I'm on my way up to New York for the College Football Hall of Fame Dinner with Danny Ford, but I'll have a teleconference with Dabo at 4:00, so stay tuned!
I just got off the phone with Nick Saban and asked him to compare this year's Clemson team to the one that beat him in the National Championship. I'll have that transcript for you at some point, but I've still got several hours of driving ahead.
Dabo's call will not be until 5:30, but I will have yhat transcript for you later as well!
I appreciate you guys having us. Just, first of all, really proud of our team, our staff, unbelievable accomplishment and culminating with a great victory last night, winning our conference. Probably playing our best four quarters.
But this is a great privilege to be a part of the playoff. And really, really excited about going to the Sugar Bowl. I actually was with Alabama in '89, '89 Sugar Bowl against Miami as well. We lost that one.
But just so excited to come back. And I want to say congratulations to Alabama and Coach Saban and their staff, team. What a great year they had as well. And no doubt, this will be a heck of a matchup. Obviously played each other last two years, and it's come down to a few plays. And I don't doubt this one will be the same.
But it's exciting to a part of it. Like I said, just really looking forward to coming to the Sugar Bowl. 59 years since Clemson has been there. And I don't have any doubt that the Clemson fans will turn out, and it will be a great ?? just a great showing all the way around.
But very thankful for the opportunity. And with that, we'll take whatever questions you got.
Q. Coach, Ryan Carter has been a big contributor for you the last couple years, but he's really been a turnover machine lately. The last four games he's forced four turnovers. Had that pick?six at South Carolina, of course. I saw you had a chance to embrace him after the game last night. Just wondering if you could share that with us, what you said to him in that moment.
DABO: That's just kind of, you know, between me and him. But I can definitely tell you I just ?? part of it was just telling him how proud I am of him and just what an impactful player he's become. He's really been a great contributor here really his whole career, especially these last couple years. But this year he just really blossomed and just really proud of him. He's become a very technically sound player. He's always had great instincts and toughness. But his confidence and just his overall knowledge, you know, is just really shining through. Just proud of him and glad to see him have that type of game last night.
Q. Yeah, Dabo, you talked about your experiences about Alabama playing in the Sugar Bowl. Is there a moment, something that steps out at you that you still cherish about that experience that when you get back in the stadium you are going to reminisce a little bit?
DABO: Yeah, just winning that national championship in '92. I mean, it's not like it is now, you know? Alabama seems like they win it every other year or so. But, you know, back then, when we won it in '92, it had been since the '70s that Alabama had won one. So it was the 100th year.
For me, that was my last time to play football. I knew it was going to be my last game and to just be able to kind of soak it all up there that last quarter was pretty special. Just running around the Superdome celebrating with my teammates is something that I will never forget, being in that locker room and just knowing that, you know, we had gotten it done. It was a special moment.
Q. Dabo, it looks at least for right now you guys are going into the game as the underdog for the eighth time in a bowl appearance with you as the head coach. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on that considering you've won almost every single one of those bowl games and feel like you probably have already proven yourself.
DABO: Well, I mean, I don't really have any thoughts. We're going to get ready to go play. And, I mean, Alabama ?? pretty much everybody plays Alabama is probably going to be an underdog. So that just kind of comes with it.
But, you know, we're going to get ready and do what we do. You know, none of that stuff really matters. It just comes down to how you play on that day, and we've been fortunate to find a way to win a bunch of those games. It's all about this one.
Q. Talk about Alabama. I know this is the third time you played them. Is it hard to play somebody a third time after you guys have played them the last two seasons in the national title game?
DABO: I mean, I don't think so. We play people in our conference every year. So, I mean, it's just kind of ?? just a little more familiarity because you've played them the previous couple years.
But, I mean, it's ?? what's hard is when you play a great team. (laughter). It's hard. Any time you play a great team, it's really, really hard. But, you know, in our conference there's certain teams we play every single year that, you know ?? you just know it's going to be a heck of a battle.
Even though Alabama is not in our conference, I mean, any time you line up to play those guys, you know it's going to be an "everything you got" type of game. But we look forward to it.
Q. Dabo, you guys lost one of the best players in program history in Deshaun Watson. My question is: How do you feel like you adapted the offense to account for his absence? And what was the biggest key to that process?
DABO: I mean, I wouldn't say, you know, "adapted the offense" because he's gone. I just think that every year you just start over and you assess your team. We felt like this year more so than last year we were going to be a better running team because of the versatility and experience of our running backs. And so, you know, we just got a lot more balance there. And I felt like we would be a fresher team in the backfield.
And then Kelly is a little faster than Deshaun. The biggest thing is we had all those linemen back. We had every the linemen back except one. So I felt like we would be able to win in the trenches and run the ball a little more effectively than last year. That's exactly what we've been able to do.
And then just some new guys that you kind of have to go with their pace. So we've just developed and matured all throughout the year and kind of hitting our stride right when we need to be.
Q. Dabo, when the rankings came out the other day, you moved up to Number 1. The speculation started that you could wind up playing Alabama. How much did you do any personally handicapping of what the situation might wind up being? Or is that something you as a head coach just focused in on Miami instead?
DABO: (Laughter) Zero. My focus is on Miami a million percent trying to do everything we could to win this league. It's a huge goal of ours to win the ACC and not only that but to win it three years in a row. Something we hadn't done in 29 years around here. To see these seniors be able to finish with such a great moment like that, it was awesome.
So, no, I haven't given it any thought to be honest with you because it doesn't really matter whether you're 1, 2, 3 or 4. I mean, whoever you play, you're going to be ?? you're going to play a great team and you have to earn your way there.
Q. Coach, I'm not ready to say that you're psychic yet but, you know, there's been a few occasions over the past couple years where you have seen things in advance. If you can, you were there with Deshaun in the Superdome back in the spring and you thought you would be there, and you told your team. When did you tell your team that? What were you feeling when you were out there on that field?
DABO: That was kind of a fun moment back in the spring. I had a chance to go to the Manning Award with Deshaun. I didn't even realize it until we were literally flying that way. But it was the first time in 25 years since I had been to New Orleans.
And I remember we landed and I was messing with Deshaun. I'm like, Hey, man, that's where it went down right there. That's where we beat the Canes in nati. And the driver says, that's where the event is. I thought that was pretty cool. And not only was that the event, we pulled right out onto the field. The turf was up, but we pulled right out on to the field.
So literally, you know, 25 years earlier I was in that stadium and just won a national championship. And now here we're, we had just won a national championship. It was kind of a surreal moment.
I didn't even know, that's when I realized that that was one of the playoff sites. So I took a couple pictures and turned it into a reconnaissance trip. So I had a little fun when we were in spring practice and kind of told the guys, hey, I checked it out. And, you know, if we do what I think we can do, this is where we have a chance to get to.
So it's pretty cool to see it come to fruition and just excited to be there and obviously excited to play Alabama again. I mean, just doesn't get any better than that.
Q. Coach, two things. One, Kelly Bryant, obviously, your quarterback and you are following someone like Deshaun Watson, there's always that comparison. How much pride do you take knowing he followed his own path in terms of how he played this year?
And then, second, you know, nationally you guys have been measured making this climb by games against Alabama. Okay, when you played Alabama so close, 2015, got more respect. Beating them took that to another level. What's it like having those games with Bama that has sort of earned you guys a national respect by playing well and then beating them? And then having to play them again.
DABO: Yeah, I think, first of all, proud of Kelly. That's really all we recruited him to be, was just to be him. We didn't recruit him to be Deshaun or anybody else, just come be the best version of you. That's why we thought he could come in here and be a great player for us.
But as far as Alabama, you know, I don't really look at it that way. Other people may do. I just look at it we're ?? we've become a very consistent program. I mean, we've won 82 games in seven years. And I think Alabama is the only team that has won a few more.
So I think we have just become a very consistent program. And we've beaten a lot of good teams, you know? The Ohio States, the Oklahomas, the LSU, Georgia, and so on, a lot of good programs.
But I think sometimes people really ?? they don't want to really give you much credit until you beat the very best. And so, you know, Alabama has certainly represented that. And I think when we won it all ?? because that was the only thing we hadn't done, was win a national championship. I think winning a national championship and definitely coming out and having to beat the best team to do it, I think, you know, maybe put a little brighter light on our program.
But it's really more to me about the consistency overall than it is any one game.
Q. Coach, I didn't get a chance to ask you this last night. Alex Spence hit that 46?yarder last night. I may be wrong but if my memory serves me, I think Huegel's [Greg] long was 47 years. But just how big was that for his confidence going forward in this playoff run to hit a field goal like that?
DABO: It's huge. That was right there, you know, on our cut?out. We kind of said, hey, we're going to let him kick from the 30 kind of, maybe in that range. And we usually kick 32, 33?yard line in our Tuesday practices. So I've seen him make some 51?yarders and 52?yarders. I think it's great. I mean, he's made six out of his last seven game field goals. And just really proud of him. That's the type of confidence that we need going into this stretch run and then obviously he's kicking off very well for us.
Saban: Well, we're very pleased, excited and proud to be a part of the Allstate Sugar Bowl playoff this year. Our team is very excited. They certainly worked hard all year long to create this opportunity. And even though we didn't finish in the last game like we would have liked, we feel like the committee did a great job of, you know, selecting the four best teams. We certainly feel like we're one of those teams and have the opportunity to play a fantastic Clemson team who has had a wonderful year.
And I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the other teams that are in the playoff as well as the teams that worked hard to get consideration to be in the playoff.
We know how hard college football players work. We know how important it is to them, and we like to see them get as much positive self?gratification as they can, which bowl games and playoff games have always been the way that college football players get reinforced for their efforts throughout the season.
So the Sugar Bowl has always been something that's been special to Alabama. It's always been something that's special to the SEC, to play the Number 1 team in the country. Coach Swinney does a fantastic job with his program and his team. And we meet these guys two years in a row in the finals. So this is something that we're certainly looking forward to.
Q. Yes, Coach. Obviously, I was counting down to who was going to get into the playoffs. What has your gut been telling you the previous 24 hours? Were you thinking, "We deserve to get in" and, "We'll get in"? Or was there some uncertainty whether you think you guys were going to get in?
Saban: I think there's a lesson to be learned here. And I shared this with the team today in our team meeting, that because we didn't finish the season the way we wanted to finish the season and didn't play the way we'd like to play or to the standard that we'd like to play to, we put our fate in someone else's hands. And you like to control the things you can control. You can always control your behavior. You can always control your performance. But we didn't do that, and we put our faith in somebody else's hands.
And there were a lot of people who I tried to influence that we wanted to look at the whole body of work for the whole season and get the best four teams in the playoffs. And I felt we were one of those teams. And we were certainly pleased and happy the way things worked out the way they did.
But there was a little white?knuckle time for all of us in terms of we're going to be judged by somebody else now. It's not, you know, exactly like we'd like for it to be. And we feel very fortunate that we have the opportunity to be in the game.
Q. Nick, with this Clemson team, the way you guys played the last two years, what can you take from those games? Or can you take anything since it's a different season with some pretty different teams?
Saban: Well, I think you can always take things from, you know, someone that you played in previous seasons, try to develop help a little history on things that they do. You get to know them a little bit better. And even though they have different players now, systematically they have a lot of the same coaches.
So I think you can take some things, you know, technically from those games and maybe even a little strategically. You always do sort of what we did well and what we did poorly when you play a game. And you get those things out and kind of look at them and see how you can try to improve this time around.
Q. Coach, I'm just curious if you stuck around in Charlotte last night to attend the game or if you've watched it yet and what your early impressions are of this Clemson team compared to last year. I imagine you watched a little bit of the Auburn game in your preparation for them. And, specifically, with Kelly Bryant, how he compares, how he's running this Clemson offense compared to what you saw with Deshaun Watson?
Saban: We haven't had a lot of opportunity ?? and I didn't stay around to watch the game last night, to answer your question. And we had a recruiting weekend, so we were busy with recruits. And we were flipping back and forth between Ohio State, Wisconsin, and saw a little bit of Clemson.
But we've seen them on occasion throughout the year. Look, Dabo does a great job with his team. And I think Kelly Bryant is a different kind of player in some ways than Deshaun Watson who was, I thought, the best player in college football and certainly proved that this year when he got an opportunity in the NFL. We are sorry that he got injured. We have a lot of respect for the team that they have now, the players they have now. They have got a lot of explosive skill players. They are very good on defense, great front seven, very athletic, good pass rushers. This will be by far the best team we played all year. And we'll certainly need to play our best to have any kind of chance to be successful in the game.
Q. This is four times in the semifinals for you. How has your approach changed, if any, from the game of trying to balance it being a bowl game and the playoff semifinal? I know they are having the teams come in a day later than they have in the past.
Saban: I think it's a little different. We have learned that it's a little different when you are playing in a playoff game. It's not really a bowl game, even though you would like for the players to have some reward for having a good season. There's also a consequence to how you play.
We didn't ?? the first year we played in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State, our players still probably look at that as a little bit like it was a bowl trip.
I think in the other playoff games that we played in since then, I think there's been a little bit more focus and understanding of the consequences because, you know, you are playing for something. You are playing for the opportunity to play for the national championship, if you can win a playoff game.
So I think it is quite a bit different. I think we've changed our approach a little bit. I think our players sort of understand that and don't really look at it as much as a bowl game as an opportunity to be in the playoffs and have a chance to advance.
Q. Nick, I was wondering ?? with Clemson's offense being a little bit different, the defense, though, remains very similar personnel?wise to what you faced the last couple of years, I wonder if you can compare their defensive front, particularly their line, to some of what you have seen elsewhere in the SEC and what kind of a challenge does that present for you guys?
Saban: We haven't had a whole lot of opportunity to watch them, other than what we have seen on and off throughout the season. But I don't like to make comparisons. But this is a very, very good defensive front, probably one of the best in the country. They're very athletic. They're strong. They're physical. Their linebackers are very active. They got good team speed in the backend.
So this is a really, really good, you know, defensive unit. And, I mean, they're probably as good as anybody in the country.
Q. Nick, you're a coach that prefers to win it on the field, make your case on the field. So how strange was it last night kind of having to do a little politicking, call into ESPN? And what went into the decision to do that?
Saban: Well, they asked me to do it. I didn't politic to do it. They asked me if I would come on, and I said I would be glad to. I was really doing it for our team, the players on our team who have worked very hard all year long and who were very disappointed in the way they played in the last game, in a very tough environment, in a rivalry game and came up short. So for them to have a second opportunity now, I think, you know, was something that I certainly wanted to try to do the best I could as their coach to give them an opportunity to do. And that's, you know, why we did it.
So I don't know if it had any impact on anybody on the committee. But, you know, I did want to at least be able to put our case out there in terms of our whole body of work, what we had done all year long, trying to get the four best teams in there. And I think it worked out that way.
Q. Nick, what's the status on LaBryan Ray? Will he be ready for the playoff?
Saban: He probably won't be able to practice right off the bat. We tentatively haven't set a schedule for bowl practice yet. But I think we're going to probably start somewhere around December 15th. But he may be ready to contribute after Christmas, but that will be ?? that will be something that we'll have to sort of go day to day on.
Q. Hey, Coach. We've heard a lot from your players about this Clemson team throughout the season and what that loss meant last year. Do you think that they'll be extra amped? And what will you have to tell them to make sure that they don't, I guess, enter this matchup too hyped up for a rematch?
Saban: Well, look, Clemson is a really good team. They got a great team. It was a great game that we had with them last year that came down to the last play of the game. And the year before we had a great game with them, and that kind of came down to the end as well. So I think we have a lot of respect for them and the kind of football players they have.
And I think we want our players to focus on what they need to do to play their best football. And I think that's what it will take from our standpoint. And that's certainly what we'll try to get them to focus on.