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Swinney: Great win last week. Proud of the conference play our team had this year in winning their division. That's a great accomplishment for our team and staff. We have quickly turned the page to South Carolina. A lot to catch up on Sunday, Monday and today plus we have an early kickoff. Our players have bounced back pretty good with a Monday practice. Today will be critical from a preparation standpoint. We'll get a lot of our heavy work done today.
Excited about this game - it's something that is important to this state and to both programs. It's a lot of fun. Some schools out there I'm not sure they have a rival. So it's always fun to be a part of it. But for us it's really the next game and the next goal. Same routine. Our players came in yesterday and 6:30 and put that game behind them. We'll have our normal routine this week- next game and next goal. The next goal is to win our state championship and we are excited about it.
Offensively for them - they've done a lot of different things throughout the season. Preparing for them is a challenge. They are extremely multiple and have done a lot of things over the course of their ball games. One thing that jumps out is Garcia. He has played well and has grown a lot since last year. We have to get to him and effect him. He's a good player like Ponder or Jacory Harris. We have to also keep him in the pocket and keep him contained. He's fast. He can run.
One of the things that is critical for us, as it is every week- is to stop their running game. If they can get that going that makes it difficult for us. That goes to winning at the point of attack. Our defensive line has to win up front. They are much improved on the offensive line. They are tough guys. They are playing hard. They've had some battles up front they've been in. They've also had an open date. We have to prepare for the wildcat, especially after watching last week. We have to do a better job of playing assignment football and being disciplined with your eyes and covering your guy.
They throw a lot of deep balls and that will be a factor in the game. I think that our secondary guys know that. They do it every year. We'll have to do a good job defending the deep ball.
Defensively- they are really good. They were really good last year. Ellis and "whammy" have done a really good job. Their safeties are really good tacklers. Their corners are young and talented and have gotten better over the course of the season. They are very disruptive up front. No. 91 you have to account for. No. 40- he's as good as we'll play. He's all over the place and they line him up in every spot.
They've added some linebacker depth this year too. But we have to win up front and we have to be able to run the ball. That allows us to have some balance in our offense. Special teams is usually a factor in this ball game. At least it has been the last few years. Whether it's a kick or a blocked kick or a return.
We are pretty healthy football team. It's important we have our guys fresh and ready to go, especially with their guys coming off stretch. It's all about execution. For us, it's all about us finishing strong and being a good football team.
As someone not from the state of SOuth Carolina, what have you learned about this rivalry?
Swinney: It's a great rivalry. The people just don't like each other. They talk about it all year. It hasn't quite had the national impact as the Alabama/Auburn has had because those teams are in the same conference or the same division so it could be for the SEC championship or a higher bowl or higher ranking. This game, historically, hasn't had the kind of impact on the national scene because of that. But it doesn't take a backseat at all from a fan standpoint. It's a great rivalry for good old fashioned bragging rights and it takes a backseat to nothing else I've seen.
Will any of the decisions you'll have to make Saturday be impacted by the fact you play for the conference championship next week?
Swinney: Nope. Not at all. This is the biggest game of the year. It's the next game. We want to win it. Dang. Why play the game if we don't want to win. This is an opportunity to win our ninth game of the season, our seventh in a row. We put a lot of time into winning this ball game. If it went our way, and it was the fourth quarter and the game was in control, then you may rest some guys. That's the only way that anything could change.
What is your main memory of playing Coach Spurrier while at Alabama?
Swinney: '92 was pretty good. That was my senior year as we picked it off with a couple of minutes to go. We had an interception that we took back to win 28-21. We were 11-0 and had to win that game to win the National Championship game. That was a great moment. '99 - we won it that year. Their guy missed the extra point in the swamp. Then we score and then we miss the extra point but they jumped offsides (in overtime) and our guy barely made the extra point on the retry. Then we played them again and won in the SEC Championship game.
Have you heard anything out of Columbia from Steve Spurrier that you could use as motivational material for your team?
Swinney: We have a lot of respect for Coach Spurrier. He's a great coach. He was extremely successful at Florida. Coached a lot of great players and always fun to watch on TV with how his team played and his style on offense. He's never afraid to take chances. I think a lot of coach Spurrier- I think he's a great guy.
Are they as multiple as any team you've seen on defense?
Swinney: Yes. Very multiple. They play a lot of guys. Even front. Odd front. You have to be sharp. They'll blitz you. They know what they are doing. Very well coached.
Do you have to remind your guys not to get too emotional for this game?
Swinney: We talk every once in a while about emotion. About channeling it the right way. The most emotional team won't win. It's the team that plays the smartest. The team that doesn't turn the ball over. I tell our guys, "We don't play until noon on Saturday." Let's maintain our attention to detail.
Can you talk about Kyle Parker and his preparation?
Swinney: For Kyle it's about preparation, decision making and leadership. Those are great qualities for a quarterback. He's learned how to prepare the proper way- which has led to better decision making. Because of his success, he's become a leader. You are sitting here, you've got some pretty good backs, let's see if this freshman quarterback can make some plays. He's obviously proven he can make all the throws. He handles his emotions very well. He doesn't let mistakes haunt him. He just plays. That's the biggest thing that has allowed us to have the threat of being a balanced team- which we try to be. If they line up to stop the run, they are vulnerable. Kyle has proven he can beat you- and that's helped us a ton.
But even sometimes he makes you go "wow" with his arm and his ability to make downfield throws?
Swinney: That's what good players do. You go recruit guys to put them in position to make plays. But sometimes they overcome their coaching and makes plays that aren't even there. Every great player I've been around has been like that. Kyle has proven he's got tremendous instincts and awareness. He's really grown in that. He can sling the football. He can throw the ball.
From a senior standpoint, you can understand how the instate guys feel about this game.
Swinney: If you are from this state, this is what you grow up. I can relate to that - absolutely. Growing up everybody at your school is always bragging for one side of the other. That's how it was for us in the Alabama-Auburn game. Everybody in the state was the same way and then to have an opportunity to play in this game is very special. Everybody in this state reminds you - hey beat South Carolina or beat Clemson.
How much do you seek the advice of Coach Stallings right now?
Swinney: I talked to him the Georgia Tech week. Talked to him again after the Maryland game. He called me after the Maryland game- had a good talk there. But I flew out two Sundays ago because Coach Jack passed away- he was his right hand man and was with us all seven years at Alabama. We had just played Florida State the night before. We hadn't been there 30 seconds - he said, "Hey come here I got to show you something." We sat down in his den, and he said I got to show you something. He took a board of regents paper from Texas A&M. He said, "let's just say they are in this formation." He started coaching and he had something on his mind about stopping on the run. He said, "I just got to tell you this and it's going to win you a ball game. Let me tell you about it." He drew it up and I said, "coach looks good to me." I put it my pocket. He's always trying to say something. I'm going to invite him to the championship game. Tomorrow I'm on Sporting News radio and we are both going to be on there. He's just a guy that is there whenever you need him. He's a great mentor. I learned so much from him in seven years and even more after the fact.
Did you install the defense he gave you?
Swinney: Not yet. Maybe this week.
You and Ellis Johnson are pretty close, correct?
Swinney: It just makes it better when you beat him (laughing). He's a good friend. He was actually one of my coaches playing then I had the opportunity to coach with him a couple of times. Then I played with Lorenzo Ward- he owes me for his degree today and you can tell him that because we are always studying together. But I know him as "whammy." It usually takes you a couple of years to understand "whammy-eese." We GA'd together. Those are guys. I have a lot of respect for all of those guys on that staff. Spurrier Jr. and I have always been good friends. I wish them the best. You know a little bit with what they do, but everybody else does too because we are 11 games into the season. It all goes back to the film. They are going to be who they are. The kids have to play.
What are the advantages or disadvantages of playing this game the week before the championship game?
Swinney: Advantages and disadvantages? It's just a game. It's a big rivalry game. It's intense. If it wasn't South Carolina it would be somebody else. It wouldn't be less intense. If we were going to play Wake Forest we'd want to win just as bad. Ideally, you'd love to have an open date before the championship game. I just want to get better. I think we've played a good schedule with those early games. That has paid off for us as we've matured throughout the year. Having a big rival game right before? I don't know if that's an advantage or a disadvantage. It's the next game. Most teams have a big game before a championship game. SEC is the same way. Alabama is going to play Auburn. Georgia is going to play Georgia Tech. It's pretty much the same.
What would you do if the game was played at the beginning of the season instead of the end?
Swinney: I wouldn't be for that. I think it would hurt this game in particular. But if was the first game that's what we do.
C.J. said after the loss to TCU that this was a top 15 team. What does that say now that he's proven to be correct with you guys sitting here at No. 15 this week?
Swinney: I think our team has believed all along. They've been a very unselfish bunch. A close group. Very accountable group. They know that TCU was a good football team when we played them. They saw where Georgia Tech was ranked and they realized they were as good as either one of those teams. That's 75 percent of the battle. You don't necessarily have to be good enough, but if you believe you are good enough, you've got a chance. They care about each other but all that ranking stuff just doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that we are 15th. The only ranking I care about is what we are ranked when we are all said and done. And really that don't mean a whole lot to me because all I care about is getting better.
C.J. has admitted this year that he has stepped out of his comfort zone to be more vocal and making sure he takes on the leadership role this team needs. Have you seen that and does the fact that he was willing to dress up as Michael Jackson and dance in Tigerama illustrate that fact more than anything else?
Swinney: I'd be uncomfortable too if I danced as bad as him. Shoot. I got way more groove than C.J. But he's been right there. This team respects him. He's challenged our line. He's gone over to the defense. He's really done a good job. He's a leader by example kind of guy. He's taken it upon himself to be more of an emotional leader at times. He's developed into quite a man.