Dabo previews South Carolina

CLEMSON - Head coach Dabo Swinney previews No. 6 Clemson's matchup with 10th-ranked South Carolina.

Opening statement...
Swinney: Beautiful day outside. Appreciate y'all's effort to be here today. Season has flown by. Really does. I remember standing here on opening night in front of the team saying we've got 127 days of commitment.

This is our biggest challenge. South Carolina is a great team and they've had a great year. It's fun to be part of a game like this. It's a great opportunity for us.

On their offensive line, they are big and strong and experienced group up front. Biggest we've faced. Their quarterbacks have played well all year. Both guys have a lot of experience. Dylan Thompson beat us last year and Connor Shaw has had a remarkable career. He's one of those guys not a lot of people talk about but he's a gritty player. His will to win is special. I have all the respect in the world for Connor Shaw and how he plays the game.

They have outstanding skill. Two running backs are very good. Davis and Shon Carson. Physical runners who you can't arm tackle. You have to wrap up. They are both capable of making explosive plays. Very impressed with the year they've had running the football.

On the outside, they have made critical plays at critical times in very close games. Ellington has a been a steady thorn to a lot of people. Has great instincts and makes key plays. Very good skill guys. Very impressed with their tight ends. They run a lot of verticals down the field which puts a lot of stress on you. Our linebackers have to be able to run.

Defensively, it starts with the guys up front. Very good defensive line and very deep. A lot of guys they roll in there. They are confident in all of those guys up front. Linebackers have gotten better as the year has gone on. Active group that plays physical. 27 is an outstanding player. 12 is a leader. They manage their secondary.

They are what you would think. They are a top 10 team because they have a bunch of great players. They play hard. They play tough. And a lot of confidence.

Our focus is our finish. We've had a great year but this game plays a large role in that. We are 10-1 and have been consistently prepared. We've been almost perfect. Proud of that fact. But we want to finish. This is a game we all want to win. We all know what this game is about. But wanting to win doesn't get it done. We have to play great football and have make critical plays at critical times.

Turnovers have been a thorn in our side in this game. We feel like we are playing our best football. And that's what it is going to take to get it done. They have the nation's longest winning streak at home at 17 games. Quarterback has never lost a game he's started at home.

Like how we've started this week. But plenty of work to do. Glad we have that indoor practice facility so we can get in good work today. Thankful for that this week.

When you play a physical team like do you practice more physically?
Swinney: We are always in practice. Always. Last week was the first week all year I took the pads off on Wednesday. All year. Later in the season maybe I will cut a period out to get off the field a little sooner. But the structure of how we practice doesn't change. We do good on good. We don't do anything any different. We just have to play well on game day.

You've had a year to break down last year's game. Was Clowney's performance based on what he did or did you have a lot of breakdowns?
Swinney: Well, you don't take anything away from Clowney because he made a ton of great plays in that game. We had a lot of breakdowns. They were better than us and made the key plays. It was a tight game and was 17-20 and we didn't play well. Had big drops that really cost us. It was 17-20 with six minutes to go and it's 3rd and 19. Busted assignment and their guy gets 20 yards. Our guys know how they played last year. Why? I don't know but a lot of it has to do with they way South Carolina played. They made key plays. They won the turnover margin. They kept the ball. We couldn't get off the field on third down. They earned it.

Are you surprised he hasn't put up bigger numbers this year?
Swinney: It's not all about stats. That guy is impacting the game every snap he's in the game. Trust me. Whether he's making the tackle or sack or not. He's an elite football player. Big time. All of these other guys are making plays - No. 90, 99, No. 44. They are all making plays in that front.

Do you need this win to go from a good season to a great season?
Swinney: I think we've had a great year. But I want to see us play well. I want to see us play well. People don't like it when I say that. I don't focus on the scoreboard. I want to see how we play. If we play the right way the scoreboard takes care of itself. Don't get so caught up in the outcome that you aren't doing what it takes to win. I want to see us play well. As far as how people judge us, they are going to do that regardless. We can win Saturday and people will still complain that we lost one. We have a great opportunity coming up. We want to be the best we can be. The best we can be is 11-1.

There are some that suggest your legacy will be defined by your record against South Carolina. While unfair, what's your response to that?
Swinney: What I want my legacy to be at Clemson is that I did the best that I could. That I left this program better than I found it and that I did it the right way. That I impacted people's lives. All I can do is give credit to South Carolina. They've been the better team. They've coached better. They've been a very good football team that has beaten a lot of people. They've been better than us. That's my job and responsibility. Wish I could go and change it. It's not from a lack effort. That's for dang sure.

It's almost amazing everything Tajh Boyd and the punishment he's taken this year. Does he amaze you with how he's able to do that?
Swinney: Yes. He's just incredibly tough. He's like Shaw in that he has a great will to win. He's a winner. He's won a bunch of ball games and he's willing to do whatever he's got to do to win the game. He lays it on the line. I look at Connor Shaw and it's amazing. Their quarterback is very similar. His toughness is special. Two great quarterbacks.

Your approach to the South Carolina rivalry... is it harder for 18, 19 or 20 year olds to deal with the pressure of a game like this?
Swinney: Everything is tougher for 18,19, 20 year olds. I think we can all agree on that. It's just football. Here's the things you have to do to win. Here's what causes you to lose. It's not about who we play. It's about how we play. Sure, is this one a little personal? Sure it is. But it's still about a plan to win and doing your best. None of that changes. It's all the same. You can't get caught up in things that don't impact the game.

You mentioned their tight ends going vertical. How big of a concern is that against your defense?
Swinney: They do a great job of how they call the plays. Lot of curls. Curl flats. Smash routes. Lot of verticals. They do a good job mixing it up. You have to be smart with your coverages. Anytime you have 6-5 guys who can run, it's a challenge because somebody has to cover them. They've made big plays this year where a guy was there but their guy was more athletic.

How important is it get the rivalry back on your side?
Swinney: It's huge. We've gotten beaten four years in a row and nobody wants it to go to five. It's huge. It's huge for everybody. Everybody wants to win. Bad. But wanting it isn't going to get it done. But we have to be smart. Physical. We have to execute. We have to play our best game and that's where our focus is.

Is Mike Davis better than his older brother?
Swinney: I don't know about that. He's on his way to being ... if he has the longevity he can be every bit as good. He's well on his way. Great already. He kind of came on the scene a little bit last year. He's really become the guy this year. James got off to a little better start as a freshman. We'll see how he finishes up but if he stays on the track he's on it will be interesting to see who has bragging rites later on.

There is an analyst that has suggested your defense can't hold up in big games. What is your response to that?
Swinney: How about those 10 wins we have? Were those big wins? I bet if we lost those they would all be big. LSU game last year wasn't big? Georgia game wasn't big to open the season. Everybody has their own deal. All I know is we are much much better. We are one of the best third down teams in the country. We are one of the top scoring defenses in the country. We weren't one of the best in any category last year. We were one of the worst. Are we one of the best defense in the country? Not yet. But we are on our way. Next year we will have a chance to take another step. Very pleased with the job our defensive coaches have done. It's not easy to do what we've done as a team.

When you go head to head in-state against South Carolina in recruiting - are those situations truly 50-50?
Swinney: Not many 50-50. It's usually this one or that one. When I was at Alabama for all of those years it was the same thing. Usually they have a preference. They may not come out and tell you but they have a preference.

From an offensive standpoint- how do you do things differently against Clowney and be more productive against this team?
Swinney: Take care of the ball. Don't turn it over. Catch it when we throw it to you. Don't have missed assignments. Execute our plan.

You had the ball three times in the second quarter last year in their territory with a chance to go up two scores... and then South Carolina played keep away in the second half. Which was more important in the loss?
Swinney: Both. Both. We had some big opportunities to make it 21-7 at one point and then 21-10. Didn't take advantage of it. Turned it over. Gave up a critical sack. Then in the second half it was third down for us defensively. Not being able to get off the field. All the way down to the third and 19 play. As bad as we played we still had a chance.

You and Spurrier seemed to have quieted down this year. Did the two of you meet this offseason and say, 'hey, let's calm this down a bit?'
Swinney: Coach Spurrier is only mean to me when he's not around me. I see him at several different things throughout the year. He's always very civil. His wife is always one of the kindest people you'll ever meet. Our wives like each other. They probably get mad at both of us. They swap gifts and all that kind of stuff. He's a competitive guy. I'm a competitive guy. He's got bragging rites. They've kicked our tail the last couple of years. He doesn't discriminate. It's just him having fun. I don't think he means anything personal.

They've been the one talking trash - their players, etc. in recent weeks and years. Does that make you want to beat them even more?
Swinney: I don't think two wrongs make a right. Never have. If we are going to win we are going to win with class. We want to win because it's an opportunity to finish 11-1. It's the next game on the schedule and the biggest game of the year. We just want to have back to back 11-win seasons and go back to the BCS.

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