Heading into 2014

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney joined The Roy Philpott Show on Thursday afternoon to discuss a number as the 2014 offseason begins.

The following is an edited transcript from Thursday's interview with Swinney.

Where does the Orange Bowl win rank on your list of wins at Clemson?
Swinney: That's right up there. The ACC Championship was huge, that's for sure, just kind of getting over that hurdle and doing something here that hasn't been done in a long time. But, the Orange Bowl, obviously, 32 years before we'd won that one. And just the fact that we played so doggone bad when we were there a couple of years ago, and how far we've come since that night, seeing our guys responding from a difficult moment, which is what it was, and went back to work, same thing with the coaches. To get back there two years later, and really play a better team, to win the game, kind of check off that box, winning a BCS, winning 11 games back-to-back years, all that stuff, it was awesome. I couldn't be more proud of our team and our staff. It was a special, special night. And, you know what? A total team effort, great players have to make plays in big games, our players made a lot of plays. Offensively, [we] had some special plays. Defensively, some huge, huge plays, probably the play of the game was the fumble on the punt return, and we were down in the turnover margin. That evened it up. That just kind of got us back going. We finished plus two in the turnover margin and we win. That's one of the things I tell people all the time, when we win the turnover margin, we usually win. It's a rarity when we don't. So that was huge for us, that moment. But, seeing all three phases have some significant contribution and how they handled the adversity. Obviously, we had a lot going against us with the refs. We made some critical errors ourselves, and then we had to beat a very good Ohio State team. There were a lot of things we overcame in that game. I just couldn't be more proud of them.

On not playing perfect and still winning.
Swinney: We don't have to play perfect. That's one of the things we talk about all the time. We don't have to play perfect. You've got to play well. You've got to play physical and tough; you've got to win the turnover margin and all of those types of things. We're good enough to play with anybody. But, if you go out there and you're putting the ball on the ground and all that against good teams you get beat. We lost two games to good teams this year, one to the fourth-ranked team in the country and the other one to the only undefeated team in the country that won it all. Both of those games, there was a common thread, 10 turnovers in two games, and you've got to give them credit for that as well. You can't win those types of games when you do that, not against good team, so that's an area that we've got to improve, there's no doubt about it. Again, you look at that game, we were really disappointed at half, because we felt like we really had just far out-played them, but we had some stupid mistakes. We had the critical penalty on Vic, we're off the field, you give them another drive, give them life and they go on and get a touchdown. We got a touchdown, we're definitely going to have the first-down, [and] then Tajh just kind of loses his mind there for a second, so you've got to overcome those things.

We left that touchdown on the field, literally on the goal line. Those are difficult mistakes to overcome, but our guys got it done. Defensively, man, what a great game, that was a great quarterback that we played against, and that running back. For us to be able to handle them like we did was awesome. We got pressure on the quarterback, did a great job versus the run. The big plays they had were just critical busts. They weren't physical wins where the guy just beat us. We had some critical mental errors, and those are all things we can improve upon, but even with all that, we found a way to win the game. That's a great sign that you've got the type of program and team that you want to have.

From the mistakes that we made, the penalties that we had, the missed opportunities that we had, to still beat Ohio State, that's a great step for us. Hopefully, we can continue to grow from there.

On his excitement about the quarterback battle
Swinney: Some people say if you don't have one quarterback, then you don't have a quarterback. That's the craziest thing ever. That's like saying, if you've got Joe Montana, Steve Young and Tom Brady all on the same team, you don't have a quarterback. That makes no sense. You've got three great quarterbacks. Now, only one guy is going to start and you have to put him in competitive situations. You know what? When you've got three great players, everything counts, on the field, off the field -- everything goes into that calculation for who you're going to run out there as the starter. It means something. But if it's a situation where we don't have a clear cut, then absolutely, we certainly would be open to playing a couple of guys and playing to their strengths. Those are all questions that we have to get answered. I think we've got three guys that are more than capable of being a starting quarterback, from a talent standpoint, so that's a good situation. We'll let the cards fall where they are, challenge them in every regard. I don't have any doubt that somebody is going to emerge as a ready guy, and we'll go from there.

Are we going to see Clemson go to the smash-mouth spread like Auburn ran?
Swinney: I think every team is different. I think that you play to your strengths. You talk about Auburn, they just did what they had to do to win games. To be honest with you, they probably would love to have a little more balance, but I think their personnel and what they were dealing with week in and week out, this is what we've got to do to win, and they played to their strengths. That's what we have to do as well. This year, we really played a little bit more to the passing game, not that we didn't run the ball affectively, we had 1,000-yard rusher third year in a row, but we knew that our bread was going to be buttered wit Tajh Boyd and those receivers on the outside, complimenting that with the running game, whereas, this coming year, I think we're going to be very good in the passing game. We've got a lot of guys back. Charone Peake's back. Mike Williams is going to be a superstar. We've got Adam Humphries back, [Germone Hopper], we've got three freshmen wide outs rolling in here right now through school that are going to be going through spring. We're going to be very good. We've got some dynamic, young tight ends. But I love what we have on campus at running back and what's coming. Then, the quarterbacks that we have, their ability to run the ball, I think it will evolve as we go through spring, and then we'll tailor our game plans each and every week. You could see a little more of the zone-read stuff. I think you saw some of that in the Orange Bowl. Heck, who would have thought Tajh Boyd would have the longest rush of the night, but he did. When I saw him pull away, I went over to Chad and said, ‘If they can't catch him, they're in trouble.' I've always said and that's why I went to this system, if the quarterback is a threat, it is very difficult to defend. That's why you look at Alabama, the teams that they've had a hard time with are the teams that have quarterbacks that can run, because it's hard. You're playing a lot of man coverage, a guy makes a man miss and it's a big play. Having a, when you say athlete, I want a quarterback, but I want a quarterback who can run the ball and make great plays with his feet, whether it's designed calls or it's making a play when there isn't a play there. We try to recruit to that. I think that we've got great guys that fit that. Cole Stoudt, he doesn't get enough credit, but he runs better than people think, and it's all about making the right decisions, and being productive and smart in the running game. Maybe he's not going to Johnny Manziel run for 70, but if you can effectively impact the game, that's what you want. Now, Chad Kelly is an outstanding runner. Deshaun Watson is an outstanding runner. So I think that those are two guys that we really recruited in here to this system, but Cole Stoudt is very capable of running this offense. He's done it in games; he's done it in practice. If he was the guy, I don't have any doubt that he would be effective as the starter.

Is 2014 a rebuilding year? Or do you look at it as a reloading year?
Swinney: I don't see it as a rebuilding year. It's just transitioning to some other guys, and seeing how those guys step up and perform, I don't see it as rebuilding. I think that we've got good players here that are awaiting their opportunity, their opportunity is here for several of them. You're always having to replace good players. That's every single year. Sure, it's nice that you have a starting quarterback back for three years in a row. That's huge. We're going to have good players. You saw this year, Florida State won a national championship with a freshman quarterback, and they lose a great quarterback. That's just, I remember when Peyton Manning left Tennessee, [and] he'd been the starter there forever. Then, the next year, Tee Martin takes over as a first-year starter and takes them to a national championship. I just think we have a standard here that we work to, that we recruit to. We stay committed to that [and] we're going to have a chance to situation success. I don't see this year as any different. I think we've got a chance to be a good football team. We've got a heck of a lot of work to do, there's no doubt about it, but I like the people that we have here. You've got to get a little lucky, you've got to stay healthy, you've got to be smart in how you develop your guys, get people in the right places and all that kind of stuff. I don't see it as rebuilding at all. I just see it as transitioning to other people.

CUTigers.com Top Stories