"As I made reference on Monday at our post-game press conference, Clemson's probably the most talented and most complete football team that we've played against this entire season. When you watch them on film, they're extraordinary fast and athletic on defense. They've got an excellent defensive line, and they play a lot of kids on the defensive line. They rotate guys in, and there is no drop off when they bring them in. Their secondary's extremely good with Marcus Gilchrist and DeAndre McDaniel. They have seven different guys in the secondary that all have an interception.
"Offensively with Kyle Parker who is an experienced veteran quarterback gives them a lot of leadership and play making ability, and they've got the ACC's leading rusher in Andre Ellington. And like the good teams, they're good on special teams as well. They've got excellent returners, their kickers are very good. And with the talent that they've got athletically, they've got very good coverage units. So this will be the biggest challenge that we've faced completely this entire season."
Coming off that East Carolina game, how much of that was certain improvements in your offense versus maybe who you were playing?
"I like to hope it's a little bit of us improving. I think that East Carolina in the first year of McNeil's tenure there are going to be things that they're going to do better as the years go along. They've been scoring a tremendous amount of points. I think they were averaging 41 or 42 points, and they had played, you know, some pretty good competition. Certainly we've got a tremendous amount of respect for Virginia Tech, and they had some success moving the ball and scoring points against them.
"I think we're at a stage where we're trying to gain some confidence, trying to gain some experience, especially on the defensive side of the football. You know, we were opportunistic, I guess, is the best way to kind of explain it. If you don't get turnovers anybody anybody's offense, and especially against East Carolina, they're going to move the football on you, and they're going to have some success. Certainly the three turnovers and the interceptions that we got neither directly led to scores or they set up scores, and that certainly helped."
I wanted to ask about Jheranie Boyd. Debuted in that great game against LSU, big numbers. Since then it hasn't been as big a role. Is that something defenses are doing to take him away or the way you're running your offense? Can you just talk about that a little?
"That's a good question. I think that certainly immediately on national television you have the kind of game that Jheranie had, you immediately get a bullseye or target on your chest. You don't fly under the radar and people see the things that you do. He's, every single week, we script all of these guys into the possibility of being a pretty significant part of the game plan. But you never know going into a ballgame exactly how teams are going to adjust. Are they going to roll the corners, are they going to double cover? Are they going to take somebody away?
"And that's why we've tried to stress over the three years that we've built this football program that you can't just live and die with one talented, gifted player. We kind of went through that the first two years with Hakeem Nicks, that he was clearly one of the most gifted receivers in the country. And teams, fortunately for us, having Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster and Richard Quinn at tight end, made it to where people couldn't just totally load up on him.
"As all these guys continued to emerge, Erik Highsmith, and Todd Harrelson, and Dwight Jones, and certainly Ryan Taylor and Zack Pianalto those guys emerge equally as potential threats, hopefully it will free him up some. But some of it is a combination of people, what they're doing, and just other guys getting opportunities."
Is focus on him and the deep threat, is that one of the things that's opened it up for Zack to catch so many balls at tight end?
"I wouldn't necessarily say that. I mean, I think that Zack is just kind of part of the progressions of the reads. Sometimes he's one, sometimes he's two, sometimes he's three or four. And it just kind of depends upon the plays and stuff. I think that fortunately this year that T.J. in his level of growth and development as a quarterback, is able to kind of get to some of those secondary guys. Everybody's always concerned about sacks. You're always concerned about negative plays and pressures and hits on quarterbacks and stuff. Obviously, getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands is a big part of it. Sometimes the short to intermediate routes is the best way to do that."
Da'Norris Searcy obviously had an impact in his first game back over the weekend on Saturday. How much of an emotional lift does he give the team and the defense in particular? Can you expect something similar with Deunta Williams coming back this weekend?
"Well, obviously it does help our football team any time that we are able to get one of these players back. I think that Da'Norris role was probably magnified a little bit more just simply because of the added things that Da'Norris had done previously for us in 2009 on special teams. One of the areas that we've struggled a little bit with certainly is in the return game is the fact that our top three punt returners and kick returners have been part of the group that's not been allowed to play. So getting Da'Norris back to return punts and kickoffs last year, we got a little bit of an immediate lift in that regard.
"Then certainly somebody, any time you plug someone back in whether it's offense or defense, that has been a starter for you and a pretty significant contributor to your football team, you know, emotionally it was good for him. It was good for his teammates. They were really glad to see him back. It was emotional for him. I mean, he was just ecstatic that he was going to be able to return to play. Then to go out and help win the game and make a play that clearly changed not only the momentum but certainly the score, you know, it was an emotional event for him."
You guys are going to be at full strength at safety now. Are any of those players at safety, do they have the ability to maybe slide over and help out at cornerback a little bit?
"Well, certainly Matt and Gene have done a very good job for us in those first four ballgames. We're still missing two other safeties that played significantly for us in the previous two seasons. It's something that from a secondary standpoint you're looking for guys with four games of experience. How can they help your secondary?
"And probably one of the biggest impacts, certainly, has got to be the fact that any time you add someone back as in the case of Da'Norris and now with Deunta , hopefully it will free up guys for the potential for them to add contribution on special teams. It's an area where we've been paper thin throughout the first four games of the season. We were having to burn red shirt years and play a lot of young, inexperienced players. Hopefully this will give us a chance to add some more experience to those special teams.
"But the corners, it's still a work in progress, to be honest with you. It's kids that didn't think they were even going to play this year. When you ruin your two starting corners, you know, and one of the third corners isn't allowed to play, now all of a sudden guys have huge new roles. And every week they keep trying to learn to get a little bit better. And that will be the challenge this week."
You just kind of touched on this. But Matt's role with Deunta back. It seemed he could probably help you, not only at special teams, but some of your nickel and dime packages?
"Yeah, that certainly is a role that Matt did play in 2008. Clearly one of the things is that one of the things we want to try to get away from is the mindset that a particular player on defense has got to go out there and continue to play 70, 75 snaps. I mean, we were put in the unenviable position in some of those first three ballgames, that guys had no back-ups.
"I think Matt Merleti played 70 snaps at safety against Rutgers, and we don't want that to happen even if we do get Da'Norris back and Deunta back playing. We still don't want them to go out and play 70 snaps. Certainly Matt and Gene are still going to play in the secondary, they're going to play at safety. But it does free them up for the potential to help us in other areas."
Back in 2000 when your Miami team beat Florida State, I know you have big wins prior to that. But how much did that win against a ranked team, an in-state rival, go to really signaling the program was reestablished? Not just nationally, but in the state of Florida?
"Well, I think it was a huge, significant win on all the levels that you just touched on. You know, the struggles in rebuilding the program, any time that you lose 31 scholarships, and you go through, one of the things that was kind of somewhat misunderstood in the loss of the 31 scholarships that you weren't able to offer was players within your program, the graduation, and guys that decided to leave and go out early in the draft.
"So you were not able to bring in freshmen, but you're also losing experienced, talented and good players at the top end. So we went through obviously some early struggles. I think we tied for the Big East Conference Championship, '95, '96, and then '97 was clearly it hit the floor. It was the bottom, and they be you started working your way back up.
"It took some time. Each year after '97, we got a little closer. You could see a little ray of sunshine, and light at the end of the tunnel. The games were getting a little more competitive. But clearly in 2000, the win at the Orange Bowl certainly somewhat -- I don't want to say signalled that Miami was back -- but it certainly that we had reached the level that now you could continue to be very, very competitive and have a realistic expectation that you could win the games instead of just get competitive and try to get close and try to win the game. Obviously, Miami went on a role in 2001 or '02 or '03, and won three, four, five years in a row. But that was a very, very significant game."
Is it significant for a coach to win that kind of rivalry game too?
"Yeah, I think if your program is on solid ground and solid footing and stuff, clearly, equally the same challenge existed with Miami and Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech was on a role and had some close games early in '95 and '96 and then were clearly not competitive in '97. As you went along, but in the same year that we won the Florida State game, we also beat Michael Vick in the Orange Bowl and scored 40 points or whatever. Then you went out to conference and beat Florida. So all of those things, I think, certainly help. But, yeah, you need to win games like that. When the opportunity presents itself."