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October 3, 2012Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson spoke with the media on the weekly ACC teleconference Wednesday. Read what they had to say heading into the showdown in Death Valley. DABO SWINNEY CLEMSON
DABO SWINNEY: Good morning, everybody. Proud of our guys for getting it done up at Boston College. That was a really big win for us, and got another big challenge this week with one of our biggest rivalry games that we have with Georgia Tech. It's always a very tough game for us. We've had some really close games and hard-fought games but have not won many of them the last few years here.
Big, big game. It's good to be back at home. We've got a nice little home stretch coming up and an open date next week. Looking forward to getting back out in front of the home folks. We're going to have to play very well. This is a team that I know they're coming off a tough loss to Middle Tennessee, but they've had two overtime losses at Virginia Tech and then against Miami. I think everybody knows the kind of team that Georgia Tech is and the kind of coaching staff that they have.
We're going to have to play a great game. Obviously their scheme presents many challenges, and we're off to a good week as far as preparation. But look forward to getting out there Saturday and hopefully playing our best game.
Q. I was just wondering if you could address in general why tackling has been so poor in college football this season, and how much do you work on the art of tackling in practice during the year?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, well, I mean, I'm sure there's a lot of theories out there. I think the game has changed, for one, and especially with the younger kids. I mean, I've got three sons, eighth grade, seventh grade and third grade, and they all play ball, and it's -- when I was growing up, I'm not sure what your age is, but when I was growing up, we -- you didn't have all these flag leagues and all that kind of stuff. I mean, you played and you tackled every day. I mean, that's just what you did.
Even in high school, we tackled every day. Even in college. When I was playing in college, our quarterback was live every day. I mean, that's just -- we were live all the time.
But things were different back then. Your scholarship numbers were more, and I think as -- and it's the same thing in the NFL. You see the same thing. The NFL, I think they're only in pads maybe once a week, and so a residual effect of that, or a trickle-down effect of less live practicing is the tackling. Same thing in spring ball; when I was going through college, every spring practice was live, every day. You had to come out and you played until the guy was on the ground. It's just different now. Now you have -- you've got to have a certain amount of days in shorts, you've got to have -- I mean, you have to have -- you can only have three scrimmages. You just get less work at playing the game full speed. And it's the same thing in your fall camp. Again, I'll use myself as an example again. We had two weeks of two-a-days every day. I'm not an advocate for all of that, I'm just trying to answer your question. I'm just saying that now the first five days are one practice and three of them are in shorts and you can't go live and then you can't have back-to-back two-a-days. There's a lot of reasons why the game has changed a little bit. Now, they've tried to make the game safer is a reason for a lot of these changes. But what happens is when you don't get to play this game live and full speed often, and then all of a sudden you show up on game day, it's just hard to simulate, so it takes a little bit longer, I think, for people to really improve. I think it takes a little bit longer for guys to really get in the groove. And I think you'll see teams that -- you'll see the tackling improve as the season goes.
And then just the way the youth of America is today, when what they're being taught in middle schools and high schools, the high school coaches have had to adapt and change because there's so much competition out there for their players. You know, lacrosse, soccer, you have all these things that are pulling players, and so I think coaches have evolved, and they've had to change the game a little bit.
All of that, I guess, is a roundabout way of answering your question on maybe why tackling is not as good, and very few schools practice live during the week. Now, we've changed that. We have a very young defense, and in fact, we started last week, just Tuesday and Wednesdays, we are going live. I've never done that. We've always pretty much been a -- we'll have a period or so, but we've pretty much been a thud team, full-speed, form them up, but we try to stay on our feet. And most people, that's what they do. But we're so young in so many areas, we've just kind of bit the bullet and have started practicing live on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with our defense to try to improve in that area.
Q. I actually wanted to ask something a little similar. I was looking at scoring in the league and across the country watching some of the video game scores go up. I know it goes in cycles. Are we going through a cycle now where the offenses maybe because of tempo, spread, whatever, seem to have the upper hand over the defensive?
DABO SWINNEY: Probably, and I think you'll see all that stuff change again at some point. I mean, that's just the way it is. You know, and that was a crazy game. You've got to give some credit to some of those offensive people, too, now. You're seeing some very good quarterbacks and a lot of great skill, and the skill development has just become so refined over the past several years because of basically the 7-on-7 teams that you have. These guys practice year-round with that stuff now, and it's just second nature.
So that's part of it. But I think that stuff is definitely cyclical, and I don't have any doubt that if you're going to be a great team and you're going to have a great program, in my opinion -- and listen, I've made my living coaching offense forever, but I believe with all my heart that defense has got to be the staple. It's got to be the consistent thing amongst your program. And not that you won't have some ebbs and flows in years here and there, but overall, I think you've got to be great on defense to consistently win at a high level.
Q. Does the fact, though, that offenses are so explosive and so good now change the way you coach in terms of you get a lead, you'd better not sit on it, you'd better keep attacking even with a two-touchdown lead or something like that, don't get conservative because you know the other team can put up points quickly?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, all those are factors you're always thinking about, but I think the more important thing is whatever you're committed to, that's what you need to do. Whoever you are, whatever your philosophy is, then just be who you are. But you always have to react to what the game situation is. You have to have that flexibility to realize, hey, you know what, we're in a situation here where we've got control of this game; maybe we're an up-tempo team, but listen, let's slow it down.
In fact, we did that up in Boston this past weekend. Most of the fourth quarter we were in a different mode than what we would normally play in because we had a 17-point lead or 14-point lead, and the clock was totally against them. We didn't execute very well because we ended up fumbling the ball and not getting a fourth and inch, so we made it a little bit more interesting than it needed to be.
But that's, I think, again, be who you are, but you have to have flexibility within your system to exercise common sense because of the situation of the game.
Q. I think I read or saw, or I forget where I figured it out, but am I correct in saying that Coach (Paul) Johnson is someone you've particularly gotten to know and have been visiting with in the time you've been a head coach?
DABO SWINNEY: Did you say Coach Johnson?
Q. Right, right.
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, Paul and I are friends and get along very well. In fact, since I've come into the league as a head coach, he's been one of those guys that's been very gracious to me and insightful. He's been around a long time. He's been a very, very successful college football coach, and I've got a lot of respect for him and the tremendous job that he's done everywhere he's been, and especially the job he's done at Georgia Tech. But yeah, we get along fine.
Q. You mentioned he's been insightful with you. Is there anything you've been able to learn from him that's helped you?
DABO SWINNEY: No, those are all just private things, private conversations that we've had. But I've always enjoyed spending time with him. You know, he's got, again, a good understanding of the business. He's got a good understanding of the game. You know, he's very down to earth, and again, has been one of those guys that, as I've gotten to know all the head coaches throughout this league, he's been a good guy and a guy that I've enjoyed getting to know.
PAUL JOHNSON GEORGIA TECH
COACH JOHNSON: Good morning. I tell you, we've got a tremendous challenge this week. When you put on the tape of Clemson, they're scary good. They're very athletic. I think all their skill positions offensively, they have next-level players, and they're executing at a high level. It will be a huge challenge for us. That's always a tough place to play. We've got to bounce back from a really disappointing game on Saturday. We get thrown right back into the fire against a quality opponent in Clemson.
Q. Coach, looking at the numbers, it looks like your offense is functioning at a pretty high level, but you're struggling on defense. What do you need to do better defensively?
COACH JOHNSON: I think that's a fair assessment. We turned the ball over Saturday. We stayed away from that, but we had way too many turnovers offensively in the game Saturday. Defensively I think we've given up so many big plays and our tackling has been very poor. In my mind the tackling probably cost us our first two conference games in the fourth quarter or in overtime - actually before they got into overtime, we probably didn't need to get into overtime. That's something we've got to improve on.
We have to cut back on the big plays and get back to playing defensively like we're capable of playing, I think.
Q. One point brought up before was whether teams hit in practice and tackle during the week or cut back on that. Do you guys go hard tackling during the week or do you limit contact?
COACH JOHNSON: We do a tackling drill almost every day. We have tackling stations. A lot of times when the defense are doing it against scouts, they may not go to the ground, but they work on angle tackles, short yardage form tackles, all those type deals.
We practice full speed, at least on Tuesdays, at least 15 or 20 minutes on Tuesday on offense. So our guys are doing it defensively. It's a little harder. They go full speed. But most of the time they try to stay off the ground.
Q. I guess the big question is, if the defense has so much trouble stopping Middle Tennessee, how tall an order is it to stop Clemson?
COACH JOHNSON: If we play like we did Saturday, they may not have enough lights on the scoreboard for Clemson.
Hopefully we'll bounce back and we'll play better. I think you go into the game anew. Our guys are looking forward to go in and compete and having a chance to rectify. We'll get guys back from last game that will help us.
Q. You mentioned defensive problems. Is that coaches, X's and O's, scheming, or just wrap people up and we'll be in better shape?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think if we could tackle better, that would be a good start. Then as coaches we have to do a better job helping them be better tacklers and putting them in a position they can be successful. When I tend to look at things, we can help offensively, too, by not turning the ball over, getting in front of people, doing those kind of things. There's a lot of factors that come into it.
Q. Al Groh, a guy you think can turn this thing around?
COACH JOHNSON: We hope so. Like I said this week, Al has been a good coach for a long time. I don't think he forgot how to coach in the last two weeks. We have to get back to doing what we do, tackle better, be better, be productive.
Q. Paul, Clemson has so many weapons. If you force them to pass, they have great receivers. If you try to take away the pass, they have great runners. Is there a secret to at least containing them, not letting them light up the scoreboard?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think we've had some great games with them in the past few years. The key is you try not to give up the big plays. They got a lot of big-play guys. You try to limit the big plays.
I don't think you're going to shut them completely down. They have a good scheme, too many good players. So you got to try to match them. You got to try to get some turnovers, force them to continue to execute. If you don't give it to them all in one or two plays, make them have to grind it out.
They can do that. Clearly if you watch, they can. But that's a far better chance of trying to stop them than the other when you give it up in one or two plays.
Q. Is this the kind of game where if your offense can execute some of the six, seven, eight minute drives, that would work in your favor?
COACH JOHNSON: That would be great. That would be good in every game, but especially in a game like this. What's happened in the past, we've had some really great, close games. They've kind of been that way. A year ago we were forcing it, they turned the ball over some. We got up. In the second half, we were able to hang onto the ball, run the clock six, seven minutes at a time on drives. That would be a good recipe if it could happen again.
Q. Looking at the numbers from the Middle Tennessee game, you know you are renowned as a running offense. You had one of your balanced offensive games. Was that a function of being behind and throwing to catch up or did you get some good balance on offense in that game?
COACH JOHNSON: Hmm. A little of both. We got ourselves behind. Actually at half it was tied up. We came out and got a penalty, killed ourself on the first drive, they scored. After that, we never caught up. Had another turnover, got down two scores. We had to start throwing more than we normally throw.
Q. The percentage looks good. Were you happy with the passing game?
COACH JOHNSON: We've done better
throwing the ball. We had some key drops. Really
about eight minutes to go, we were back to within a
score, had a guy way behind the defense,
under-threw it, dropped it, they picked it off.
Actually, hit him in the chest, bounced off.
It's better. Something we've continued to
work on. If we're that balanced, it's usually not a
good thing (laughter).
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