Swinney: Syracuse, I'm excited about this trip. It's going to be anew experience for our team. It's good having Syracuse joining the league. They are going to be a quality opponent for years to come. A division opponent for us. They are 2-2. They lost to Penn State by six points. At Penn State. They kind of let it get away from them at Northwestern. They are coming off of two wins and an open date. They are going to be well rested and confident. And they lost one game at home all of last year. Teddy Bridgewater lost there. Geno [Smith] lost there. 6-1 at home last year and we are going to have to play well.
At quarterback, they've made a change. No. 10 comes in there and played really well against Tulane. Brings a running dimension to their team. Their offensive line is very physical. You turn on the film and that's what you see. They have a Remington candidate at center. Really good looking skill guys. Big wide outs. Very impressed with their running backs. No. 45 is a big, big strong back. He had over 1,100 yards last year and leads the ACC in touchdowns. He keeps getting up and keeps bringing it. We have to compete with their skill versus our skill.
Defensively, they have six plus starters back. One of their backers is back from last year. They bring a ton of pressure. They force you to be very sound in what you do. You have to get rid of the ball quickly because they will bring one more than you can block. They force you into mistakes. No. 96 is one of the better defensive linemen in this conference. He has three sacks.
Their head coach was their defensive guy the last couple of years. They are more in transition on offense because they lost some good players and a really good quarterback.
The bottom line is our plan to win, playing with great effort. Winning the turnover margin. Making a difference in special teams and not having missed assignments.
What do you think it is about the longer trips that cause sluggish starts?
Swinney: I have no idea. To me it shouldn't matter. It depends on who those teams are. The experience of your team. All of those factors make a difference. The biggest thing is it is hard to win on the road. That's a fact. In any league it's hard. Everybody is more comfortable at home. I personally always enjoy going on the road. I loved it. I loved the hostility of it. Growing up in the SEC, I loved going to Baton Rouge and see grandmas flicking you the finger when you ride in on the bus. But those external factors- if they are a factor then you aren't going to be a great team. Uniforms. Plane trips. It all comes down to execution.
Are any challenges taking this team to play indoors in a place you've never been before?
Swinney: I think it would be if you didn't have experience with that. We played in the dome twice last year. We are very fortunate to have an indoor practice facility all the time. The only difference is sight lines. Other than that it's just a field. It's still football. It's all the same. The noise will be a little more compact. We play in a lot of loud places. Our defense, we play with tremendous noise at home. It's loud. It could be a factor if you let it. We can't let it. External things can't be a part of your performance. The big difference is there is no air conditioning. Carrier Dome has no A/C. Everybody tells me they shut the fans off and it's stuffy. But we are from Clemson. In August, we have hot stuffy practices around here and our indoor facility doesn't have air. Should not be a factor.
Four games in, how do you evaluate your offensive line? Particularly at right tackle?
Swinney: I think we've done a lot of good things. We are 4-0. We are still improving. We haven't had the continuity. But it's been good because we are developing a lot of guys. Giff [Timothy] missed a game. [David] Beasley has. But Kalon Davis has stepped up. [Isaiah] Battle has gotten some work. That's been good to see and that will pay off for us. It's a long year and it's hard to keep five guys in there every play. We have to do some things better. Missed assignments that we have to get corrected. I don't see any issues from a physical standpoint. We have to be on the same page a little bit better. Haven't been happy with the protection issues we've had at times. But it's nothing we can't fix. Shaq Anthony is a sophomore who is inconsistent. He can do everything we need to do but he has to take ownership of it. We need Giff back to being Giff. Battle is coming on. We are kind of starting over with Joe Gore because he's had some set-backs with his knee. He'll be a good player for us. But Kalon- can't say enough about him. Shatley is playing great. Awesome football. Ryan Nortion has been awesome. To me, the's been the MVP the first four games. He's played sick. Get's an IV. Puking. Goes back in. We have to get that continuity. Haven't had that. But we are 4-0 and have two really hard fought wins. But we are much further along now there than we were last year.
How does Syracuse pressure opponents?
Swinney: Take care of the ball. We will have a chance to win every week if we take care of the football. We are playing very good on defense. This is the most complete team we've had in our ability to win games in different ways. There are only seven teams in the country in the top 25 of scoring offense and scoring defense. We are one of them. We have to create turnovers. We've done a good job. As long as we do that we've got a chance to win. It's about us and executing at a high level.
Tajh seemed calmer against Wake Forest. How do you get him to take that on the road?
Swinney: I don't know. Go play. I don't over analyze all of that stuff. He's been on the road a thousand times. Needs great prep. Show up to meetings on time. Eat good pregame meal. Visual the game plan. Go play and have some fun. Do what he's done for the last five years. I don't know how to answer that. He's had great games on the road. Just another game.
Where does Syracuse bring pressure from?
Swinney: Everywhere. They will overload you from the outside. Secondary pressure. They play a lot of cover zero. House blitz where they bring one more than you can block. You have to win matchups. You have to know who the free guy is. The quarterback has to be dialed in. Our quarterback has to do a good job of checking us. Tajh has a good feel for it. That's why we practice and why we watch tape. At the end of the day, it's about making plays.
Is this an example of how N.C. State will prepare Tajh with the kind of pressure they brought?
Swinney: All of experiences help him. Three years of being a starter. He's seen just about everything. It's not like there is anything new. This particular opponent - they play with a hard edge. He's got to be ready for it.
Because you have four quality running backs
Swinney: Hot Rod is our guy. He's earned that. He's proven that. He's been tremendous. Other guys- he can't do it all. We have to rely on Zac and it's been good to see D.J. [Howard] reemerge. He had a scope the week before the Georgia game and he's really come back on strong. The way he finished the game against N.C. State really sparked him. He did some good things for us the other day. And Zac? He's a tremendous player. Very good football player. As he gets more opportunities you'll see him blossom. And then there's C.J. Davidson
What's the latest with Mackensie Alexander? How did his surgery go?
Swinney: It went very well. It was exactly what they thought. He's in good spirits and rehabbing. Probably we'll end up redshirting him. But we'll reevaluate him in a couple of weeks. He's doing well.
Can you reflect Zac Brooks as a power back?
Swinney: We use him whenever. He's a bigger guy than Hot Rod. But Hot Rod actually weigh a little bit more than Zac. When it's all said and done he'll probably be 205 pounds or 210. We use him all different ways. We don't call the game any differently. We'll roll them in there. Sometimes one will get a hot hand. They all have to react. But it's not an effort where we say "Zac is in the game so let's run power."
You talk about your "plan to win"... how did that come together?
Swinney: My football experience. Sitting there and my desk and writing notes and trying to give our guys something tangible and measurable that we can give our team every week. Everything starts with effort for us. It's all about effort. I don't have a problem with guys unless it's bad effort, bad citizens or they don't to school. Effort, and being a good citizen and going to class - those are non-negotiable. That's where it starts. There's a stat in the NFL if you win the turnover margin and have two more big plays than your opponent, you win the game 85 or 90 percent of the time. We have to eliminate mental errors. We may physically get beat on a play. But to not know what you are doing and to not give yourself a chance... we had issues last year where pre-snap we were beat. Being a smart team. Not beating yourself. I tell our guys all the time, Clemson is our greatest opponent. Don't let Clemson beat Clemson. Give yourself a chance to win. And then special teams- huge emphasis on special teams. We have to impact the game there. One thing that has helped us this year is all the youth and depth and then let's be the least penalized team. We've done a good job of that. We chart loafs- that's very important. You are in a game and you loaf? Are you kidding me? Can't have that.
Dabo previews Syracuse
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