Another week, another surprising team at the the No. 3 spot in our updated ACC power poll.
Dabo previews N.C. State
Swinney: Really tough challenge this week in N.C. State. Very very talented team. Very dangerous team. Capable of playing with anybody. These guys match up very well. Defensively for us it starts with their quarterback. Glennon is a very very good football player. Very capable passer. He can make every single throw. He's a gutsy player. Obviously he's a fifth-year senior guy who has a lot of experience in their system. They want to throw the football to setup the run. He has 22 touchdown passes just behind Tajh. Their running backs are very capable. Talented group. Their wide receivers - Underwood has like 10 touchdowns. Their offensive line is huge. The thing about N.C. State is they do a great job with their tight ends. You better know where they are - especially in the crossing routes. They do a great job with their hands. We have to try to disrupt their rhythm. We have to tackle well and create some matchups outside that we win.
Defensively, they are probably as good as anybody as we've played from an athletic standpoint. They are 300 pounders up front. Very talented. They lead the ACC in sacks. They are third in the nation in sacks. 11 interceptions. Bunch of experience in the secondary. That was an area we lost in this game. Amerson is as good a player you are going to see in the country. Their corners are perhaps the biggest in the country.
It starts with protecting their quarterback. That's a real key for us. Just like it was last week. We've played pretty good all year on the offensive line but we need to improve our consistency. We need good performances from all five guys. N.C. State has a lot of movement and a lot of pressure with Coach Archer and Coach Tanuta. They do a lot of slanting and disguising coverages.
Their specialists - they have returned punts and kicks for touchdowns. But our focus is on Clemson, like it has been all year. Have a good Tuesday practice and then go from there. There's still a lot of good opportunity for this team. I know we are at the end of the season. But we have to finish.
It's also an opportunity to share the Atlantic Division title this week. To be able to be a division champion three out of four years is a big step. To be able to have back to back 10 win seasons is another big step. That's something we have talked a lot about.
But none of that matters if we don't take care of our business today. This football has continued to improve all year long. I like where we are right now. I like their demeanor.
They look like they spread the ball around a good bit like you do. Does that force your hand to more nickel coverage this week?
Swinney: Not really. They do what they do. They don't change a lot week to week. They believe in what they do. They are 11- personnel. Three wides a tight end and one back. They played Wake Forest and they got in the I-formation. But that's probably because of their 3-4 (Wake's). We'll probably see some of that. Mostly they are an 11-personnel team. They want to put the ball in their quarterback's hands and I don't blame them. He's like Matt Ryan at Boston College. He's the playmaker an the distributor. He's smart, and it's not like you are going to fool him a lot. They've probably had 15 or 16 guys touch the ball. They are as good as it gets with spreading the wealth.
Are you concerned with the turnovers in recent weeks?
Swinney: Well I was disappointed in the two fumbles. One was an exchange issue. The other one was football. Tajh has great ball security. Fundamentally we don't want him turning his back. Most fumbles happen from behind. So that's a little coaching point. He's giving great effort. And I told him that. That was a great play by them. The other one was a poor play by Tajh and our back. But we also got turnovers too. We were even. We are much better than where we were last year. That's a key for us going forward. The turnover margin is huge.
Any questions on Sammy's health? And D.J. Howard?
Swinney: (With Sammy) No. (With D.J.) he'll be good. Hot Rod will be back today.
Is Martavis getting the ball more because he's healthy now? Or is it because he's producing more
Swinney: Combination of all of those things. Missed a little time and that set him back. Mostly just trust. He's earned more trust with the coaches. He's been much more consistent with his preparation. He's as talented as anybody we got or anybody in the country. But it's not just talent. There has to be a lot more than that. That's where he's struggled- with his consistency as his focus. He's just a sophomore. That's the bad thing about Sammy Watkins- he's the exception. That's what I hate about recruiting and star ratings. Like with Spencer Shuey- he's worked his butt off and he's gotten better. That's called development. That's just the way it is. For some reason when a guy isn't a great player as a freshman everybody starts saying well "we missed on that guy." Andre Branch was here on Saturday - he wasn't very good at all. As a redshirt freshman or a sophomore. Martavis Bryant - it's not talent. It's consistency and commitment. Great kid. Great young man. He just gets distracted. Football has always come easy to him and he's had to learn to really work here. And it's not going to come easy.
What's your assessment on special teams this year?
Swinney: Pretty solid. We've been not as good in the return game as we would like. We've been very sound in our protection. Sound in coverage. Field goals have been outstanding. We need to be better in the return game.
Do you worry about complacency setting in because you've been so dominant the last month or so of the season?
Swinney: No. It better set in quick because we are about to be done here. We've got nine, 10, 11 days or so. If that were to happen it would have already done it. Last year's team learned how to win. They've bought in. We prepare for every opponent. We prepare for what they do. But we try to keep the focus on Clemson. We feel like we have good players here. And if we execute our plan to win we will. Our guys have bought into that. We haven't gotten caught up in external things. Anybody can beat us. There's nobody we have played that is not capable of beating Clemson. But here's the level we expect. And we've focused on that. As we've improved as a team, especially defensively... we've played pretty well defensively. Last four games or so we are playing about as well as anybody in the top 20 defensively. We don't really sit around worry about that stuff- hey here's what we have to do win. Go to the meetings with purpose. Let's give great effort but let's focus on our technique. Then - all-in commitment. It doesn't change, no matter who you play. Then when the game is over, the season starts tomorrow. This is the biggest game of the year. Period. The end. When you don't have that mentality, that's when you get your butt beat. Especially with young people.
What happened to N.C. State against Virginia as best you could tell?
Swinney: Yeah. Just didn't look like they were quite ready. For whatever reason. I have no idea. Virginia played with great energy. I saw some of that game live in a hotel somewhere. They came right now and bam! Couple of quick scores and a fast start and Virginia had all the momentum and N.C. State could never turn it. I've been there. Look at our game against N.C. State last year. 13 minutes in the second quarter and it was 3-0. We weren't executing at all. We played on a 100-yard field that day and they played on a 30-yard field. Field position. The momentum and the energy. I didn't have them ready to play. Simple as that.
You had six or seven sacks the first half of the season and now 13 the last four games. What's changed?
Swinney: Just improvement. Fundamentally we are so much better than what we were. We still have a long ways to go. We had a season-low two mental errors in our last game. That's impressive. The knowledge. That's the bottom line.
Chad Morris has raved about the deep ball thrown by Tajh all year. What do you think?
Swinney: He's always thrown the ball well. He was born with a golden arm. Thank God for that. Always been able to spin it. But there's no question over the last two years with how he's been coached here and how we teach. He has a much better understanding about the delivery. He's improved his accuracy and that's a product of the great coaching he's had. With Chad and Billy [Napier]. He's just a fun guy to watch develop. But with Chad teaching him the last two years of where we want it (the ball) to be... that's where the development has come. The back shoulder throw, etc. Mechanically he's tremendous.
Obviously the offensive line has played better than people thought they were going to. Did you see that coming?
Swinney: I was pretty worried. I was concerned about our offensive line. I thought we had recruited well. I liked our guys. But we only had Dalton Freeman and Brandon Thomas back. Then you had a guy who played D-tackle his whole life - how was that going to pan out? I knew he wouldn't be overwhelmed. But Giff, Beasley, Norton and Shaq and Battle? Holy cow. You talk about a long way to go coming into the season. I'm really proud of those guys. In particular Beasley and Giff. They went and competed their butts off in camp and won the job. Man when we came out of this Auburn game we were thinking, OK, these ol' boys - we've got a chance here. My hat is off to those guys. Kalon has improved. Ryan Norton has really been, not a surprise, but has performed really well as a freshman for us. Reid Webster too. Those guys are developing and improving. This spring is going to be a lot of fun because we are going to have as much depth at that position in a long long time. This has been a really good year from an offensive line standpoint. We haven't always had it together as a unit. We call those guys the union. And we've haven't always been that. We want to consistently very well as a union.
You haven't had any let downs this year, have you?
Swinney: Not this year. I think our guys have played well. We are never satisfied as coachs. Well dang, we had 500 yards but we should have had 650. That's our mentality. We are focused on being the best we can be. Not just winning the game. That's been our focus as a coaching staff. We've been very consistent- mentally and physically.
What are your thoughts on David Amerson?
Swinney: Outstanding. People are trying to keep the ball away from him because he's a ball hawk. He's second in the league this year with four interceptions. Last year he was a freak show. People have tried to stay away with him as much as possible. We recruited him coming out of high school and he was a tough physical guy then. Very athletic. He gets his hands on the ball and he finishes. I thought he whipped our butt last year.
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