“Before we get started on football, I want to say from our program that our thoughts and our prayers are with all the people in Las Vegas. There are a couple of times in the course of doing your job that things happen that just floor you. They affect really the whole day. I remember being in New York City when 9-11 occurred. We had a player that was in the World Trade Center. The sense of loss and grief is not something that you ever get over. I know the people in Las Vegas and their family members are going through that now. Those are the days you almost feel guilty working on football and doing something you love when so many people are hurting. I know words don’t mean much, but those people are in our thoughts. It so heartwarming to see so many people lining up to give blood. That is an image that stuck with me, how in the face of tragedy, people stepped up.
“Moving ahead with football and reflecting on the Florida State game. Sometimes after a game, your reflection is sometimes different when you watch film. In this case it wasn’t. I thought our players played their hearts out. They played incredibly hard and played to win the game. We played in a really high-level football game for 60 minutes. It was a game of a few plays and they made a few more than us. You can go back through that game and say ‘if this’ or ‘if that’, and beat yourself up, but those plays weren’t because of a lack of effort. Maybe we didn’t execute or we missed a tackle or didn’t convert a red zone score on offense, but none of it happened due to a lack of effort. Mistakes caught up for us. We have been great this year not turning over the football. We came into that game with one turnover, late in the Presbyterian game. The two turnovers were costly. One led to a field goal for them and the other was when we were at the 15-yard line. Turnovers coming out or going in are the ones that end up costing you. Our kickoff coverage left a lot to be desired. We didn’t do a good job of covering kicks. We got lucky on the first one that there was the penalty, but the second one was the same return. That led to seven points. Give Florida State credit. Their special teams and defense made those plays.
“Moving ahead, I’m not sure the last time someone had to play Florida State and Clemson back-to-back. I want to thank the ACC office for thinking that we are a team capable of doing that. I would say that watching them on film, they are playing as well as any team in the country. It is a credit to Coach Swinney and his whole coaching staff. Every year I look at depth charts. I looked at Clemson last year and thought this kid is graduating and this one will leave early. Ok, maybe next year is the year that they take a little bit of a dip. Somehow, someway, they lose all these really good players and then come back and are just as good, if not better. Right now they are probably playing better overall football now than when we played them a year ago, when they went on to win a national championship. That is a credit to Coach Swinney and his staff for the level of recruiting and player development. They lose great players and replace them with great players.
“On offense, Kelly Bryant is playing at a really high level. A lot of the Clemson offense is designed that the quarterback has to run the football. I felt last year, with Watson, they were only going to run him when they had to. Now, they want to run Bryant and he is a really good back. He has carried more than any tailback on their team. He throws a great deep ball. Their skill players, they are as good as we will see all year. This is the best their offensive line has ever played. They are really well-coached. When you are breaking in a new quarterback and your offensive line is playing that well, that makes the transition easier. They haven’t missed a beat.
“Defensively, they are well-coached and really talented. It seems like this is a weekly theme, but this is another one of those really good ACC defensive lines. You can’t move them. Their linebackers and their secondary are so good at being able to close space. People appear to the open and then bang, they’re there. They are just a really good football team and it will be a good challenge. I know our team is looking forward to it. The last few years, the ACC has gone through Clemson. We get to head down there this week and it’s a great opportunity for our program.”
On preparing for Clemson:
“We had our first practice today. Sometimes when you win, because of the win, the warts keep covered up and when you lose, they get exposed. We did a lot of really good things in the Florida State game. You look back at our three-and-a-half years here and that’s probably the first time our offense moved the ball efficiently against an elite defense. We outgained Florida State. The most offense we’ve ever had against them or any of the Clemsons, Florida States, Louisvilles, any of those really good defenses, that’s the best we moved the football. It just shows you how critical turnovers are. The week before, App State outgained us by 100 yards but they made mistakes and you go back in that game and there was the interception that led to a field goal, the fumble on the 15-yard line going in. If any of those flipped over, it’s a one score game. It’s a 60-minute game. I tell our team there’s a lot of guys that can beat themselves up over one play and as coaches we certainly look at the decisions we made and things we could have done differently. Not that you forget about it, but we try to learn from it, grow from it and move on. There were some positives to take out from that game like there were some negatives that came out of the App game. I told our team that you probably know how App felt after our game. They went up and down the field, moved the ball and stopped us more than we stopped them but they ended up losing because they made critical mistakes that this week we had.”
On preparing for a game after a loss:
“Obviously when you’re winning it helps. Our players know the type of athletes that Florida State has and the type of athletes that Clemson has. There’s half our schedule this year that we’re playing against teams that recruit at that four-star, five-star level. I think our guys know they can play with those people. We’ve been in those games before but almost in a fluky way. Last year, at Louisville we were in the game but you never felt like we were really going to move the football. That was the first time I felt that we’re not only in the game but we’re playing with them. We’re moving the ball, we’re making first downs and we have scoring drives. I think up until that game we had scored one touchdown against Florida State in three years and I don’t know the last time we scored two. We had over 370 yards of offense. There’s a confidence. We had 17 tackles for loss. Our D-line played well. A lot of times, those games we’ve lost those games in the trenches but we didn’t lose that game in the trenches. We more than held our own against talented players and a good team. The margin for error in games like that is really small. We’re probably not going to lose the turnover margin to Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame, Louisville and ever have a chance to win the football game. In those games, it’s a small margin for error and we were on the wrong side of that margin.”
On his performance against Florida State:
“Last week, Florida State ran a lot of zones that involved me. I was just doing my job. I wasn’t doing anything too crazy, I was just doing my job. I was there making plays.”
On what happened in the Florida State game:
“I felt like we played a great game for all four quarters. I feel like besides three plays, our defense played really well and those three plays against a good team, that can lose you the game.”
On what the team can take away from Florida state and apply to Clemson:
“Just knowing when you’re playing a good team like that, the margin for error is very small. You have to focus for all four quarters and just have that short-term memory and continue to play, play after play.”
On Clemson’s offense:
“I know they run their quarterback a lot and their play action is what they’re known for. They’re pretty good and if we fit our runs and do what we do, we’ll be fine.”
On the Wake Forest defensive line:
“I give credit to them every time. That’s why I get interceptions and our DBs get interceptions. It starts with the D-line. That front four right there, even the two-deep, is very good. Boogie (Carlos Basham Jr.) is young and he has a lot of potential. He’s learning from Wendell Dunn and Wendell had an awesome game which was great to see. Wendell stepped up and Duke Ejiofor is getting sacks and even Willie Yarbary stepped up huge. That front four is really good.”
On preparing for Clemson:
“Our preparation is just like week one when we played Presbyterian. We go in and watch film. We have that game plan and if we execute the game plan, I feel very confident in what we can do this weekend.”
On what to expect from Clemson:
“Their D-line is phenomenal. They had 11 sacks against Auburn so just sticking to what we do is what we’re trying to do. Me, Justin Herron and Ryan Anderson have played these guys for three years so it’s nothing new.”
On facing back-to-back tough defenses:
“I think it’s an advantage. I was thinking the other day about how last year we played Florida State early and Clemson was one of our last games with a big gap in-between. There are a lot of good defenses in the ACC but they’re by far the best two. Having them back-to-back is great for us as far as preparation and going out there and playing Florida State and looking at the film and correcting our technique. They’re pretty much the same teams talent-wise.”
On what the offensive line can improve:
“Using our hands better is something we can always do. Footwoork is another thing we can always get better at. All of us can do better at that.”
On facing Clemson for the third time in his career:
“I think I get better each year. My freshman year, we went down to Death Valley and I just think the crowd was loud and I was nervous. But just like playing Florida State this past year, I can tell a noticeable difference between playing down in Tallahassee last year. It was more physical. I just knew the game more. Experience is a great teacher.”
On playing in Clemson:
“I think one thing that helps with playing in an environment like Clemson is leadership. We have good leaders on this team that don’t let us get caught up. Cam Serigne is a perfect example because he doesn’t get caught up in the atmosphere. We come together, we settle down and we do what we do. During practice, we just have to make sure we’re all together and communicate well to prepare for the noise.”
On proving themselves in the ACC:
“We would have liked to win against Florida State but there were a few plays here and there. We’ve come to expect to win those games. I think it might be shocking to other people but it’s not shocking to us. We know how good we are.” When I lined up next to Jessie Bates, Willie Yarbary had told me that the kicks had been low all day. That’s how the first extra point had been blocked. We just lined up and I timed the snap and used my 6’5” frame to jump as high as I could.”