COLLEGE PARK, MD - OCTOBER 15: Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele (L) and head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers look on after the Maryland Terrapins scored during the first half at Byrd Stadium on October 15, 2011 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
2500 words of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney speaking about the Florida State game? Absolutely. Courtesy of the ACC.
"Our goal was to be 3-0 at this point, and we are. But we haven’t played even close to our best game yet.
"This is a huge challenge going to Tallahassee to play a very good Florida State team, especially at their place. More importantly, it’s kicking off ACC play for us. This is not just ACC play, this is a division game, and a really, really critical ball game on the schedule.
"Looking at Florida State, they’re as advertised. They are a very, very talented football team. They’re explosive. They’ve made a ton of explosive plays in their first three games. Wake Forest is a program we have a ton of respect for, and they had a bunch of explosive plays against those guys in the kicking game, rushing the ball, throwing the ball, everything.
" The quarterback is a special player. He will certainly be a great challenge for us. I think they have three great running backs. Thompson obviously exploded last week. He’s a handful. I think Pryor is a very good player, a very good fullback. He does a lot of things. He’s a good runner, a good receiver, a good blocker for them. They’ve got really good skill at receiver.
"They are typical Florida State out at wideout. They can all run, they can all catch, they’re all athletic. Rodney Smith is back, and he’s a guy that’s been a thorn in our side the last couple of years. He’s made some really big plays against us. He beat us on a post last year for a touchdown and on a go route for a big play. Rashad Greene also had a big touchdown catch against us. There’s no shortage of skill players in Tallahassee, that’s for sure. I like their tight end. They try to get him more involved in the passing game. He’s a guy that’s very capable of making plays. They play well up front. They’ve got a ton of depth there. They’ve had a chance to play a bunch of guys in these first three games.
"Defensively, they are probably as talented as anybody we’ve seen since I’ve been here. These guys are very deep at every position and they have great talent. It’s a very good defense. They lead the nation right now in five different categories. I think they’ve only played red zone defense three times all year.
"Obviously, they’ve only given up three points, and it’s going to take a lot more than three points to win this game. They have great depth on the defensive line. They lost probably the best pass rusher in the league in Jenkins, and they just haven’t missed a beat. "That tells you a lot about the kind of people they have up front. They are very disruptive, and they will roll a bunch of guys in there. That’s going to be a big matchup. They’re talented at linebacker. The secondary guys can all run, change direction well, and cover. " They’ve been playing a lot of press man, which is something we’ve been working hard to prepare for. That’s something we’re going to have to deal with. The reason they do that is their confidence in the guys up front being able to get some pressure, so we have to be able to escape and make some plays. "You have to beat man coverage against a team like this, or it’s going to be a long day. That was probably what happened against Wake Forest.
"The big thing for us offensively is handling the environment. It’s going to be a big crowd, a great venue to play a college football game. But half the stadium is not for you like it was in Atlanta. The whole stadium is against you. We might have a small pocket there, and hopefully we can bring them to their feet a few times. "Handling that environment, being able to communicate, having good ball security, and not committing stupid penalties are going to be big parts of it. Guys have to make plays to be able to win a game like this.
"Special teams could very well be the difference in a game like this. They returned a punt last week against Wake Forest. They have very good skill people. They do a great job covering. They do an excellent job of tightening the noose around the return guy and not letting him escape. "They have, I think, a very special kicker. Their kicker has been outstanding. We all remember two years ago down there when he kicked a 55-yarder that would have been good from about 70 to win it. "I got a chance to meet him at the ESPN awards thing last year. He’s a great, great kicker. For us, it’s just a Tuesday. We have to have a great week of preparation. It’s a great challenge. We’re a big underdog going down there, but I don’t know anybody other than Alabama and LSU that wouldn’t be.
"This is the fourth-ranked team in the country playing at home. We look forward to it. It’s going to be a fun game, and we’re going to have to play well."
On the team’s injured offensive linemen:
"They’re all back. Everybody’s practicing. Everybody’s ready to roll. I anticipate all of them playing and starting. We practice today, tomorrow, and Thursday. We’ve had a chance to play several guys. It’s not like we’ve had guys starting forever. You have to practice well. Whoever practices the best this week, that’s who will start the game."
On generating a pass rush:
"We’ve gotten quite a bit of pressure, but we haven’t been able to get many sacks. That’s been a concern. Part of it is the teams we’ve played. It’s not like they’re back there holding the ball. The ball is coming out quick. We haven’t been able to pressure the quarterback. There’s definitely room for improvement there with our four-man pressure."
On whether any personnel changes are imminent:
"No. We’ve got a bunch of guys that are playing. We have a full week of practice. Outside of Malliciah, we don’t have anybody over there that’s just a golden child as far as being that much farther in front of whomever he’s competing with. It’s a daily competition on the defensive side of the ball, and that’s a good thing."
On stopping Florida State’s running game:
"The option is a concern because they’ve been successful. They love that outside lead play. Their fullback is a very good player. He can cut guys down in a hurry. He’s a very good blocker. The biggest thing is that we have to mix it up. We can’t just give them the same look as far as who’s containing the play and that kind of thing. Guys just have to play fundamental football. "If they can reach our guys and out-leverage us and it’s one-on-one and you have one guy coming to support a lead play outside, you’re in for a long day because the fullback is going to cut you down and the back has space and a guy to run off of. "We have to have 11 hats to the ball. First of all, we have to be fundamentally sound and play the technique that we’re asking them to play. There’s no defense that we have that we don’t have a contain player. "Somebody’s forcing it on every play, whether it’s a secondary guy or a linebacker or a line guy. That’s the most important part. Whoever that is has to understand that and do their job. Then the other guys have to be where they’re supposed to be and play technique. You have to defeat blocks. They’re just blocking people. It’s not anything fancy. We have to defeat blocks and force the ball from the outside in."
On shielding his team from distractions:
"These guys aren’t isolated in a cage somewhere. They understand this is a huge game. But you have to be careful because this is the fourth game. Our next goal is to win the division. That’s what we’re trying to do. Is it a big game for the division? You’d better believe it because the winner of this game is in control, and the loser of the game is at the mercy of others. "But it’s not over for anybody. What about going to Boston College next week? What about playing Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Wake Forest on Thursday night? It’s a long season, guys. If we win the game, we’re 4-0 and that’s great and we’re just a team trying to put a great season together. If we don’t get it done, then we’re still a team that has a whole season in front of us. " It’s the same thing from both sides. If you come out of this one with a win, you’re in the driver’s seat. You control your destiny, and that’s what you want to keep. Everybody wants to be able to control their destiny. If you lose this game, you don’t control your destiny. You’re at the mercy of other things happening. "You still have to take care of your business. We all remember Alabama and LSU last year. It was a similar deal—top ten teams, it was a division game just like this was a division game, and LSU has to go into Tuscaloosa to win the game. "But guess who won the national championship? You know why Alabama won it? They handled their business. They were at their mercy. They didn’t control their destiny when they lost the game. LSU controlled their destiny the whole way, and Alabama did not control their own destiny. :But they went back to work, took care of their business, and things happened for them.
On Tony Steward’s development:
"I thought he looked good. He played well. He did some really good things. It was really his first significant time. If you remember, last year, we tried to bring him along. We tried to get him back when he got hurt and was out for the rest of the year. He’s done a great job on special teams for us. " I think that’s really helped him playing and earning some stats on special teams. He really didn’t play a lot against Ball State because he tweaked his hamstring. Seeing him in there last week, I thought, was really good. He played a whole half. He was active. He stayed on his feet, for the most part. He’s still not quite there, but he’s on his way. It was good to see him play like that."
On the importance of converting in the red zone:
"When you’re playing a team that’s played three games and they’ve given up three points, one point a game, points are certainly at a premium. We’re going to have to score more than three to win, no doubt about it. This is a complete football team we’re getting ready to play, and we’re going to have to play that way ourselves in order to have a chance." On dealing with Florida State’s press coverage: "You have to protect. You have to do a good job there. That’s going to be the key matchup—how our guys hold up against 95, 93, and all the cats they have rolling up in there. That’s where it starts. Then guys have to play with great technique and finish plays and contest throws. We have to finish those plays."
On Tajh Boyd staying patient:
"He’s played them before. It’s not like it’s his first time playing Florida State. He did start the game last year. He’s just got to play the position like he’s coached to do. He can’t try to create things that aren’t there. There are going to be some scramble situations in this game. He’s got to make some plays with his legs, extend some drives, and be a good decision-maker by avoiding sacks when he can. "That’s going to be a big part of what we’re going to need him to do. Other than that, just be the quarterback and take what’s there. If it’s not there, there’s nothing wrong with throwing it away or running it, and let’s go to the next play. We just can’t beat ourselves. " Last year, we almost did that. I don’t know what you call that play—a gift touchdown to number 95. Then we fumbled again on the 25, I think, to give them the ball and we gave up another touchdown. That’s two touchdowns right there that are hard to overcome. "Fortunately, we were able to overcome that. We got a pick in the red zone and didn’t get any points, missed the field goal. We made plenty of mistakes last year. He made plenty of mistakes. I’ve watched that game about three times since Sunday. He knows what he’s got to do—just be the quarterback and play his game."
On whether there is a tangible benefit to being an underdog:
"I don’t know. The last three years, we’ve never been picked to win the division, much less the conference, and we’ve won it two out of the last three years. Our guys are confident. They know who they are. We don’t need to worry about what other people think. "We were an underdog last year going to Virginia Tech, an underdog in the championship game. We don’t worry about that. When you start worrying about all of that kind of stuff, then you aren’t focusing on the things you’re supposed to. "We have a formula for success and daily preparation. That’s what we try to do. We try to teach these guys to stay away from all of that other stuff because it’s really irrelevant to the game. The game is played in-between the lines by the players. If it’s not something that helps you perform better, then it’s irrelevant, from a player and coach standpoint. :I think our guys have learned that. They’ve come a long way. I think the process, for them last year, was really beneficial for our guys. This is not the first big game they’ve ever been in. They understand the situation. Both teams are going to play really, really hard. It comes down to turnovers and who has the most big plays. These are two talented football teams. We’ve got talent, they’ve got talent. We’ve got pride, they’ve got pride. We’re going to play hard, they’re going to play hard."