Around the ACC | Football Coach Press Conference Transcripts
Dabo Swinney – Clemson
Opening Statement: I am really proud of our guys. Defensively we held Florida State to 17 points. It was a great job by our defense with five takeaways. Offensively, I was very pleased with our balance. I think it was 242 pass and 241 rush, so that was good. We had 15 explosive plays, which is tremendous. We had zero missed assignments up front. We had a lot of good things from that game.
We enjoyed having (US Open Champion) Lucas Glover here (he ran down hill with the team) That was a treat. He sent me a text message that night that said how fun it was and that it was the highlight of his life. That is the US Open Champ.
NC State is a team that has scored a lot of points and is starting to play some good ball. They are a very dangerous football team, particularly at home. They have four out of their five wins at home and they are the only team to defeat Pittsburgh this year.
Offensively we face another top 20 quarterback in Russell Wilson. It seems like every week we are playing another great quarterback and this kid is extremely dangerous and very capable. They got into a shootout at FSU so they are playing with a lot of confidence. They have had some tough losses but they are playing hard.
There is a lot on the line for them to win. They need to win to keep their bowl hopes alive. Obviously we have a lot on the line as well. They are scoring 33 a game and their running back Toney Baker might be the best we have played. He is a very tough runner and is hard to tackle. He is a really good player. They have a lot of big plays built into their offense. We have to do a great job there.
Defensively they have a veteran front. They are young in the back end. But they are not young anymore because they have played a lot of games now. When you play as many freshmen and sophomores as they have then you are going to have some growing pains. When I look at them, as of late, they are doing a super job and have matured. We will have our hands full there.
We need to go on the road and play a complete football game and correct some of our mistakes. We have 11 days to the ACC Atlantic division finish line and every day is critical. There is a lot at stake.
On Your Success on Offense of Late:
It all starts up front. I give all the credit to them hogs up front. If you don’t have that up front then nothing else matters. We had pretty good players here last year too. We had been playing some raw green players last year up front.
The offensive line just takes a little bit longer to become dominant. We have sophomore, sophomore, freshman, senior and junior then Cloy is a sophomore and Smith is a sophomore. Those are the seven guys that have developed into a strong unit.
They are just going to get better and take pride in what they are doing and that has allowed us to get better and develop our quarterback.
Billy Napier has done a great job with Kyle Parker. I can’t say enough about him. He makes mistakes but he learns from them and keeps moving on.
The same on defensive side, DeAndre McDaniel has a lot of picks, but we have are doing some good things in other areas to give him the opportunities. We are getting pressure, and we lead the conference in sacks. It all goes hand-in-hand. What happens on the front in affects the back end on both sides of the ball.
Do you have to get more creative now that it is later in the season with plays?
You always do a self scout every week. We want to use tendencies to our advantage. This is who you are and this is what you have to do. It is still about blocking and tackling and throwing and catching. That is what we focus on. You have to make the blocks and protection. It is about studying their formations and knowing what comes off of them. The same thing goes for the defense. We have a really good staff that is aware of those things on both sides.
On CJ Spiller hurting, yet finding ways to get it done:
He has played hurt and has missed one game in his career ever. When you have 300 and some odd yards, you will be tired and probably beat up and bruised when you do all the things that he does. For him every week he has played through a little pain and by Thursday he feels good and then sore again by the end of the game. But every back in the NFL is sore. His play speaks for itself. All you have to do is turn the film on. They did a good job early in the game, but you just keep giving it to him and sooner or later he pops.
On emergence of Andre Ellington:
He has been great all year. He has made plays when he had opportunities. When Jamie Harper got hurt he has stepped up big time and is an electric little player. He is tough and hard to tackle. He catches the ball well and doesn’t make many mistakes for a freshman. He will be a really good player.
On Xavier Dye coming up with big plays:
You don’t quit. It is a great lesson for him. He quit. But I give him credit because he realized he was making a mistake. That is what men do. He realized he was looking at all the wrong things because he was the starter and earned that and then all of a sudden things aren’t going the right way. Then he is transferring to California. I told him that his problems are just going to go to California with him, that you need to just go back to work and do what you did to earn the job to be first team.
It is just hard work, it is confidence and putting your eyes on the right things and he did. I thought he was gone and he came in there smiling and said ‘coach I am crazy’ and I said ‘yes you are’ and he just went back to work. If you have a bad day and get knocked down just get up again. I am really proud of him.
On CJ and Jacoby’s impact:
Huge. Jacoby was one of those quiet recruits. He has had a phenomenal year and has changed this place. He is a great kid. Spiller is a program changer, unless he just robs a bank he should be on that stadium in the Ring of Honor some day.
He is going to graduate in three and a half years; you don’t find a better person and tons of records. That is a neat thing for that kid. He has a strong faith and is prayerful in all of his decisions. I am really proud of him. I am anxious to see him finish..
Has this team learned how to win?
I would definitely say this team has learned how to win. It starts with how you practice and prepare. They have handled a lot of adversity and it starts with the will to do things the right way. Those are all things that teach you how to win and they believe. I haven’t had a meeting, since last January without a ‘believe’ sign and an ‘it can be done’ sign. This is a team that believes. You don’t have to be good, but if you believe you are good you have a chance.
On Russell Wilson:
We have played four top 20 guys (in passing efficiency) He is 16. We have been challenged by some good quarterbacks, and he is one of them. Nesbit (Georgia Tech) was seventh and Dalton is fourth (TCU team ranking).
That experience helps us. Ponder was outstanding. You watch that kid on film, he will keep you up at night. We did a great job handling him. We have to affect he quarterback and do a better job of stopping the run. We will have the same formula. If we can affect their quarterback we will have a chance to be good on defense this week.
On Bowers Participation Saturday
Probably not, but maybe. It is hard. He wants to play, but my gut is he won’t. I can’t say for sure right now.
What do you think opposing coaches are saying about Kyle Parker?
They look a film and pick out a pretty good player and a kid that is capable. Coming into the season people were trying to make number 11 beat them. I think he has answered a lot of those things. He can make every throw. He runs pretty well. But, they are probably much more concerned about number- 28.
David Cutcliffe – Duke
On recovering from the 19-6 loss last weekend at North Carolina:
I think it’s been a tough few days for our team and our staff. It’s always difficult after any loss. You kind of have a 24-hour rule that you use win or lose, and you’ve got to put it behind you when you have rival games that mean so much. I do think that has been a challenge. I think we made great progress toward moving out of that today.
On how Duke can improve from the loss to North Carolina:
I said we would grow from this game during the press conference afterwards, and we will. I believe that. I haven’t told the team this yet, but in doing some research about going through tough times, one of the interesting things I found is that the Golden Gate Bridge and Empire State Building were both built during the Great Depression. I think that’s a good example of what I’m talking about. Difficult times make you better. That’s the challenge we face this week.
On playing Georgia Tech, which is ranked seventh in the country:
Boy, they’re good. Rightfully, they’re the No. 7-ranked team in the country, if not better than that. They’re a very difficult team to play because they do a great job offensively – everybody knows about that. They keep the ball and have long drives, etc., etc., etc., but they’re also a team that plays with balance. They play with a lot of energy on offense, defense and in the kicking game. If you look at their wins, all parts have been huge at different times. As I’ve said, we’re a team that’s going to have to play really well in all three phases, so I’m anxious to see just how much we can improve and where we’re headed with this.
On Duke’s momentum from a three-game win streak stopping after Saturday’s loss:
I think it stopped for a minute. It came to a dead silence. I’m being as honest as I can be. Sunday, we came out here and we worked, and I thought we worked pretty good. That helps just a little bit, but I think it’s that off day, that Monday, that takes a little while to snap out of it.
On the offense being shut down at North Carolina:
I’ve been shut down before, and we’ll be shut down again. At times, there are just games – particularly when you’re throwing the ball – where it doesn’t work. I got shut out by Florida one year. Good football teams can do that to you. What you learn is you continue to work and keep doing the things you believe in. What you know from past experience is that you never push the panic button. Don’t go changing everything you do, because that’s the worst mistake you can make.
On how to counter Georgia Tech’s ball-control offense:
When you’re playing a team that possesses the ball as well as Georgia Tech does, the best way to prevent them from dominating the ball is to try and stay on the field yourself. Your offense is not just playing their defense, your offense is playing their offense. You don’t want to put your defense right back on the field after they just put together a 12 or 14-play drive, so those things are critical. It’s just part of the balance of the ballgame that you get into. A year ago, we played well against them for an extended period of time defensively, but we just couldn’t generate much offense.
On how close Duke has come to playing its best game:
I hope not really very close. Your best games that you put together are when all three phases are clicking. Our best game would mean scoring in the kicking game, scoring on defense, converting third downs at a high rate, staying on the field offensively. We believe that scoring 30 points or more is always a goal. You put together the magic game, those are kinds of the ways you do it. You don’t miss many tackles. You’d love to come out of the game with less than double-digit penalty yards. Whether that takes that to beat Georgia Tech or not, I don’t know, but I’d like to see us play our best game and see what we’re capable of playing.
Bobby Bowden – Florida State
Q: It must be hard to celebrate your birthday after this weekend? Bowden: You don’t celebrate after last night. Our team got beat. Terry’s team lost their first game last night too in overtime. My son-in-law Jack who coaches a local high school who had a seven game winning streak, they got beat. So our whole family got whipped. We aren’t celebrating nothing.
Q: What will you need to do to prepare E.J. Manuel for Wake Forest?
Bowden: Ever since he has been number two, which has been since spring, he has been getting as many reps as Ponder does. Ponder just gets them with the first unit. Manuel gets the same thing with the second unit. Of course last week, Manuel got nearly all the reps, and our third team quarterback got all the reps. I don’t think Ponder got any reps until Thursday and that was about 50 percent of the team work. My big concern was he going to be rusty? That was the thought that kept running through my mind. So anyway, Manuel has gotten the reps. Jimbo will have to take him and prepare him the best he can. He will have to feed him what he can handle. I am sure he isn’t going to be able to feed him the whole package like he could with Ponder, but he will feed him as much as he can handle and go from there, and the other quarterback the same thing.
Q: How do you think E.J. did with the reps he got with the ones this week?
Bowden: He looked pretty good. It’s just different in the game. I felt like watching him last week that he has really improved. I think coach Fisher feels the same way. But when you get into a ball game, that’s much different. That is a different type of improvement there. At least he got in three or four plays last week. That doesn’t hurt.
Q: Where do you think he has made his biggest improvements?
Bowden: The only thing that you can do is get reps, and reps, and reps, and reps. Then you begin to recognize things and make check offs. He’s got a whole bunch of it, but he hasn’t been under fire. He doesn’t have it down as good as Ponder yet.
Q: How much of a psychological change is it when the number two goes to the number one spot?
Bowden: You tell them to always be ready. You are only an ankle sprain away from starting. If you are second team, you are an ankle sprain away from getting the first team guard, tackle, quarterback, or whatever you are playing. Down inside there they are hoping they get to play, and now he is. You just hope they have prepared and you won’t know the answer till they play.
Q: In the past you have had quarterbacks injured late in the season, but then you had a defense to count on. How tough is this situation?
Bowden: It’s tough but there is nothing you can do about it. All you can do is face the situation and do what is the best. That is to take the next guy, move him up, prepare him the best you can. It is kind of scary. This has been a year in which I can never remember any year like this – yes I do. My first year at Florida State, maybe around 1980, or maybe around 1981 the only year we didn’t go to a bowl because we didn’t win enough games – where it felt like you had to outscore people to win. That isn’t a healthy situation. That’s the way it has been this year. If they score, you have to score. If they score, you have to score. If you score, you score. We’ve matched them for a certain period of time, then turnovers kill that. Turnovers kill that philosophy. That’s what happened against Clemson. If your defense isn’t playing very good, it’s precarious.
Q: You can’t go out there and have a young quarterback feel like he has to go toe-to-toe can you?
Bowden: Unless he can do it. Who knows that he can’t? We watch him practice since he has been here. We see him go out and have a good day, we see him go out there and don’t have a good day. How is he going to go out there in a game? But you never know. Some kids really play out in that situation. How is he going to do? I don’t know but I am anxious to see.
Q: What do you see from Manuel just in terms of his make up?
Bowden: I think he played at an excellent program up there in Virginia in high school. He played in all-star games after he graduated from high school – I mean before he graduated from high school. I think he played in the Army All-Star Game or the one down in San Antonio, or the one in Orlando. In those games he did well. So he has leadership qualities about him. He’s tall, he is 6’5. He should see better. He is faster than Ponder, he can run faster. Now will he go out there and play great? I don’t know. I like him, but you don’t know he might. He has those good qualities that a leader have. He just doesn’t have the experience yet, but that will happen sooner or later.
Q: You’re out of the running for the Atlantic Division, but you still can keep your bowl streak alive if you win two more games. How much of a motivation can that be for your players?
Bowden: As the season goes and you lose more, and you get behind the eight-ball, all of a sudden those opportunities begin to escape on you. Of course, playing in a bowl is an exciting thing, and every kid wants to play in a bowl. They’d rather play in a bowl than be at home. So yes, you hope it’s motivating. And I think it will be.
Q: It looked like C.J. Spiller was everything you feared he might be going into this game.
Bowden: Yeah. I think I mentioned last week – it’s like a ticking bomb. It will tick, tick, tick, and then all of a sudden it goes off. How long can you contain him. Gosh, we contained him pretty good in the first half. I think he got loose for a 40-yard run. But we contained him pretty good. But the second half, boy, he hit that little wheel route on us. We worked on that. I talked about it all week. We wanted to be in a certain defense when that thing came up. We were not in it, and it was just a physical mismatch. His speed against our linebacker’s speed. I thought he was the difference in the game.
Q: With E.J. making his first start this week, your running game might need to become an even bigger factor. It seems like it’s been kind of hot or cold all year. Will the running backs have to step up now and maybe carry this team?
Bowden: Well, we will emphasize it, but you can bet that you don’t have to. They recognize that too. Nothing helps the passing game better than being able to run it. Nothing helps the running game more than being able to pass it. So you need balance. You need both. And so we’ll continue to work on both. But you’re more likely to rely more on the running than the passing.
Q: Coach, even though Spiller made those big plays, did it seem like the defense made some strides?
Bowden: I thought they made some improvement. We did pretty good in the first half. But of course in the second half, we were turning the ball over. Turning the ball over. I think I mentioned this last night at the press conference that I was talking with [announcers Todd] Blackledge and [Brad] Nessler, and I said the thing that scares me most ? is [Ponder] going to be rusty? Because our last day of practice, Thursday, when he finally started getting some reps ? I noticed the first five passes he threw were [off].
Paul Johnson – Georgia Tech
Opening Statement: Well, we’re getting closer to the finish line as far as the conference race goes. We have it in our sight now. We’ve talked about it for about six weeks and we’ve got to go up to Durham and play an improved Duke team. It’s one game to clinch our division and get a spot in the [ACC] Championship Game, so it’s a huge game for the guys and our program.
I was proud of the guys on Saturday. They found a way to win. I don’t think we played one of our best games, especially offensively. I think you have to give Wake Forest a lot of credit for some of that, but we were our own worst enemy with penalties and a ton of missed assignments on offense. The bottom line is we found a way to win. That makes this week’s game huge.
On if the mistakes made by the offense can be attributed to the fact that Georgia Tech has played nine weeks in a row:
I don’t know what the mistakes were an affect of. On Saturday, the guys that have carried the team all year didn’t play their best game. That’s understandable; you’re not going to be at your highest level every game. I acquate it to guys that are great pitchers. Even guys that wins the Cy Young Award get shelled once in a while or they go out and don’t have their best stuff. That’s kind of where we were [on Saturday] and combine that with the penalties. We moved the ball pretty well, but just kept bogging ourselves down.
On the team’s progress since the 33-17 loss at Miami on Sept. 17:
I think we’ve gotten better as the year has gone on. I’ve said before that I think the Miami game was somewhat of an anomaly. Miami has a good football team, but when I put that tape back on, it looked like we were running in sand. We were gassed; it was our third game in 12 days. We just didn’t play very well. Everybody talked about how Miami shut us down offensively. But, if you go look at the tape, we never had the ball. In the second half, we had the ball three times and scored two touchdowns. What Miami did was a good job of controlling the ball and a good job of scoring. We could never close any ground or catch up, so the game kind of got away from us.
I think that we’ve gotten better in most aspects of the game, but we haven’t been as consistent as you would like. Honestly, we’ve been pretty hot and cold on defense. At times we’ve looked pretty good and at times we haven’t. The offense has been a little more consistent. Overall, I think we’re a better football team than when we played Miami.
On the importance of Derrick Morgan’s sack of Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner late in the fourth quarter in Saturday’s win:
There were a lot of big plays in the game. Derrick [Morgan] certainly sacking [Riley Skinner] was huge. It’s hard to pick any one football play in a game and say, “that was the play”, There were a lot of plays that were made on both offense and defense that changed the game. Certainly, Derrick turned the dial up in the second half and you could tell that he didn’t want to lose the game.
On confidence in play calling as the season has gone on, especially on the fourth and one call in overtime against Wake Forest:
Honestly, I really didn’t think much about it. The big thing for me was, we won our second coin toss of the year in overtime. It was important to win because in overtime in college, you have a big advantage if you go on defense first. Part of my thinking on going for it on fourth down was just that, this is a strong part of our football team. If we go ahead and kick the field goal and tie the game, then we have to go right back on offense. I didn’t want to give [Wake Forest] a chance to win the game. We had the chance to win the game. Even if we kick the field goal, score a touchdown on the very next play and kick the extra point, they still have a chance to win the game with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. I wanted to have the chance to win the game. I looked out there and I thought we could make it and win the game. I never thought about what would happen if we didn’t make it. I don’t care; in my mind, I thought what gave us the best chance to win the game was to go for it and make it. If we hadn’t made it, then it would be on me.
On an improved Duke team:
I think the difference has been, honestly, defense. They’ve given up 30 points twice this year, once to Florida State and once to Kansas on the road. If you look at their last three conference games, they’ve given up 13, 19, and 19. Their throwing the ball for a lot of yards, but the bottom line is against North Carolina they only had 125 total yards of offense and that game was tied at six late in the third quarter. They’ve been better on offense, but I think on defense is where they’re much improved.
On the importance of this week’s game:
The way I looked at it, if we didn’t win against Wake Forest, we’re not going to win the division anyway. Could we lose on Saturday and still win, maybe. Since we lost to Miami, I told our guys every Monday that this week’s game is single elimination. It’s like the playoffs. That is the way we’ve tried to go at it. I said after the Miami game I thought no one would win our division with two losses. If we lose on Saturday, then maybe somebody will, but if we win, nobody won’t.
On if the team will take anything positive from Wake Forest victory:
I hope that we learned some lessons because we didn’t play as well as we could. Whether it was nerves, or focus or whatever. I told the guys on Monday that they got away with one. Sometimes, if you are going to have a special season, you need that to happen. But, let’s make sure we don’t let that happen again and play our best game this week. We haven’t played our best game yet. I challenge them every week about it. We’ve yet to put together a game where we play well in every face. It’s what we’re shooting for every week.
On Derrick Morgan:
He’s a great player. He has great physical tools. He about as quick and explosive coming off the ball as anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s got a lot of god given ability and he works at it. He’s a good football player. He was year ago. Last year, he didn’t get all the notoriety, but he was one of our best players.
Randy Shannon – Miami
Opening statements: We’ve got North Carolina this weekend and it’s a rivalry game within our conference. It will be a great game to be a part of – two staffs that know a lot of guys on the other staff. We know each other from working together or from growing up. Watching North Carolina on tape, their record does not indicate what kind of team this is. They have lost a lot of close games in the last two or three minutes. They have also won some games in the end, so we are not going to take this team lightly based off their record. That team beat Virginia Tech so they are clearly capable of doing great things. We need to focus on this game completely and nothing else. We are 0-3 playing in North Carolina so our main goal this week is focusing on making that record 1-3.
On North Carolina’s offense:
They’re a running football team. If they get an opportunity, they will throw it deep. They pound the football. Then, they will take a shot at a post or deep corner route.
On Miami players’ improvements:
The players take pride in themselves to help this football team. Every week you might see a new guy stepping up – guys like [defensive back] Jared Campbell or [tight end] Tervaris Johnson who might not get a lot of attention, but do a great job for this football team. That comes from recruiting guys from winning football teams that work hard to win instead of for themselves. You’ve got to enjoy college football. They are kids and you can’t take the fun out of football- the Saturdays, the mascots, the pep rallies, the homecomings.
On not giving up on players:
That’s our job as coaches because we are teachers. We need to find the position for guys that will make them the best players they can be. Guys like Mike James, Damien Berry, Sam Shields and Tervaris Johnson we have moved and they are helping us win games.
On coaching vs. former coaches:
It doesn’t mean much. You have respect for one another, but it’s a game that is in the conference and will help us build for the future.
On his relationship with Coach Butch Davis:
It’s good. We don’t talk during the season but no coaches do. You don’t really start until recruiting comes around in December and January. There is too much going on during the year in terms of meetings, practice and media.
On paying attention to the Georgia Tech game:
It doesn’t make a difference if you don’t take care of what you have to do. You need to take care of yours.
On Mike James at fullback:
He is a good running back and that’s why we use him on kick returns. People don’t realize that LaDanian Tomlinson played fullback his first year at TCU. At that point, he had to play fullback.
On Jacory Harris spreading the ball to 13 receivers:
That’s a great job by Jacory and giving opportunities to whoever is open. Two weeks ago, he threw one ball away and last week he threw three balls away. That shows maturity as a quarterback. It makes the defense not able to double any guys. If you want to take [Leonard] Hankerson out, then you have LaRon [Byrd], Travis [Benjamin], Aldarius [Johnson] and Thearon [Collier]. The more you can diversify, the better off you are.
On the depth at running back:
You never have too many players. When [Graig] Cooper was out, you had Javarris [James] and Damien [Berry]. When Javarris [James] was out, you had [Graig] Cooper, Damien [Berry] and Lee Chambers. So you never have too many guys, because you don’t know who is going to get injured.
On North Carolina’s depth defensively:
They’re big. They have guys that have been there a while like [Quinton Coples, E.J. Wilson and Robert Quinn]. They play hard and have matured. Their linebackers are phenomenal and can do a lot of things.
On defensive back Brandon Harris:
He has started to come into his own. Not to say this in the wrong way, but if you watched Antrel Rolle, he played special teams as a freshman but was never thrown into the mix. His second year people noticed Antrel. Brandon Harris was thrown into the mix early, and the maturity factor has helped him out. He might get beat every now and then but the thing that he and Antrel have is that he has ice water in his veins. If somebody beats him, he says fine let’s see if you can do it again. And that’s what you need to do as a defensive back.
Butch Davis – North Carolina
On the challenge of replacing Shaun Draughn:
It’s certainly not an enviable task. Shaun, obviously, throughout the course of the middle part of the season has really done a nice job. It gave us a good duo of having two guys that could stay fresh in the ball game. It’ll be a challenge to try to find someone who can come in and deliver, not only the playing time, but to offset Ryan’s production and contribution to the game. Like any of the other unfortunate things that have happened to us as far as injuries, it’s something that’s happened and we’re going to have to deal with it and we’re going to have to find something to compensate for it.
On who will fill the only running back position:
We moved Anthony Elzy [to tailback]. He’s been playing. When we lost the other two tailbacks, we moved him back there. And we got him a little bit of playing time in the game the other day against Duke, so I would suspect we will get a chance, the more comfortable he is and the more reps he gets during the week of practice, that we’ll be able to get him more opportunities in the game.
Have you talked to Ryan Taylor about red-shirting this season?
Yes, we’ve talked a lot about it. When he first had the injury, the very first thing we said was ‘just get well.’ That’s priority No. 1. And then we would let the timing decide as to whether or not it would be prudent for you to come back and try to play and whether or not it would be in your best interest and in the team’s best interest for you to red-shirt.
He returned to practice probably about 10 days ago to where he could go full-speed live in practice. And after the first week, his knee was actually still a little bit sore. That all of the cutting and the braking and playing on the scout team – it’s just so much different than going out and pushing sleds and running on your own. When you start pushing on guys that weigh 300 pounds and they push back, it’s a big difference. And so that kind of carried over into last week.
So I would say that, barring anything that would be extraordinarily disastrous, he’ll probably red-shirt. That’s kind of the plan now. For us to have allowed him to go the entire season and then to bring him back for the last three or four games probably isn’t in the team’s best interests and I don’t think it’s necessarily in Ryan’s best interests, either.”
And he’s okay with it. When we talked early right after the injury, he said, ‘If it’s two or three [games], I’m coming back. I’m playing.’ Here’s a guy that’s been our special teams defensive captain for two seasons in a row. He wanted to play. And once the reality of the nature of the injury… He thought he would bounce back a little quicker than he did.
Seniors are always extraordinarily important. They set the tempo in practice and in the offseason and summertime. They are the leaders and the examples. We have not had many in the previous two seasons prior to this. Guys like Kyle Jolly and Lowell Dyer they have helped a lot of those young offensive lineman behind the scenes. They got them to watch film, talking to them and meeting independently. They have helped the coaches reassure those guys are going to be ok. Defensively Cam Thomas and E.J. Wilson, and I cannot tell you how instrumental those two have been over the last couple seasons. They have helped the young defensive lineman last year when we were playing three true defensive freshman and Marvin [Austin} was young. You really need those kind of guys. Melvin Williams has played extremely well in all of our nickel and dime packages, and special teams. So different probably in previous years, this year’s senior class is all pretty significant players. They are all really good guys and leaders.
Tom O’Brien – NC State
Q: What is happening with Jarvis Byrd moving into the lineup at cornerback and C.J. Wilson moving to the other side?
O’Brien: We are still trying to get our best people into the game after Saturday. Two weeks ago, we said we were going to get Jarvis ready. The original plan was to redshirt him. He is the seventh freshman we’ve played this year, which breaks an all-time record for me playing freshman. He seemed to feel right at home, and wasn’t in awe of Florida State. He got more playing time on Saturday [vs. Maryland]. He did a very good job on Saturday.
Wilson has played to the field. After our evaluations Saturday, they were our two best corners we have. As it is, we are going into our 10th game with our ninth starting defensive unit. We have a lot of continuity inconsistency on our football team this year, unlike Clemson, who has nine starters returning on defense.
Q: What has Byrd done to impress you?
O’Brien: His maturity. Early in the year, we knew we had to play one of the freshman corners. As we went through preseason, we felt that Rashard [Smith] was further along, and more ready to play at that point in the year. Certainly, as we went along, Jarvis, a lot of people react different coming to school and going to college. He has grown up a lot. Certainly, in the off week, he showed he was ready to handle the challenge. He did so at Florida State, and certainly [vs.] Maryland.
Q: Is Spiller having the best year of anyone in the ACC?
O’Brien:Absolutely, from what I’ve seen, I don’t see anybody that has controlled a game as much as he has, especially, the last couple of weeks. During this four-game winning streak of theirs, they are averaging 40 points a game, and he has certainly taken it to a higher level in those games.
Q: Did you see a lot of improvement on defense Saturday?
O’Brien:It is certainly the best we’ve played since Pittsburgh. To come right down to it, they gave up basically three points from two minutes to go in the second quarter-on. So, I think we finally got lined up better. As we said going in, there was a lot of things that Maryland would do, he [Ralph Friedgen] is great at picking out what you don’t do very well, and attacked us in a lot of those same ways. I think we defended them much better by the fact that we got lined up and knew where we were supposed to be. Now, if we can just continue and improve a little bit, hopefully we can get better each and every week.
Q: What was the process of having Sterling Lucas at middle linebacker?
O’Brien:That was a function of what we thought we had to do to win the Florida State game [starting Dwayne Maddox at MLB], and what we had to do to win the Maryland game. What we were playing against and who we were playing against, and what we wanted in the game. That’s why we went the way we did at Florida State, and the way we did at Maryland.
Q: What challenge does Clemson’s defense present with defensive end Da’Quan Bowers?
O’Brien:We’ve seen a lot on Bowers, and Sapp is on the other side. This is probably the best defensive football team we’ve seen this year. They have great size in the middle. There is nine guys back that have started. Their secondary, I heard on TV, they have 34 interceptions among them. They are playing a graduate, a senior at the corners. They are lock down kind of corners. They are playing great in the pass defense. That allows the guys up front to get after the quarterback. We just faced one challenge of blitzkrieg, and now we have to hold off two great rush ends that these guys have.
Q: How was Russell Wilson against Maryland?
O’Brien: He has really done a better job the last two weeks, not that he didn’t before. We’ve had to change, and he has had to understand where the changes have had to come, where the people have done to him. He has continued, week-in, week-out, and he keeps throwing two, three touchdowns a week. That speaks very well for your understanding of the offense. That speaks well for the offense in getting guys into position that they can score touchdowns. It is always a lot easier to throw the ball in from the 25-yard line than to drive it in the way we are going. The one he got to Davis Saturday, once again, creating and getting out of the pocket and buying time. That was vintage Russell. He had a chance for a couple more, but we dropped balls on him.
Q: Was dropped balls one of the shortcomings for the offense?
O’Brien:They are part of the game. I’ve always felt if a guy drops the ball, then he is going to make a great catch for you as long as he stays after it and stays focused and everything else. I think it evens out over time. I thought the injuries would even out over time too. We did have good news. The trainer walked in Sunday and for the first time, I don’t have a season-ending injury to report. Maybe we are breaking the streak here.
Q: Are there things for the offense to get better?
O’Brien:Catching the ball is obviously, a matter of concentration. When balls hit you right in the hands, he has thrown some pretty good balls that were dropped. To Russell’s credit, he shakes it off and goes at it again. Losing [R.J.] Mattes sets us back up front. I think [Andy] Barbee did a nice job, and certainly [Andrew] Wallace did a great job Saturday, finding out 40 minutes before the game that he was going to start [at left tackle]. Vermiglio has the flu, so he’ll be back and that helps. We are going to need everybody that we can up front. The thing that we need to continue to work on is running the football a little bit better. That will help us throwing the football. We got too pass-happy there during that middle part of October. The last two game when we committed back to the run, and got a little better balance and have done better offensively. Plus, we’ve held the ball and kept the opposing offense off the field, which helps our defense.
Q: It looked like FSU double-teamed the two ends. Can you get by with that a whole game?
O’Brien:You can get by with it a whole game if they just rush four. If they rush more than four, you are going to end up singled up. You can slide your line one way, and then slip your back going out to the other side. That is what most people do or have tried to do. That is what people have done to us with Willie Young. They’ve doubled him most of the game. There are times when you just have to say, ‘Forget about it. We have to single you up and do the best we can.’ It’s not unlike facing a good quarterback. You can’t give him the same look all the time. If you do, then they’ll counter you and talent will take over in the long run.
Q: Does Wilson give you another weapon by running?
O’Brien:Certainly. I’m not saying what I’m looking for.
Q: Have you heard anything about Toney Baker’s sixth year?
O’Brien: It has been submitted and it’s on its pipeline. I ask every Monday to check where it is and I haven’t gotten an answer back to where it is. It is somewhere in the NCAA hands or the ACC office hands right now.
Q: Does what Wallace did Saturday and Mattes this season give you hope for the future?
O’Brien:Certainly, those three, and he and Zach Allen being the third kid, and then we played Wentz this year as a true freshman at center, knowing that is the best for us in the future. The preponderance of guys that are leaving the football program this year on the offensive and defensive line, there is eight of them. We have four kids coming back on the defensive line. We have some good young kids coming up that are still in the program and [injured defensive end Jeff] Rieskamp will help there. It’s important for us to play Wentz, to play Allen, to play Wallace and to get Mattes playing time this year as we move forward. There is three good young kids in Sam Jones, [Duran] Christophe and Denzelle Good, who is injured right now. They are as good a prospects that we have had.
Q: How good was Alan-Michael Cash on Saturday?
O’Brien:He has been playing very well down the stretch. He has taken to heart, that since we have so many of those young kids in the back, those guys up front are going to have to play a little better. He was a force in the middle, both on the run and the pass on Saturday. I think he’s playing the best he’s played since I’ve been here. Knock on wood, it’s the healthiest he’s been since I’ve been here. He has three more games in his career. He is about to make it the three best games that he can play.
Q: How has Jarvis Williams developed?
O’Brien:He has gotten better and better in every game I’ve been here. He’s a great competitor. I think he has worked hard to be a good route runner. He has done a good job catching the ball for us. He is a guy that Russell really feels comfortable with. It’s like anything else, you throw the ball to the guy that is going to catch it. If everything is even, the ball is going to go to Jarvis. He is going to find him, which he has done consistently this year. More times than not, Jarvis is going to come down with the football.
Q: What differences are there with Clemson and the change in the coaching staff’s?
O’Brien:Certainly, they are different on defense because they have a new defensive coordinator in Kevin Steele. It looks to me, he was at Florida State?I played against him when he was the head coach at Baylor when I was at BC. He ended up at Florida State with Mickey Andrews, so there is a little of that in there. That meshed with Nick Saban/Alabama stuff is what they look like on defense. Offensively, I think, one thing is they are still multiple with what they do with a lot of different personnel and different formations. There is a concerted effort to make sure Spiller and Jacoby Ford touch the football. They are going to make sure they are going to get their touches, and they will line them up in a lot of different place, to find ways to get them the football. That is where they spread the ball around a little more before. They are making sure those two guys, game-breakers, touch the football.
Q: Did you see a noticeable change?
O’Brien: Not really. They just seem to be the same. I tell them to forget the game before. I think they’ve already forgot about it and have gone on to the next one. They’ve been that way. Certainly, psychologically it has to be, we certainly didn’t play the best we could on offense. The good thing was the defense kept us in there, and we found a way to win the football game. We build on that, and that is what we are going to try and do. We’ll be that much better on offense and not turn the football over. We can’t turn the football over against these guys. We’d be in deep trouble. Then play a solid football game on offense. We need to do the best we can against Spiller and Ford.
Q:What interaction do you have with Nate Irving?
O’Brien: He has been out there coaching the linebackers, and he takes credit if they do something good. If they do something bad, I’ll look at him and he turns around and won’t look at me. Actually, he is going to go back, and this is the first week he has been cleared to run on dirt. He is going to go out. He has been on the treadmill. I’ve been razzing him because he has been on the ‘Old man’s machine’ up there.
Q:Does he run with the coaches?
O’Brien: No, he doesn’t run with the coaches. He is on his own. I think he’s embarrassed with the speed he is going at up there. He is going slower than the coaches, which is hard to believe.
Q: Is this a landmark move to go from inside to outside running?
O’Brien: I think it is. Psychologically for him, it’s a huge situation. Last week, he told me he has 10 plays in him. I told him 10 plays, I have a better chance of playing 10 plays than you do. I think for him psychologically, to go outside and run, that will be big for the team to see him out there for what he is going through. What we all?seeing him the day after in the hospital. It’s amazing that he is back to where he is.
Q:Does he go to every practice?
O’Brien: Not to every practice. I think October hurt him as much as anybody on the football team. I think not being part of and looking at all the changes and everything, and going on, he wasn’t able to help out. That was really a difficult time for him. We didn’t see him for a while on the field.
Q: What is needed to find consistency with the defense?
O’Brien: The consistency that we talk about all the time, recognition is the key to playing defense. If you are not sure what your responsibility is, what your assignment is, where you are supposed to align up, you can’t execute the defense. That’s been a major problem for a lot of things that we have done. Defense isn’t as easy as you think it is. Different personnel, different formations, everything changes. There is different calls and different forces, and coverages and things you have to react to. Only by time, only when you get to the point of an experienced level like the Clemson secondary has, that you make 34 interceptions.
That is the biggest situation, is the continuity and the consistency in this program for three years. Not only to this point, but off the field to get to the field, and then the injuries again have just magnified all the problems that we’ve had. It has tripled them, quadrupled them, whatever. It’s difficult to play good defense when you don’t have the same guys week-in, week-out. It’s impossible. But the kids are fighting. No one has given up. They are playing their butts off. We still have a shot at it and we are going to play hard the next three games. It’s great to come back and be at home and have our fans support us, and play a team like Clemson. Clemson thinks they have a lot to play for, but so do we.
Q: What was it like playing at home again?
O’Brien: It was great. That is why I said on my TV show that they are the best fans in the state. Nobody would show up and cheer like that unless they were certainly concerned. I know they are concerned. I know maybe not the perception going into the year isn’t where we ought to be. But reality bites sometimes. To show up, and support this football team is really important, especially, for the young kids. They need the help. Being negative doesn’t help anybody, especially young guys who aren’t really sure what they are doing. They could be more sure with people cheering for them.
Q: After the four-game losing streak, did anybody step up and surprise you?
O’Brien: We talked about Cash before. He has been one guy that has done a good job. I think a couple of those other seniors, they know it’s their last year. I think one of them said to my wife the other day, it certainly hasn’t turned out the way we wanted it. As I’ve said before, it is all that we have. This is it, and we’ll make the best of the bad hand that we’ve been dealt and we are going to go on. Of course, I’ll say the same thing that I said to the TV people. Life is a sign curve. You guys ever take trig? I knew you journalists would have no idea.
Jim Grobe – Wake Forest
On playing and losing so many close games:
As an assistant and as a head coach I’ve been doing this about 35 years. I’ve had two or three games in a season where we played right to the wire and came up short, but not this many times.
Coming down to the wire:
We’ve got a couple of really good teams left to play. We’ve got to get the next one if we are going to have a chance. There’s no wiggle room, we know what we’ve got to do. Wins are the only thing that’s going to help us now.
On the bye week following the Florida State game:
We’ve gone 11 straight weeks. It’s been hard. We’ve gotten banged up over the course of the season. It’s going to be nice to be able to catch our breath. We just need to be able to catch our breath with a win.
On beating Florida State the last three seasons:
I think some good things have happened to us. We’ve won a couple of really close games with these guys. It’s been a game of turnovers in the past. We’re not forcing so many turnovers on defense and they are taking better care of the football. It’s going to be a tough football game for us.
On Florida State missing Christian Ponder:
It’ll affect them like it would us if we didn’t have Riley Skinner. I’m sure the young player is very capable. You very rarely have a backup quarterback that can’t get the job done. In our case Ryan McManus is very capable. But anytime you lose a guy with all that experience, especially one of the top quarterbacks in the league, it hurts.
On scouting backup quarterback E.J. Manuel:
“We don’t get to see a lot of tape. This is a really talented guy, we know that he’s got great skills, the ability to run and throw. He was personally recruited by Jimbo Fisher. I’m sure all the things they’re doing with Christian Ponder, they feel like they can do with Manual.
On injuries affecting teams’ starting lineups:
You’re week-to-week. One of the things that’s affected every team in our league is injuries. You don’t know from one week to the next who the starting lineup is going to be filled with. You’ve just got to go make it happen. We’ve got a young defense. After 10 games it’s hard to say you’ve got a young defense, but still most of our veteran guys are on the offensive side. If we don’t have a good offensive performance it will be hard to win.
On Bobby Bowden:
He’s a great man. Other than being a heck of a football coach and one of the all-time greats, he’s a good guy. That’s what’s so good about Coach Bowden. I think he’ll beat you 100 to nothing if he can, but after the game if you beat him he’s going to be very gracious. He’s a guy with a lot of class and certainly one of the best football coaches of all time.
On Bowden’s legacy at FSU:
You really have to take in all that he’s done for that school. You really need to be in a mindset that whatever Coach Bowden wants to do you’re going to let him do. I think he’s earned that right and he’s done great things for the school. Anytime you get these legendary coaches that are toward the end of their career, it’s important as a school you let them go out the way they want to go out and when they want to go out. He’s been great and still is great for college football. If you spend anytime with Coach Bowden you know he’s got a competitive spirit and he’s still a heck of a football coach.
On the team now contrasted with the start of the season:
We’re a better football team. I don’t think there’s any question. I would love to be able to rewind with the team that’s playing right now and start the season over again. This would be a pretty special year for us. The way we played against Miami and Georgia Tech, there’s no question we’re a great football team. One of the keys is keeping our heads up. Our guys don’t enjoy playing good teams just tough, we need to win, we need to keep our heads up and come back and play a great effort Saturday against the Noles.