Just got off the phone with Dabo and Mark Richt. I'll have the transcript of that posted for you as soon as I can. I have not left Columbia yet, so I still have a couple hours of driving in front of me. I asked Dabo about injuries from last night, as Etienne and J.D. Davis were a little banged up. Dabo said he would know more tomorrow, but it seems like neither is too serious. Chad Smith was ready to go last night but just didn't play. Tre Lamar is still day-to-day from that stinger in his shoulder that he suffered against Florida State soon after he had an outstanding sack, forced fumble and recovery.
As usual, we'll have coach and player interviews tomorrow afternoon as well as Tuesday.
First of all, I'd just like to congratulate Miami on an unbelievable year, just a phenomenal season, and Coach Richt has done an amazing job down there. No big shocker there. He's always done a great job. But got a lot of respect for Coach Richt and the job he does, and just incredible to watch what they've done this year. So we look forward to competing against them.
But man, I'm really proud of our team. We're a team that not many people picked to win the division, much less the league, and our guys have just gotten better as the year has gone on. We've really developed, I think, a good chemistry. We've had a lot of guys step up. I think we've developed some depth, and just really love how we finished. So a great season, 11-1, and we're really excited about representing the Atlantic, and it's going to be an awesome venue in Charlotte. It's good to be back in Charlotte. I know it's going to be a great environment to play the championship game, and again, we're just looking forward to competing against a great Miami team, and it comes down to four quarters, and it's an exciting time to have the opportunity to still play one more week.
Q. Just wanted to know how you are health-wise after last night. I believe J.D. Davis went out of the game at one point. How is he?
DABO: Yeah, we'll assess those guys further in the morning. Just kind of meeting -- they've been in treatment this afternoon, and we'll know a little bit more where we are as we go through the week, but I think everybody should be -- I don't see anybody not being able to play this week. The main guy is Tre Lamar, just kind of evaluating where he is.
Q. You talked about Kelly last night; obviously he's a South Carolina guy and been waiting to play in that game last night for two years, bided his time, and had to mean a lot to him, but he just showed as much poise as he always has in every other big stage. Did you say anything to him at any point about not pressing, or did you just know that he'd have that ability?
DABO: You know, I mean, I say a lot to him, I mean, all the time. We're always coaching and always trying to encourage and teach and prepare. But the biggest thing is just him just continuing to be who he is and execute the offense, just embrace the moment, know that you're prepared. But he did a great job for us. He's really been a good leader, and really proud of him. Nobody had more pressure on him than Kelly Bryant coming into the season, and he has led this team to 11-1 and a state championship, division championship, and hopefully an ACC Championship.
Q. So much was made going into the season about the pressure of replacing Deshaun and all of that. How did Kelly handle it initially, and did you see a sort of comfort level rising with him as the year went on?
DABO: Initially in the spring, you know, it was new to him because he had not been the guy. He really hadn't been in that -- and it's different when you're a backup. The light isn't quite as bright. But I think that for two years, the thing I love about Kelly is for two years, he had a front-row seat to Deshaun, and he really learned a lot and paid attention. He took ownership. He continued to prepare. But I think he had a great example in Deshaun.
But the other thing with Kelly is I think this spring, he just really realized that, listen, I just need to be the best version of Kelly Bryant, and don't worry about trying to replace Deshaun. We don't need you to replace Deshaun. We just need you to be the best you can be. That's why we recruited you.
And I just think that he's done a great job of working really, really hard to where he can play fast within our system, process things fast. He's put the work in from a studying standpoint, and then he's just developed so much as a quarterback and a passer. He's always been a guy that could beat you with his legs, but he's become much more of a complete player as the season has progressed and made some big, big plays in some big moments.
Q. What was the challenge or kind of the process for your coaching staff of adjusting the offense, finding what Kelly was best running, and how did that process go through the year?
DABO: Well, I mean, I think every year your team, you have to -- as a coach, you evaluate where you are as a team. Sometimes you just have a lot of youth. Sometimes you've got a lot of experience back, and so you can maybe get to another level of your offense, kind of like -- it's kind of like math. Sometimes you're in algebra, sometimes you're in calculus. Just kind of depends on the experience factor. But we really haven't changed much of anything. We've been able to run the ball better this year, and I think that that's a credit to our offensive line. We had a very experienced offensive line coming back, and then Kelly is a dynamic runner, big, strong kid. But we still like to push the ball down the field and do all the same things we've always done, but we just get into the course of a game, and we feel like we have the ability to do what we need to do to win the game each and every week based on how defense plays us.
Q. I'm not sure how much of Miami you've had a chance to watch yet, but I was hoping for your thoughts and observations on how far this team has come since the last time you all played them.
DABO: That's night and day. The last time we played them, they had a lot of talent, but they just for whatever reason that day, it just was -- just everything kind of went our way. But they've never been lacking for talent. I just think that -- listen, give Mark a lot of credit. He's come in there and really pulled it all together and given them a clear identity. They're playing with great energy, great effort. They're just impressive. I've seen them a couple times on TV this year, and I've seen them in a couple of crossover tapes where I've been preparing for another team. Know a little bit about them. They look like Miami. When you think about Miami, there's a certain image that pops up in your head, and that's what they look like. They're running the ball well. They've got a quarterback that's played very well for them all year. They've hit some big plays at critical times. They've found ways to win games. And then defensively they've created a bunch of turnovers.
They've earned it. I mean, it's been a heck of a year for them, and we know it's going to be a big challenge for us. But that's the way it should be when you get in a championship game. Should be good-on-good, and that's what you've got.
Q. When Miami hired Mark, did you expect this kind of turnaround for the Miami program?
DABO: No question. Coach Richt is a great coach and has been forever. He's done an unbelievable job his entire career. I've always had a lot of respect for him and how he handles his business and the type of man he is. He's got a great family. He loves his players, and he's a great competitor. There's no question when he got this job -- he played there, you know he's going to have a good understanding of the culture there and so forth. It's been fun to watch him pull it together. I knew it wouldn't take him long.
Q. You said yesterday or last night after the game that we've asked you about the polls all year long, and they don't matter until now. Obviously the playoff poll matters most, but do you still take stock out of being named No. 1 today by the AP and the coaches' poll?
DABO: Well, to be quite honest with you, this is the first time I've heard that, so no. The one that matters is that CFP poll because that's the one that's going to determine your postseason. I mean, it's an honor, I guess. I literally -- it's the first I've heard that. But that's great. Again, the CFP poll is the one that really matters this time of year, and you know, it's great to have the respect of the AP and the coaches and so forth, but at the end of the day, it's the CFP poll that's going to, again, determine your opportunity postseason. Really all they can do is kind of react to what we do. We really determine it based on how we play at this point.
For us, we've just got to stay focused on what we can control and just try to play the best four quarters of the season, and if we can do that, then I think being the ACC champion and 12-1 would give us a seat at the table. It definitely is important to be in good position going into this last weekend.
Q. Is there anything kind of extra motivational or even teaching tool that you can use this week just using that, or because you're the defending national champions that's kind of all out the window and not something that really enters the mindset as you prepare for Miami?
DABO: Oh, no, we don't need any of that. They know. Like I said, it kind of speaks for itself. They know what's at stake, and so does Miami. It's the same opportunity on both sides, I think. I think the winner of this game is going to get a chance for sure to go to the playoff. That makes it fun and exciting, and you embrace that.
Q. I was going to ask you about do you feel like this ACC Championship game is more or less an automatic play-in to the four-team playoff, and it's not necessarily that, and should it be as far as conference champions go?
DABO: I mean, I think that every year depends on kind of what's going on. I mean, I think if we were both 8-4, then I wouldn't necessarily think that it's an automatic play-in. But I think where we are right now, the season we've had, the season Miami has had, I don't think there's any question that the winner of this league -- this is a very difficult league, a very difficult league. Just saw a thing today, where ACC is 13-3 versus the SEC in rivalry games over the last three years. That's what we play against week in and week out. There's a lot of teams going to be going to bowl games from this league once again, so I don't think there's any question with the year Miami has had and we've had, the winner of this league is definitely going to be in the playoff and deservedly so.
Q. The 58-0 game, and by the way, a lot of fans have been holding up "thank you, Dabo," signs, but what do you remember from that game, and do you think a loss like that can actually serve in any way as motivation for the current Miami team? Some of those guys played in it.
DABO: Well, I mean, I'm sure it can. Any time you have a bad outing, you want to do better the next time. But I mean, that game has nothing to do with this game. We're a different team. They're a different team. There might be a few players here or there that might have played in that game. But that was just a bad day for Miami. It was a day where everything kind of went right. There was some scuttlebutt at the beginning of the game from what I remember in pregame warmups, which was disappointing, but we played a great game. They didn't have a great game. But that was then. It has nothing to do with this game. I mean, it really doesn't. It's all about this team and their team and who can execute, do things you've got to do to win Saturday night.
Q. Is Travis Etienne nursing an injury from yesterday?
DABO: He was a little banged up but I don't think anything too serious.
Q. I know it's still a week out, but what do you think about the status of Lamar and Smith?
DABO: Well, Chad Smith was back yesterday in last night's game. He was dressed and ready to play, so he's back. Lamar, still not sure on him. It's early in the week; it'll be a day-to-day thing.
Q. You talked a little bit last night, and obviously we're all focused on this game Saturday night being the entrance to the playoff almost, but you've had your guys thinking about every week as a play-in game, I think since Syracuse it seems like because I've heard them reference it when talking to them and things like that. Is it easy to get them thinking about the every game matters week-to-week-to-week so early in the season?
DABO: Is it easy? No. I mean, you're dealing with a bunch of young people, but that's just what we work hard to do. You know, it's the messaging in our program. It's developing the leadership and guys taking ownership of who we are and the way we do things and the type of mindset that you have to have week in and week out, and it's kind of the culture of our program. But it's definitely not easy.
Q. You mentioned at the top looking forward to getting back to Charlotte. Just wondering if you could speak a little bit to the difference in venues. Obviously last year you were in Orlando, the lowest attended game in the history of the championship, and this year you're coming into a sellout, just what you're expecting playing in Bank of America Stadium again.
DABO: It's good to be back in Charlotte. Listen, the Orlando folks were amazing and gracious hosts, and it was a great experience for us last year, and obviously in a kind of pull-it-together-quick situation, it was great, and we really enjoyed it. But it's good to be back in Charlotte. It really is. It's a great venue, and it's going to be an awesome crowd, GameDay and all that stuff, and it's an excellent location for everyone. Should be fun. We're glad that it's back there.
Q. A couple quick questions for you. Just wondering if you or Dan have heard anything from the South Carolina administration regarding the bottle-throwing incidents from the game last night.
DABO: Not that I know of.
Q. Secondly, report today, CBSSports.com reporting that Arkansas people are interested in Brent for their head coaching job out there. Moving forward right now with the job situations cropping up and his name possibly popping up with that and others, how will you handle that with him, and what leeway would he have to evaluate and maybe interview for some jobs?
DABO: We are 100 percent focused on Miami. I don't know anything about that, and I never get too worried or focused on any of that stuff. There's a million rumors and whatever. Our focus and Brent's focus is on -- I promise you, is on getting ready for Miami. But I've always had a policy if guys have opportunities somewhere down the road that they think is good for them, then that's great. But nobody is sitting around worrying about any of that stuff. Everybody is focused on trying to beat Miami this week, and that's it.
Q. Obviously with Miami, everybody kind of focuses on the defense and with the turnover chain and everything else. I'm curious what you've seen on film about the offense and with Malik Rosier at quarterback?
DABO: Yeah, like I said earlier, I've seen them a couple times. Haven't really gotten deep into who they are and philosophy and all that. That'll come later tonight and tomorrow. But I've been impressed with them. First of all, they're running the ball very well. That No. 24 -- I know they had one back get hurt, but that No. 24 is a heck of a back. I think he's 24. And the quarterback has played very well. He's come up big for them time and time again. They've had some huge plays at critical times. Tight end is a very good player. So I mean, and then they do an excellent job of how they manage their scheme and putting those guys in position to be successful. They've got an outstanding little slot receiver, the Berrios kid, you notice him a lot. He's a great return guy, too. So they're dynamic, man. They've got great skill just like you'd think Miami would have, and then defensively they're playing outstanding. So it's been a good combination for them throughout the year.
Q. I'm wondering how much it helps when you've had a lot of experience playing in these games.
DABO: Well, I think it helps when you have a bunch of -- I mean, we have a lot of experience as a program, but we're a very young team. We only have six scholarship seniors on our roster. We've got a pretty good junior class, but we're mostly freshmen and sophomores. We're still a young team, but I do think that, again, it's just another big game, and this team this year has been in a lot of big games. We've had, I mean, GameDay at Louisville, GameDay at Virginia Tech. I don't think it was GameDay at NC State, but it was a monstrous game. Obviously a huge game this past weekend. I mean, these guys have been in a lot of big games this year, and at the end of the day, it's similar to that, and so has Miami. They've been in some huge games, as well.
I think both teams have great experience to draw on from just this season, and that's really what matters.
Q. I just wanted to ask you about Hunter Johnson. He had the interception in which he overthrew Diondre Overton, but he did move the ball down the field about 50 yards or so. How far has he come in the last month or so just in his maturity as a quarterback and command of the offense?
DABO: He's made really good progress, you know, really proud of him, and Zerrick has great command of the offense. Both of them are competing every day, and just the last couple opportunities, Hunter kind of played better on game day, so it was an opportunity for him to go in there first, and I thought he did a good job. Obviously he wishes he had that one play back. Not a good throw. Diondre did a good job of getting open and missed an opportunity there, but he did a heck of a job making the right decisions and made some throws that he needed to make and executed well. He's come a long way, man. He's playing with some confidence.
Q. Back in 2011 at the ACC Championship game, before Virginia Tech, you kind of made an impassioned speech and you said, I guarantee you it won't be 20 years before Clemson gets back here, and you were right. Do you ever just take a moment during this busy season and kind of reflect on everything that's happened since that time and really over these past three or four years?
DABO: That's kind of more postseason time. Yeah, every year I try to really get away and think and reflect and visualize for what's next and all that. But right now, man, I'm just locked in and focused on trying to get ready to play these Hurricanes. That's really it. But I mean, we've come a long way, obviously, and I'm proud of our program and our team and really appreciate a lot of our former players sending me messages and things like that. Those things mean a lot to me. They all take a lot of pride in where we are as a program.
You know, just right now, though, it's all about this week.
Q. On Hunter Renfrow, one of the coaches, I think it was Jeff Scott said last night, that when it's orange pants season, Hunter Renfrow seems to get a little bit better. What is it about that kid that kind of sets him apart from everybody else?
DABO: He's just a baller, man. He's a football player. That's what makes this game great. He don't really look like a football player, but football players come in all shapes and sizes, man, and boy, his heart is 6'4", 250. Man, he's just a special guy. He's very smart, very intelligent, has great passion for the game. He's a great preparer. He's really become a very polished receiver as far as knowing how to work his release technique, run his routes, his break points, his influence in his routes. He's really grown so much, and then he's just gotten stronger. I mean, he was such a small and not very strong guy when he got here, 155 pounds, and now he's pushing close to 185, and he's just stronger, and now he's got the experience in the conference to go with it.
And then he's always been able to run. He can fly. And then really what makes him special is his ability to change direction on a dime. I mean, he can just flat-out stick a foot in the ground and be going the other way without slowing down, and that's really hard to do. And then he's got great ball skills. He's a great finisher on the ball. It's just awesome to watch him play. It really is. And a lot of fun.
Well, we did get a day after that Friday to get a little rest and regroup a little bit, which was good, but now we're back on our normal schedule, which is a Sunday evening practice with the team. We'll be meeting with them in just a little bit and then of course Monday is a day off for continued planning, and then we'll go right to our normal routine on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Looking forward to representing the University of Miami for the first time in this game. We're very excited about the possibility of being able to do that, and now it's a reality. Just proud of the team for getting here, and now we've got to find a way to win it.
Q. I'm curious coming into this season, one of the big story lines around you guys was what you were going to do at quarterback to replace Brad. How did Malik initially kind of handle the pressure or the challenge there, and how comfortable have you seen him become over the course of the year?
Richt: Right, well, first of all, he did have to win the job in fall camp. I had not made up my mind at all. I allowed two true freshmen to get the same amount of reps as Malik got and Evan Shirreffs got, and up until the second scrimmage, which was pretty deep into camp, it wasn't until then that I was leaning heavily towards Malik. But he earned it through competition, and I thought he really rose to the occasion.
And then, gosh, he's been through so many situations in so many games where he had to make big plays at the big moments, and he's done it over and over, so I think he's getting used to that type of a game and that type of -- just knowing that he's got to make good decisions, and he's got to make plays when needed, and he's done a great job of that.
Q. On that same topic, obviously every athlete is a little bit different. What was the process for you and your coaching staff kind of tailoring the offense this year to his strong suits?
Richt: Well, we knew, number one, that he has some mobility that we weren't used to having, so we knew there would be some times where there were some quarterback runs, and even the plays that people run all over the country, the zone read plays and things of that nature where the defensive end chases the back a little too hard, an unblocked player chases the back too hard, the ball can be pulled out, and the quarterback can take off running with it. He was probably more effective doing that this season than we anticipated. We thought he would at least be enough of a threat where people had to keep that unblocked player at bay, so to speak, where the back could get as many yards as possible. Malik through the quarterback draw and some of the quarterback runs has done well, and then there's been many times where he would just drop back in the pocket and look for his progression of reads, and if somebody wasn't there, he was able to scramble for 1st downs from time to time or scramble enough to get the ball thrown and not have an eight-yard sack or something like that. There's a lot of hidden yardage offensively all year because of his ability to run, and of course he's a good decision maker. He threw very few balls up for grabs. That's part of the reason why he won the job. He just managed things extremely well.
Q. We got the release about Chris; just wondering your thoughts on that, and then what's your confidence level like in Michael Irvin?
Richt: Well, first of all, Chris Herndon has been -- oh, gosh, I don't know what to say other than he's an a warrior for us. He's been a great player and a great leader on and off the field. He's the kind of person that you love to coach. I know he's going to be a really wonderful NFL career. It's a shame that he can't finish with us because he's very important to us. He's been a mainstay in this offense the last two years, of course, that I've been here, and this year especially he's been getting the lion's share of all the reps when the tight end is in the game. So I just want to thank him first and foremost, and the staff I know wants to thank him, and I'm sure the fan base wants to thank him for everything he's done for us throughout his career.
As far as Michael Irvin, Jr., he's a guy that has earned the right to play over this season, and he has gotten better as the season has gone along, quite frankly, and he will play, no doubt. He's a starting tight end right now, and he'll also play some special teams for us, but he's a guy that I think is typical when a guy becomes the starter, their level of play tends to go up. It's just human nature that way, and I think he knows when everybody is relying on him even more than they did in the past, it'll help him play even better.
Q. I know really the off-season is kind of when you take stock of everything, but just entering this game, you talk about wanting your team to get the level where they're able to line up and go toe to toe with anybody, are you there yet? How close do you feel that you are if you're not there yet?
Richt: Well, we'll find out Saturday, that's for sure. Clemson being the great championship-caliber team that they are and have been for a couple years, pretty much dominating our league and obviously winning the National Championship a year ago. It'll be a great measuring stick to see where we're at, quite frankly.
Q. Obviously there's going to be a lot of attention on what this game means for the winner moving forward. Do you want your guys to kind of embrace the potential opportunity that's there? Would you rather have them focused on facing Clemson and what they have to do to compete well against Clemson?
Richt: Well, I don't really care what motivates a guy. If the thought of that motivates them, that's great. Any motivation going into a ballgame is a good thing. So if they're thinking about the possibility of the playoffs or just thinking about being the first team to ever win the ACC Championship at the University of Miami, or just because they want to make their family proud. As far as motivation goes, I'm all for whatever gets a guy excited about preparing to do battle. But his focus obviously has got to be on his job and how it relates to the game plan and how much it means to his teammates for him to take care of business. You know, motivation is not always some coach getting in front of a team and having some kind of speech. Motivation comes from a lot of different places, and whatever gets them excited about preparing, I'm all for that.
Q. I also wanted to ask you, you've obviously competed in several SEC Championship games. You know the environment, the preparation, things like that, to play for a league championship. Is there any way you can help translate that to players and maybe staffers who aren't as accustomed to what's ahead of them this week?
Richt: Well, I think you've just got to be -- you've got to kind of build on what we've done to this point, how we've gotten there on a weekly basis. It is certainly a championship game, but it is still a football game. You're playing an opponent. You're breaking down film. You're trying to make decisions on the best way to attack somebody, offense, defense, special teams. There's not a whole lot of change. I think that we've been preparing to play in a championship game all year long, quite frankly, and so if we can continue to do that, I think it'll give us our best chance for victory.
Q. Because you were able to play on Friday, you get an extra day. Did you take a chance to watch any college football around the country, and did you take the time to watch Clemson and South Carolina last night and just some of your thoughts if you did?
Richt: Well, I definitely watched the game against South Carolina, and also peeked at a few games during the day. I also tried to watch a little bit of tape of our opponent just to get a little bit of a head start. But it's also not a bad time just to catch your breath a little bit, too. My wife and my son -- well, our two oldest boys and my oldest boy's wife Anna and our little granddaughter came by the house and we had our own little Thanksgiving dinner, which was nice, so we took some family time, too. Certainly saw the game. Very dominating performance. That pick six to start the game got everything rolling in Clemson's favor and kind of took the crowd out of it a little bit, then another touchdown, and before you know it, South Carolina was playing behind the 8-ball and it really just couldn't recover. It really wasn't all that exciting of a game quite frankly, and it was certainly a game that Clemson dominated.
Q. Your son played for Dabo and played at Clemson. Does he still have good memories of that time, and do you and Dabo have a good relationship?
Richt: Oh, yeah. Dabo and I have got a really good relationship. My son John was there for a year and decided to transfer out and decided to give himself a better shot at playing. He didn't feel like he was going to get a chance to play a bunch, and quarterback position as we know there's usually just one guy playing. He got a chance to play and become a leader and do the things that he wanted to do, and he said he wanted to coach. But no, John had no ill-will towards Clemson at all. It was just a matter of trying to make a decision to where he -- he just wanted to play. He said, Dad, I want to play, and I want to coach when I'm done playing, and that's exactly what he's doing, and turned out to be a blessing for him. But he really enjoyed his time.
I actually got to see Clemson-Alabama play in Atlanta the one year that John was on the team just because I think it was early in the season and I had a moment to get out of there and be a dad for a second, so that was nice.
Q. I was just wondering if you've been in touch with your old coach, Coach Schnellenberger, and as Miami is on the precipice of maybe winning its first ACC Championship, maybe going to the playoff and going from there, what part of all this he can claim?
Richt: Right. Well, I've spoken to Coach Schnellenberger many times since I've been back, and he's been nothing but a great support for me, and I learned a lot from him. I learned a lot of passing game, I learned a lot of football, period, just scheme and how to run routes, and not that I was running the routes but how route concepts were run and protections, and just really learned a lot because he brought the Miami Dolphins' system to college football, and I just was -- I wasn't a starter, obviously, but I got to learn a lot from him, and then I also got a chance to see him believe in something that maybe no one could see but him. He would always say that Miami was on a collision course for a National Championship, and the only variable was time, and a lot of people just thought he was maybe a little bit crazy at the time, but he kept believing in it and he helped a bunch of young guys that didn't know any better believe in it, too. I missed that by a season. The season I left was the year in '83 that Miami won the first championship. He did a great job of helping a bunch of young guys believe that we could be something special.
Q. Question about the offensive line, really going into this week. Clemson has a ton of talent on the defensive line. Anything you're looking at in particular? Any match-ups we should keep an eye on?
Richt: Well, their defensive front has been -- you watch the film, and you're like, oh, boy, we've got our work cut out for us for sure. I think because their defensive front is so strong, they've been able to kind of rely on them to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback without a lot of blitzing schemes, and Coach Venables is great at scheming people up and bringing great pressures, great blitzes, but I think he's also enjoyed the fact that those guys are so strong up front that 1st and 2nd down is hard to win. It's hard to get those yards rushing the ball, so you end up in a lot of 3rd and medium, 3rd and long, and then coach can either drop into -- drop a bunch of guys into coverage or bring the pressure, but either way the D-line has been very, very outstanding, and our offensive line knows it's going to be a great challenge to move them a little bit in the run game and protect our quarterback.
Q. How have you seen obviously Braxton Berrios has had great year for you guys, how have you seen him change since he first got to campus? Was there any particular moment that things started clicking for him?
Richt: Well, I think the lightbulb moment is when we started getting the ball targeted to him a little bit more than in the past. He was probably ready for that two years ago, three years ago. You know, he's always been -- you can't call him a professional because he wasn't getting paid, but he was very professional about how he would go about his business. He's one of the greatest student-athletes in America, and he's had all A's and one B+, that's it, and I think that was from a group project. He's just done everything on the field, off the field. He's done wonderful things in community service, and then he shows up to these games, and he became a dominating player for us in some very big games. He took over a couple games and was scoring just about every time we hit the field. Just very impressed with him as a route runner, ball catcher, blocker, and a leader. He's been a great punt return man. He's been covering kicks. He's doing whatever the team needs to win and just really blessed to have him on this team, and I'm so thankful for him that he's got a chance to show what he can do.
Q. Is there anything about his reputation as an academic and as a football player aside, is there anything people don't really know about him?
Richt: Well, I mean, he's a tough guy. I mean, he's tough in regard to how he'll play when it comes to blocking and things of that nature, even route running, getting off of routes when guys are trying to grab and snatch and all that. But also everybody has got something that's hurting them. You get banged up when you play as many snaps as he plays, and this deep into the season, and he never complains, he never moans about anything. He might have a bag of ice on a couple body parts when the game is over, but you'd never know during the game anything is bothering him, and I respect that an awful lot, as well.
Q. I know you weren't the coach the last time Miami and Clemson played, but that game set the wheels in motion for you to become the head coach at Miami. Curious if there's any discussion among the players or if that game will come up this week as you prepare for Clemson.
Richt: Well, you know what, it might. I imagine the guys that were here during that time frame haven't forgotten how that felt. I'm sure no one wants to feel that again. But I've not mentioned anything to the team about that.
Q. And one other thing if I could, somebody asked Dabo just now whether he felt the winner of this game should go into the playoff, and I was wondering what your thoughts were on that.
Richt: Oh, I think so. I think whichever team wins the ACC, considering the body of work of both teams, should be a shoe-in to get in in my opinion.
Q. You mentioned earlier that even though it's a championship game, it's still just basically a football game, but you do have game day, you have all this hype, and because of geography, you're likely to be playing in a fairly hostile environment. Just wondering whether you'll address that with the team and what impact you think that might have?
Richt: Right. Well, we were actually fortunate enough to have that type of atmosphere at our Notre Dame game. GameDay came, and it was about as big of a moment as any of our players had been involved in, and I've been in a few of those types of games over my career, but that was about as big as it gets.
It was good to have that experience, I think, and I think we were underdogs in that one, as well.
But the hostile environment part, you know, our environment in that particular game was our fans being as big of a factor as you could ever hope for a home crowd to be.
Now, I think we'll have plenty of Hurricane fans there at this ballgame, and I know they'll be loud and proud, and they'll be holding their own when it comes to crowd noise. I'm certain of that.
Q. With two defenses that stand out in so many ways statistically and lead the nation or are high up in the nation in so many critical categories, what do you see offensively in this game? Do you see a defensive-dominated game?
Richt: Oh, man, I don't know. A lot of times you go into a game like this, and you're like, it's going to be 10-9, and I don't know what it's going to be quite frankly. You know, defenses score points sometimes, and special teams points happen. It's just so hard to say what'll happen in a game like this, but I know it's going to be tough sledding for us offensively against their defense. They do a wonderful job, and it's going to be a battle for sure for us, and hopefully it'll be a battle for Clemson's offense, as well.
Q. I was wondering if I could jog your memory. Georgia was on a bye the last time Miami played Clemson. Did you catch any of that game?
Richt: No, I can't recall that. It just -- I know I wasn't watching it. It may not have even been on TV. I don't know the situation to be honest with you. But it obviously wasn't a good moment for our program.
Q. I was wondering after Friday's loss if you saw enough signs that a team that hadn't experienced defeat was handling it in a way that you wanted them to.
Richt: Well, it's hard to say how a team should handle it. Like I don't really expect a certain emotion after the game, whether it's being mad or being sad or being whatever. I mean, everybody has an emotion after a game like that, and players and coaches alike. So the initial reaction by the team really won't shock me one way or another. I've seen it all after games like that. I've seen guys cry, I've seen guys slam things on the wall, I've seen guys just be quiet and listen. So I've seen it all.
But I think what's most important is being able to regroup and understand that at least see what we need to do to make corrections and then what do we got to do moving forward to give ourselves the best chance of success. I think everybody is doing that. I'm going to find out a little bit more tonight because we did give everybody off yesterday, and we're getting back on schedule here, but when we left the locker room, I felt like everybody was in a good place, and I listened to some of the interviews with our players with the media and I thought they did a wonderful job of that, so I think we're in a good place right now.
Q. I wonder if you can just compare the football in the ACC after what you've seen in your first few years in the conference compared to the SEC. I know there aren't quite as many large venues but just the play on the field, how it compares?
Richt: Yeah, the quality of play, well, I've only been here two years in the league. I was there, obviously, years ago at Florida State as an assistant coach, but shoot, last year I would say the ACC was the best conference in America if you just measure all the ways to measure conferences. And this year, I don't see any slack-off in that way. I see a lot of great teams top to bottom that can beat one another, and I think it's a very quality league in regard to the coaching staffs that have been brought in, the head coaches and the people they've brought in. It's super high-quality football and as good as anybody in America.
Q. Talk about your offense, the last couple weeks have been a slow start for you guys. What's been the problem since the Notre Dame game getting a slow start because it seems like you guys have been playing catch-up the last couple weeks.
Richt: Yeah, well, first of all we played a couple pretty good defenses. That was part of it. And the other part is for whatever reason, whether it was not getting our running game on track or not throwing and catching like we should, like for example, last game, if you don't throw and catch good that day, they're going to put everybody in the box and stop the run. I mean, that's just how they play football. If you can throw and catch good enough to back them off a little bit, then you tend to gain some space to run the football. But schematically, their deal is to get a couple extra hats in the box to stop the running game, and if you're not good enough at throwing and catching, then you're going to have a rough day, and that's what happened to us not only the first half but the entire game.
But the game is a 60-minute game. You want to start out great. Momentum helps a lot. There's no question about it. It helps not only the offense's confidence in what's going on in any particular game, but it helps your defense, as well. And it helps your fan base get excited. If we could get some things going on early, that would be great.
Q. What is one player on that Clemson defense that you're going to work on this week to get ready for, or circle, that you have to see on Saturday, one player on that defense?
Richt: Well, you know, I'm not in position really to say a particular guy because you can't really pick on one guy. I don't know if there's a guy to pick on, quite frankly. If I figure that out, I wouldn't tell anybody, but at this point, we're just trying to look at the film and just from a schematic point of view decide how we're going to attack. We haven't really looked at the personnel and said, hey, this is a guy we're trying to pick on, because I don't think there is one.