CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney addressed the media Tuesday at his weekly press conference, and he discussed at length the importance of Saturday’s game against No. 6 Notre Dame, ESPN College GameDay’s visit to Clemson, and the overall state of affairs for his football program as it prepares to host the Fighting Irish in Memorial Stadium.
Transcript below provided by ASAP Sports
COACH SWINNEY: Okay, listen, Notre Dame. First of all, this is a great football team. This is a team that I think is complete on both sides of the ball. We’ve talked a lot about them already in the last week or so in different formats and visiting with you guys, so really not a whole lot to add.
I mean, they’re disciplined, they’re physical, they’re fast, they’re well-coached. Again, offensively they’re really complete. They’ve got an excellent offensive line. They’ve got great skill. They just keep coming up with quarterbacks. It’s unbelievable these guys they’ve got playing quarterback. The Kizer kid has stepped in and done a tremendous job. They haven’t missed a beat.
The running back, No. 20, he’s averaging 8.1 yards a carry. Tight ends are very physical and talented. This is as good an offensive line as we’ve seen in a long time, so it’s just a complete group, and they do a great job with how they call the plays.
They do a lot of similar things as we do. They’re going to pick their spots with their tempo. They have a lot of speed sweeps, lot of stretch zone, lot of counters, lot of power, lot of quarterback run designed, quarterback run plays, lot of zone read, lot of boots, big on the screen game, lot of max protection, one and two-receiver routes. Take a ton of shots down the field whenever they get man-to-man coverage. They’re going to — you’ve got to make competitive plays. So it’s a really good group offensively.
And then defensively, same thing, they’re a lot like us. They’re aggressive. They force the issue with the way they play, physical up front, really big and thick guys inside that gobble up people. Backers can run. No. 9 is an All-American, he’s a great player. They’re athletic and fast in the secondary. Bunch of juniors and seniors in the secondary. So, again, very similar when you just kind of look at them as to how we play and how we try to play.
So this is one of those games that really comes down to the competitive match-ups. Your offensive line versus their offensive line, their DBs versus our receivers. It’s just who wins the plays consistently.
Then, obviously the things that usually make a difference in ballgames like this, because games like this, it’s usually just a few plays. I think you have pretty evenly matched teams, and that’s the turnover margin. And playing special teams, you know, stupid penalties, just discipline type things, so going to be a fun game.
Excited to have the opportunity to play Notre Dame. Never had a chance to coach against Notre Dame, play against Notre Dame. Incredible respect for their program and who they are. Obviously everybody knows who Notre Dame is, and the success that they’ve had.
Never met Brian Kelly, but I have followed him and kept up with him when he was at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. He’s always been one of the best in the business, and has done a great job. That’s why he’s at Notre Dame and that’s why they’re having the success that they’re having.
So I do think it’s a little unfair that they brought the Pope into town just in time for the Clemson game. I think that’s kind of a low-blow. But we do have Tim Bourret, and Tim Bourret is 2-0 lifetime in these games. He’s been on the winning bus both ways when he was at Notre Dame in 1977, I guess, here and then up there in ’78, ’79. So he was at Clemson at that time.
Hopefully, Tim, we’re hoping you can trump the Pope, okay? So good luck.
It’s also great to have game day here in town. I think that’s just great for our program, obviously, as a competitor you want to have opportunities to be a part of games like this for sure. I think it’s great for our town, for the city of Clemson, for our university. So many things. I mean, it’s a small town, and to have a hundred plus thousand people come in here.
They need to keep a level head. But they’re all excited. When you’re a competitor, I mean, how many people get to compete on a national stage? I’ve competed all my life, and I can’t ever remember a game from JV football to middle school basketball or little league baseball where I didn’t step on the field and want to win. I can’t ever remember that. Whether there was anybody in the stands, you know, or it’s The National Championship Game in the Superdome and it’s packed. I have never gone into a match where I didn’t want to win and beat the opponent.
But having said that, how many people get the opportunity to compete and do something you love doing, but yet everybody’s watching, and I just think that’s awesome. So you embrace that and go have fun with it. So our guys are excited. They’re excited about having that opportunity to showcase their talents in our program.
Q. While you guys are trying to obviously block out this distraction, can you feel an extra level of almost buzz on campus and around town looking forward to this kind of match-up?
COACH SWINNEY: Sure, oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s just the way it is. I’ve got people calling me that I haven’t talked to in 20 years. “Hey, man, got some tickets? I really want to come up this weekend. Just need five.”
I mean, you know, yeah. I mean, I went and had, what was it, last week, maybe Thursday night we went to The Smokin Pig and I got a dissertation from the manager at The Smokin Pig about how supposedly Notre Dame has rented The Smokin Pig, and he was telling me, that ain’t happening. They ain’t renting The Smokin Pig. So I said, well, that’s great. So I had my pork and my brisket, and went on about my business.
But, yeah, people have been talking about this for a long time. So that’s just, I mean, everybody’s human people. That’s just the world we live in, social media, and media coverage. We didn’t have this many people at the last press conference. So I mean, it just is what it is, that comes with it.
But, again, you just understand that and you rely on your experience. We’ve been in a lot of these games, a lot of these games where we’re playing a great opponent, and we’ve just got to stay focused on what we do. That’s why I think it’s important that you are consistent with how you talk to your team, with how you prepare, regardless of who you play. That’s just the way it is for us. That’s allowed us to become one of the most consistent teams in the country over the last five, six years because of that mentality.
Every Monday when you come in here this huge screen up here, and I’ve told y’all this, there is a big windshield, huge. And whoever we’re playing next is in the windshield, and you’ve got the little rear view mirror, and it has the last opponent or whatever, hey, it’s always about what’s next and what’s in front of us.
Again, our system doesn’t change. I think that allows our guys to have some stability to where they’re not up or down. We don’t meet longer, we don’t practice longer, we don’t do anything different for any of our opponents. I think that sends the wrong message when all of a sudden you come in and say, okay, now we’re going to call the good plays this week. Now we’re going to practice for two hours this week. That’s this right here. You just have a plan and execute your plan each and every week.
Q. Are you excited to coach against Notre Dame? What is it that’s so special about that program?
COACH SWINNEY: They’re Notre Dame. Are you kidding me? This is the winningest program in the history of college football. We’ve played some good ones along the way. We’ve played LSU and Georgias and Oklahomas and Ohio States, and those are storied programs. How long have they been around? How long have they been around? 1887. Well hopefully 50 years from now some other old boy will be standing up here at this podium or over there at the new facility, and it will be a whole new crew of media, and hopefully they’ll be asking that other coach what’s it like to play a storied program like Clemson University. That’s what I hope.
Hopefully one day somebody will ask that question about Clemson. But it’s pretty obvious in this case. They’ve won in whatever, 11 National Championships, and they’re Notre Dame. I mean, listen, I hope they don’t bring Joe Montana with them, I can tell you that. They’re just a great program that have had tons of great players, and All-Americans and great coaches, and they’re a brand of their own.
Q. Do your players on this team appreciate and understand the history of Notre Dame and then others don’t quite know it as well?
COACH SWINNEY: Probably not. They don’t know who Muhammad Ali is. I’m serious, they don’t have a clue. They really don’t. They obviously know Notre Dame, and if you live in this country, because of their brand and the media and all that, everybody, of course, hears of Notre Dame. But as far as maybe the history, they probably don’t know a whole lot of it.
Probably not many of them know that Joe Montana played at Notre Dame. Very few know Dwight Clark played at Clemson. So that’s just the world we live in with the young people today.
Q. Do you embrace the big stage? You seem a natural to it. This seems a little bit like your time?
COACH SWINNEY: I don’t know about that. To me every week is the big stage. I mean, we sold out Wofford. I don’t know how you can get a bigger stage than that.
Every week to me is the big stage. I love playing the best of the best. We’re supposed to beat Wofford and we did. We’re supposed to dominate App State, and we did. I love competing at the highest level. Maybe that’s a better way to answer that. That’s why I went to Alabama, because I wanted to play at the highest level and compete at the highest level.
It’s the same thing as the coach. I love being at a place like Clemson where people care, and I love where our program is now. Now it’s not about winning anymore, it’s we didn’t win by enough. We go have a really difficult win at Louisville, and we’ve got some people not really happy because we didn’t win by enough. I love that. I think that’s awesome. I love being at a program that has high expectations, that’s committed, that 85,000 or 80,000-plus people show up to see us play Wofford. They don’t care who we play. They’re just passionate about their university and how we play. I love that.
Every week to me is the big stage. Every single week. But to have a chance to play the best team where your margin of error isn’t very big and neither is theirs, I love that challenge. That’s why we ultimately do it. For us, with our schedule that Dan Radakovic gives me every year, we don’t have a problem with having a chance to compete to be the best because of who we play. We played Auburn. We played Georgia. We have Notre Dame. We have Texas A&M. We have South Carolina every year who has been a great program. We’ve got all of our conference games. So it’s every week is the big stage.
For me it’s all about having a chance to be the best. I think that we have that opportunity at Clemson and our program is at a point now where we’ve just got to continue to move forward. I tell people all the time. Just have fun, enjoy it, enjoy the journey that we’re on. I don’t sit around and worry or fret whether we’re going to win a game or anything like that. I just focus on the things that we can control.
Sometimes you play well and you don’t win. Sometimes you play bad and you win. You’re pushing forward and trying to be a consistent performer, and I think we’ve been able to do that whether it’s playing Wofford. Like I said, this is my tenth top 10 match-up. We’re 6-3 in those games, and the three we lost, well, we deserve to lose. You’ve got to — we didn’t do the things we need to do and the other team did.
I love having opportunities to compete against the best.
Q. It’s been a national brand for a long, long time. I’m curious, what was the first time you said, oh, that’s Notre Dame football?
COACH SWINNEY: The first time I said that’s Notre Dame football would have been back when I was a kid in Alabama. In Alabama we played Notre Dame. I still remember Cornelius Bennett just waxing Steve Beuerlein in the sack, and they made a painting of it at Legion Field. Coach Holtz winning the National Championship there, I remember that.
I didn’t grow up following Notre Dame, but I had a good friend named Keith Young that I did grow up with and he was the biggest Notre Dame fan you’ve ever met in your life. So I learned a lot about them. I learned to not like Notre Dame because Alabama was a great program under Coach Bryant, and Notre Dame was a great program back in the ’70s and all that stuff. Four horsemen and Knute Rockne and Win one for the Gipper and all that stuff, that’s what I grew up on
The exact moment where I said that’s Notre Dame football, probably just sitting around watching the three channels that we had as a kid and Notre Dame was on TV. Back then you didn’t get a lot of people on TV, but Notre Dame was on TV. And most everything else was on radio because we didn’t have internet, as you all know.
That’s the difference today, I think, if our young people — they have TV 24 hours a day. They can watch whatever they want when they want. When I was growing up you didn’t have that option. You watched Yeehaw or Lawrence Welk or one of them, Bonanza, and you stood up there and changed the channel and that’s just what you did. Notre Dame football was on TV. They just were.
Q. Which stat are you prouder of, the long streak against unranked opponents or 10-win seasons?
COACH SWINNEY: I’m proud of both of those streaks. Again, y’all have heard me say many times you local guys that my goal is to just consistently be relevant. Consistently be in the mix. Consistently be a top 15-type program. That’s just really my goal, and I’ve said that for a long time. All the way back to when I got the job in ’09 and I remember in ’11 we won ten games. I’m like that’s great. Let’s go do it three, four, five, six times and then we can be a relevant program. We can be one of those teams that maybe people will believe in.
But doesn’t do us any good to sit around and worry about that kind of stuff. We’ve just got to put our head down ask go to work. Now years later we’re at that point where I think we’ve become very consistent. I mean, we need to be a great team at home. Well, we’re 41-6 at home. That’s very consistent. We need to win.
When I got the job it was like well, we win these games but we can’t beat a good team. Well, we’re 6-3 against the best of the best in those match-ups. That’s pretty good. We’re not going to win them all, but okay, we’ve got to — we can’t win on Thursday nights. Well, we’re 5-1 on Thursday nights now. You go on. Well, we do beat a top 10 team, but then you lose to an unranked team.
Well, how many have we won in a row? I have no idea. 30-something, 30 unranked teams in a row. That’s consistency, and all that is great, but you have to have that in order to eventually maybe people quit asking you those questions.
But I’m proud of all of that. But what I’m proud of most is the 114 graduates out of 120 seniors. That’s what I’m most proud of. That is the stat that matters to me, and soon to be 115 when David (Estes) graduates in December.
I’m proud of the men that we’ve produced in the program and all that stuff is great. It takes that type of consistency to build a program to have a culture that can sustain you. This game right here isn’t going to win the National Championship for us. Our next goal is to win the division.
This game doesn’t get us any closer to winning the division. This game is the biggest game of the year simply because it is one step closer to being the best. That’s what we’re ultimately trying to do around here. It’s hard to do. Last 40 years Notre Dame has won one National Championship, we’ve won one. It’s hard to do. Georgia has won one, we’ve won one. Everybody is chasing that ultimate — now it’s 15-0. It gets harder and harder every year.
That’s great. But that’s not why it’s on the board. Our goals are set up to allow us to compete to be the best. The things that we do control. There are things out there we don’t control. We might go 13-0 and that dang college football board don’t put us in there in the playoff. We don’t control that. I’m just saying, that’s why it’s not on the board.
But the consistency, those are things that I think are a by product of really staying focused on what we can control.
Q. Does having College GameDay here, this sort of game, this sort of atmosphere, what’s that do for you on the recruiting trail?
COACH SWINNEY: It doesn’t do nothing if you don’t win. It’s just that simple. Last time they were here we got waxed. I think at the end of the day I don’t really know how much that stuff helps. I think just at the end of the day winning, graduating your players, having discipline in your program, hiring good coaches, doing the right things. But you’ve got to win consistently in order to really recruit consistently.
That’s just the way it is. It doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure. But at the end of the day, these guys are not going to sit around and make a decision just because game day came. I mean, game day’s fun for the fans, and it’s fun to have that national stage.
And really, like you said, it’s fun for our brand, for people to recognize the paw. We’ve got people all over the country now that know Clemson because of the exposure that we’ve had over the last several years. I mean, that infomercials, we had a six-minute infomercials narrated by Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit on the buses, and the rock, and the hill, and young buses. They should still be paying us for that advertisement that they got from that night. 6 minutes.
I mean, y’all are in TV. What’s a 30-second commercial in the Super Bowl cost? I mean, six minutes. Six minutes of unedited — and I guarantee you, and President Clements sitting here, I bet our enrollment has gone up. We probably have more applicants, so all of those things come with your exposure for your brand.
Recruits want to be at a place where they can compete at the highest level. You look at the draft picks out there, the type of graduates. All of that stuff matters. But having Game Day here, I don’t think that’s going to sway one way or the other. I think guys are going to come here because of the consistency in what we’ve done as a program.
Q. Do you have a problem with this not being a true ACC game?
COACH SWINNEY: Not being a true ACC game? No. I got asked I got so-called asked a question by a media guy, I don’t even know where I was now. It might have been in ACC meetings. You asked me a question and I just answered it. The guy asked me a question of whether I thought Notre Dame should be in the conference. And I said, yeah, I do. And then the headline is Coach Swinney has come out — no.
I could care a less what Notre Dame does. I really could care a less. My concern is Clemson and the things that I control. I don’t care one iota what Notre Dame does. That’s their business.
But ask me the question or my opinion, yeah, I think they should have to play 13 games. I mean, to me, I feel, not just them, same thing with the Big 12. I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think it’s equitable. I can’t do anything about it, so I ain’t worried about it. I could careless.
But you asked me the question, I answered it. Next thing I know, I’m national news. You know why? Somebody mentioned Notre Dame, and somebody mentioned Notre Dame. Somebody mentioned that about Iowa or Iowa Wesleyan, nobody would care. But Notre Dame, man, I’m all over the news like I’ve got some agenda. I ain’t got no agenda. I don’t care what they do. To each his own. I’m worried about Clemson.
But it’s like the NFL. How many, 32 teams? 32 NFL teams? Okay, well, if 27 of them have to play 16 games and then the other five play 15 games, well, that doesn’t seem right to me, but that’s the way it is. And I will really focus on that. I don’t lose one second of sleep on that. I’m worried about winning the games that we have at Clemson because that’s what matters to me.
But when somebody asked me the question do I think that it’s fair that these teams only play 12? No, I don’t. I don’t. I think that makes no sense to me.
Q. But for Clemson should this count as an ACC game do you think?
COACH SWINNEY: No, not until they join the conference. I think eventually they will join a conference. Hopefully it’s our conference, but, again, I have no idea. It shouldn’t count because they’re not in the conference. They’re independent.
Q. Not worried about offending the folks at Iowa or Iowa Wesleyan?
COACH SWINNEY: No, I’m sure I’ve offended somebody (laughing). Yeah, yeah, we’ll get some regional tweets on that.
Q. You’ve had some good defenses back in 2010 and 2009. Is there a difference in the way this defense now carries itself and its mentality? How are these challenges like the one Saturday?
COACH SWINNEY: Again, just growing up and just more experience. I mean, ’09 and ’10, we were just kind of getting started. Most of those guys didn’t come here for me to be their head coach, but we just kind of started instilling our program, and just who we are and the way we do things and why we do things this way, and then recruiting guys to kind of fit what we need to do.
Obviously in 2011 was the one year we weren’t as good on defense, but, man, we were really, really young. We have a very talented but just really, really young, and we got exposed. It’s just that simple.
We had some issues that we needed to kind of get corrected and things like that, but guys grew up. Now we’ve just kind of recruited the right way. Our staff does a tremendous job, and our guys have bought into how you’ve got to prepare and how you’ve got to practice to be good on defense consistently.
As I said coming into this year, our defense is kind of right where I thought they’d be. I didn’t think we’d have a big drop off if we could stay healthy with our first group. That’s kind of how it’s played out. As you know, we’re really young and inexperienced behind those guys. That’s why getting guys playing time here and there is huge for us. Because somewhere along the line as we go through the course of the season, some of those guys right now that nobody’s talking about, nobody’s asked me about, nobody, some of those guys somewhere are going to have to step up for us by November. We’re going to be talking about some of those guys on the radar. That’s just the way it is. We’re going to play nine in a row, and we’re going to need those young guys to grow up.
Q. Coach, do you think the Pope was in the country to try and get tickets?
COACH SWINNEY: That’s probably true. That’s kind of been my response. I said I couldn’t get Jesus tickets, so and that’s the truth. This is a tough ticket out there. I do think that’s a low-blow. I’m sitting in there going that Pope has never been here in I don’t know how long it’s been since the Pope has come.
It’s been forever since we’ve played Notre Dame, and they’ve done fired everybody up and took him all around the country. It’s been pretty special kind of watching that and following that. The one church in New York that he went to, what’s that church? St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we actually had a chance last December to go and tour that, and it was all under — yeah, it was just scaffolding.
By the way, if you ever want to go into business in New York, go in the scaffolding business, okay, because you always have a job. I’m not a big New York guy. I mean, two days and I got to get back and see some trees and, you know, sit on the back porch. But every year I go to New York there is scaffolding, and they just move it across the street. And then there is a project, and they move it over here. There is scaffolding everywhere.
But this cathedral was amazing. So it was kind of neat to see the Pope on TV and that church having been restored, and what a great moment that was for our country and for the Pope. It seemed like he had a great experience.
I do think he needs to upgrade the Pope mobile though. Need a little more swag, and we need an upgrade there. All right.
Q. Yesterday, how did Jake Fruhmorgen look, and what is Dane Rogers status?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, Jake looked good. Joe looked good. They moved around well yesterday, so feel good about them. Dane is still in yellow today, but he’s better today. We’ll make a final call on him as we move through the week.
Q. Any truth to the rumor that Friday’s going to be (No microphone)?
COACH SWINNEY: I don’t know. I’m going to go see my son play Friday night just like I do every Friday night. We haven’t picked the movie yet, so that’s usually what we do on Tuesday nights. I usually give the selection to the seniors and they pick the movie.
I have veto power once they pick it just to make sure it’s not something insane. But I don’t know. I don’t know what they’re going to pick. I’m not sure.
My wife and I saw the Intern. That was a great movie. Good date movie, if any of you are looking for a date night. That was a good movie.
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