HEAD COACH DABO SWINNEYOpening Statement: “Obviously, I’m very disappointed. We came here to win. I’m just incredibly disappointed in our performance, but the credit goes to Alabama. Congratulations to Alabama. They were the better team today…no question about it. We had opportunities…just really had all of field position at the first of the game. I think their first three possessions were right around the 50…the kick off return, and our punting. We did not punt the ball well and flip the field when we had opportunities, but it was just really disappointing in the first half especially.
“But, as bad as we played, we still had an opportunity. I thought our defense kept us in the game and really played really good. [Alabama] only had 260 yards I think. Their backs…we knew that would be a big challenge. They had about a hundred yards rushing combined, and we did some good things.
“I was proud of Alex [Spence] for making a couple of kicks. As a young guy going out there in that setting making a couple of kicks…that is something he can build on. But at the end of the day, championship football is a game of a few plays…especially when you’re playing Alabama. Alabama is the No. 1 scoring defense in the country for a reason. You have to make the critical plays, and we didn’t do that. We did it last year. We didn’t do it this year. We had some opportunities.
“So the biggest thing was…you know one thing that we have done a great job on all year is points off of turnovers, and we gave up 14 points off of turnovers tonight. One of them was obviously a pick-six and on another one, they got great field position and went on to score. 14 points off of turnovers. And if you just play even football…as bad as we played, it’s a 10-6 game in the fourth quarter, and you have got a chance. But it’s tough sliding when we get behind like that with Alabama, and the clock is against you.
“But again, the credit goes to Alabama. They did a heck of a job, and they’re a great football team. We all know that. But at the end of the day…I will say this: I know we didn’t score right there at the end, but I’m really proud of our defense and our offense and how they competed down the stretch in a touch situation. I think that says a lot about who they are and the character of our team, and I’m very thankful—or hurt.
“It’s a disappointing locker room, but I’m very thankful for our seniors. And these guys…this is a team that nobody picked to be here this year. This is a team that went to their third playoff in a row, and their third ACC Championship in a row. They won 50 games in their career, 40 in the last three years, so I’m very thankful for my seniors. It didn’t end the way I wanted it to or the way they wanted it to, but this is a great group of young men that I’m going to miss deeply.
“But we will bounce back. We will learn from it. For u,s it’s always about what is next. This is a disappointing end to a good season…12-2, a 12 win season, another ACC Championship and another playoff opportunity. The lesson is, again, championship football is a few plays and a very small margin for error, and you have to be able to run the ball effectively and take care of the ball. We didn’t do that tonight, and you’re not going to beat a good team like Alabama when you don’t do that.
“I will say this, too…I would like to thank the Sugar Bowl people. It’s been a long time since I have been here and experienced this…I never experienced it as a coach, and I thought our folks here at the sugar bowl did a great job. It was a great experience for us this week, and hopefully, we will have an opportunity to get back here sometime in the future.”
On how he wants this team to be remembered:“They had a heck of a season. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to…you’re never happy when you don’t win that last game. But at the end of the day, when you step back and take it, this is a disappointing moment. This is not what we came here to do. We put a lot of work into this and didn’t get it done, so it’s very disappointing, but at the end of the day, when you take a deep breath and you step back a little bit, this will be one of the best teams that we have had. I mean, this has been a remarkable team. It really has. You look at what Kelly Bryant has done this year…his first year playing quarterback. We had a lot of young guys step up. I thought our defense had a chance to be really special, and they were. And offensively, it was going to be a group that was going to have to grow and get better, and we obviously lost a lot of guys.
“But this has been a fun team to coach. I have thoroughly enjoyed being around this group of guys. They have been easy to coach. They have come to work all year. They have had an unbelievable attitude and work ethic and belief, and it’s been fun. They really have. Again, this was a bad night, but that doesn’t change how I feel about the type of season. It’s hard to win 12 games, and certainly with 130 teams…and there’s four that make it to the Playoff, and these guys earned that. We earned a butt-whipping tonight as well, but we also earned 12 wins and three ACC championships in a row…especially those seniors, to see those guys win 50 games in their career, and 40 in the last three years…it’s been a heck of a run. So we have not lost a lot of games, and it’s really disappointing when you have to kind of process that when it happens.
“But I tell our guys all the time, it’s always about what is next, and we’re going to learn and grow and always get better. My expectation is to be right back here next year…right back in the middle of it and right back in the thick of it. We have got a heck of a team coming back. We’re going to have a much more experienced team next year than we had this year…and they will be eager to get back to work.
“So our season is ending, and it is the earliest that it has ended in a while. But we will take a little time and decompress a little bit. School starts back for us on the 10th. We will have a team meeting on the 11th. We will have our banquet on the 13th, and I’m really excited about honoring these seniors in a proper way, as opposed to very disappointing locker room. We will catch our breath and get our perspective where it needs to be, and I will be excited to get back to work and start over—new journey—and go see if we can finish a little better next year.
“But at the end of the day, there aren’t many 12-win teams in the country. And we lost to Alabama…we lost to a great football team, and we will own that. And I don’t think this will be the last one. We will see…everybody talks about the trilogy and all of that…like somebody is fixing to die or something…like the world is coming to an end. We will be back and so will they. We will have probably several more opportunities to hook it up with these guys, and we look forward to that.”
KELLY BRYANT, QuarterbackOn trying to establish a rhythm:“It was hard early. It was making a few minimal mistakes out there and couldn’t get in the rhythm…that was pretty much the thing for us. We put together a drive and felt like we shot ourselves in the foot. It was kind of frustrating, but you know the mindset over there…we stick together. We talked about that before the game, and how there was going to be adversity early in the game…just make sure that we stay together and battle through it. You have to give credit to Alabama. The mistakes that were made…they capitalized on it, and so it’s a learning experience for us.”
On whether what he saw on film compared to Alabama in person:“It was pretty much the same thing…it transferred over to the field. But we knew what we were going to get into prior to the game, and it was going to be a physical game and we were going to have to make plays. But Alabama made those plays that we should have made.”
CLELIN FERRELL, Defensive EndOn the physicality of the game:“We knew coming into the game that it was going to be a grown man’s game. We didn’t really feel overwhelmed because we understood that we were getting into…we played in the game the past two years, and we understand how physical of a game it was going to be. The game was going to be won and lost in the trenches, and as a team, we feel like we didn’t do a joint effort together to come out with a W, and the scoreboard showed it.”
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