much as of late. It's a huge game for us. A huge game for Georgia Tech.

They are a coming off of a couple of overtime losses. That's a very difficult thing to deal with. You work all year then you lose two games on the last play of the game. I know they are disappointed with how they played last week but we will get their A-game and our players know that.

They took Miami to the wire in overtime and they took Virginia Tech to overtime at their place. They put up more than 50 points against Virginia.

And look at what they did to us last year. They beat us. This is a team we have a lot of respect for and we are going to have to play very well to win the game. The biggest thing is we are home. It's good to be home.

We are 4-1 and 3 of our 5 games have been away from Death Valley. It's good to be home. 7 of our last 9 have been away from Death Valley. I really want to challenge our crowd. But we need to create the best environment in college football. It needs to be in Clemson. We have a 3:30 kick and we will make this a great environment. The energy in The Valley is awesome.

Looking at Georgia Tech, they are a veteran offensive line. But it all starts with the quarterback. No. 13 killed us last year. He set about every record in the book last year. Big plays. He destroyed us. He rushed for 176 yards. He has 11 touchdowns right now and leads the ACC and leads the nation in touchdowns for a quarterback. He is a very dangerous player and that's where it starts to defend these guys. No. 17 is dangerous. For whatever reason not many people talk about him much. Orwin Smith. He's got four of the top 20 longest plays in Georgia Tech history. Dangerous player. Good returner. He's a guy that is very capable of hitting the home run. He averages 9.8 yards per carry and that leads the nation. They always seem to have a 6-4, 6-5 guy (at receiver). That's the nature of the beast. They've got two of them. They will play-action you. Post, wheel routes. We have to win those one-on-one matchups. They love to get outside. We have to leverage the ball and you have to play the option every single play.

This is a game defensively, we had guys in position but they didn't do their job (last year). You can't get bored with it. When you try to do more than your job. We have to play with great discipline and try and create some turnovers and stay on your feet. They cut you on every play- they cut you inside. That's a huge part of this game. We have to work hard on in practice. We will go live today and cut everywhere and try to get them ready. You never see it until game day.

Defensively, they run an odd front but big. Really big big guys. We will have to do a great job of winning individual blocks. They get No. 45 back this week and he's a very very good football. He can play. He wasn't there for them last week but he's better. No. 11, 32 they are all good. The secondary is a strength for them. They had a player of the week last year in the secondary against us. Ball security in a game like this is huge.

Offensively, you have to maximize your opportunities. They are in four-down territory the entire game. We saw it in the championship game. Craziest game I've ever been a part of with no punts. I think we only had the ball 18 plays in the first half. We had five turnovers. Georgia Tech has forced nine turnovers this year and they've scored eight touchdowns off those turnovers. They cash in. That's a huge stat.

It's a big challenge for us against a team that we haven't had much success against. We need to create momentum going into the open date and build off the second half we had up in Boston.

You talked about players getting bored on defense. Was that a problem last year?
Swinney: Well, maybe that's not the right word. Guys, just do your job. We always have somebody for the quarterback, but instead of doing his job he takes the pump fake on the pitch and he's going to go tackle that guy too. When you do that, you are going to have issues. You have to do your job every single play. They have like 10 one-minute scoring drives. 10 plays of 50 yards or longer. They live off the big play. That's how they have beaten us. And then turnovers. We have to clean that up. Do your job. Then you have to win some one-on-one matchups. Win more than you lose. Then offensively, you can't help them. You have to maximize opportunities because they are going to keep the ball.

Will Andre Ellington continue to get looks on kick returns with Sammy Watkins back?
Swinney: He's just gifted. I think we all saw that Saturday with the great field position he provided us. It's like what we had when C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford were here. They just sense it better. We'll continue to use him back there. Sammy is the same way. He's gifted. And we'll use him too.

Is this defense prepared for this challenge this week?
Swinney: We are going to find out Saturday. I think we've made significant improvement in the second half at Boston College. We still have a ways to go. We won one-on-one matchups. We were much more active up front. We defeated blocks. We tackled better. That was improvement. If we can continue to stay on that track. But this is a different challenge for us. Most of our guys haven't played against these guys. It's a hard thing to simulate what these guys do in practice so we are going to find out. We are going to challenge them and coach them up and then we have to do our job. It's not taxing mentally. We aren't asking them to do too much. It's just staying on your feet. Beating blocks. Making tackles and winning one-on-one matchups.

Is it safe to say now the offensive line is a strength of this team?
Swinney: After five games I'd say the arrow is way up for this group. I didn't think we played well in the first half Saturday night. Second half was much better. B.C. played some odd fronts and slanted some guys and they didn't make some one-on-one blocks. They didn't finish. Having said that our lineman of the week was David Beasley. A year ago I didn't know if this guy was going to play. He was awesome. Must have loved the cold weather up there or something. After five games for me to be telling you he's our lineman of the week - man - he's improved. Old Shatley is a veteran over there. Then there's Giff. He probably had his worst game Saturday in Boston but he's solid. We are maturing on the offensive line. We have just one senior. I'm very encouraged.

How did Sammy Watkins look in practice yesterday?
Swinney: He looked great. You'd never know three days earlier he was being rushed to the hospital. That was a crazy situation. As they kind of explained it to me it was a perfect storm. Virus, dehydration and then probably some type of trauma where he got hit somewhere. It was a very dangerous thing. But everything is great. He's back at it. Hopefully we can get his record above .500 because we are 1-1 with him this year.

Georgia Tech had 90-plus points the last two weeks. What do you see of them on film?
Swinney: It all comes down to execution. It's about us more than them. Us doing our job taking care of the football and running the football effectively. Create some opportunities in the passing game. We are confident in our offensive abilities. We felt good going into the game last year but they out-played us. We put the ball on the ground. Next thing you know, they scored the first five times they got it. We helped them with field position before we could have a cup of coffee or have any plays on offense. We won the second half but we got ourselves into too big of a hole. They started dropping eight and everything changed. We weren't quite as patient as we needed to be. We competed our tails off and had a chance late but we made too many mistakes.

You've won in Atlanta and Boston and you are 4-1. What's the mentality of this team right now?
Swinney: We are just trying to win this week. Just trying to get better. Lot of issues. Lot of improvement to do in a lot of places. Just trying to play our best game this week. Anything else is just a waste of brain power. We are on schedule. We are trying to improve every week in practice and develop as much depth as we can. That's really where we are. We've shown up and played. We've shown some maturity. We've had two situations where Clemson hasn't handled in the past very well. Emotional win to start the season and then came back with Ball State and bam bam bam- at halftime we are trying to figure out who's going to play in the second half. Same thing last week- an incredibly tough loss on the road to a divisional opponent, with GameDay, and now you have furthest road trip. You get in bed at 5 o'clock in the morning after that loss and they responded. They were ready to play. Played with good energy. Had some mistakes in the first half. We handled adversity within the game. All three areas made some plays. The team has shown some pretty good focus and maturity at this point. But we are not a complete team. If we continue to work and apply our lessons that we are learning weekly we've got a chance to be a pretty good team.

Is it fair to suggest a lot of positions on your defense are in flux right now?
Swinney: No. I wouldn't say it's in flux. We've just got a lot of competition because we've got a lot of young players. You have to continue to feed that competitive nature we have right now. We are looking for consistency in the secondary more than anything. It's good to see Gerry Peters jump in there last week. He performed very well. And he performed confidently. I like the competition we've got going on. I think we are improving. I think Corey Crawford is improving. He's a very young player that's playing a lot of snaps. I wish he was a backup right now where we could bring him along. Kind of like with Andre Branch. He wasn't very good as a sophomore that became a great player. That's where we are. These guys are made of the right stuff. They care. They like to play. Football is important to them. We just got to coach them.

Your young defensive tackles have a big challenge this weekend, don't they?
Swinney: All of those guys. The three guys you are talking about - Reader and Carlos Watkins is another guy and Rod Byers. But those three guys - those upperclassmen- those three sophomores. They have a big challenge. This is a big deal for them. The physical part of it and the cut blocks.

Is your biggest concern is that the mental errors with this defense and how those can be magnified against a team like this?
Swinney: Oh yes. They embarrass you quickly. Last week- the only thing that is keeping us from being a great defense right now is mistakes. It's not talent. Critical errors. And that starts with us as coaches. Great defenses don't beat themselves. They don't make stupid mistakes. They can get beat. They can give up plays and guys get beaten on blocks. Last week Boston College had more 200 yards on 10 plays. Those are things we have to eliminate. Second half we saw an entirely different deal. That was very encouraging. They improved as we went through the game. Hopefully that is where we will grow and continue to get better.

So you are young defense but are you talented enough?
Swinney: Oh yeah. I laugh when people say we don't have talent. We don't have a lot of experience on defense but we are getting better. We are getting better. I'd go back and recruit all of these guys all over again. We have a lot of guys who are playing a lot and who may not be ready for their role but I'm proud of them. We have a great defensive staff. They aren't guys that don't work on things every day. I'm encouraged. Not discouraged.

How would you assess your safeties?
Swinney: Inconsistent. [Jonathan] Meeks has been very solid. Probably had his worst game in Boston but everybody else has been inconsistent. Up and down. [Rashard] Hall for example. He's had some really good moments and some disappointing moments. Our standard for him is higher because of who he is. We've just done some really not-smart things. We've done some good things but just inconsistent.

Georgia Tech runs the triple option and you'll run the zone-read. How much better has Tajh been this year in that part of the game?
Swinney: One of the biggest parts of our offense and one of the biggest areas of improvement. It's not really visible to the naked eye but very visible to us. Last year he was handing it when he was supposed to keep it. Keeping it when he was supposed to hand it. Footwork was a mess. He was challenged there in the offseason and now is greatly improved.

Have you been surprised with how well Nuk has played?
Swinney: Not really. Of course I've been with Nuk for three years now so I see him in practice every day. He's been awesome since then. He wasn't quite ready as a true freshman but he was the best we had. He was only 180 pounds then now he's over 200. He was just a freshman then but he's been great. He was a great freshman. Not a great wide receiver but a great freshman. Last year he took another step. He was a great sophomore. And now he's on his way. Eventually he's going to be a great NFL player. He does things now that we are numb to it because he does it every day. He's got a gift and now he's put the technical part with it. How to run routes. Break points. How to read coverages. And the physical development he's gone through - it's pretty special. He wasn't like Sammy that showed up 200 pounds already. People don't think he can run but he can fly. It's his total development and commitment to being a great player- he's a special guy. I'm not surprised at all because I see him in practice every day.

Do you worry or educate Tajh or Nuk about agents and possibly going to the NFL?
Swinney: No. We educate our players all the time about agents and all of that. Agents will try to talk to players in high school (on occasion). But absolutely not. If they are thinking about that right now they have lost their mind. Jeff Davis does a great job with all of that player relation stuff.

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