On fighting for the starting position and having people doubt the offense without Deshaun Watson:
It’s a process. After the championship game last year, everyone was talking about how we couldn’t get back to this stage and not a lot of people gave this team a chance. So we took that doubt and ran with it and had that mindset of coming ready to work and here we are right now.
On getting the opportunity to play Alabama:
It’s something every kid that grows up watching football dreams about - playing in a semifinal game against a team like Alabama. I’m ready and I’m trying to embrace it and make the most of this opportunity.
On being backup quarterback to Deshaun Watson – wishing to play or knowing the role would be backup:
A little bit of both. As a competitor I always wanted to be out there playing but there’s always a time when you have to be patient and wait your turn, and that’s what I did. I continued to grow and soak up as much knowledge as I could through Deshaun and the coaching staff. It helped me become the player I am today.
On the effect of Coach Dabo Swinney recruiting high-rated QBs:
The coaches are straight up with you. They tell you they are going to bring in the top rated players in the country and that you need to make sure you are working and pushing yourself to be a better player at all times.
On Coach Dabo Swinney’s personality and how he has allowed Bryant to lead:
He’s a player’s coach. That’s one thing that caught my eye during recruitment. He’s been straight up with me and can relate to me. He’s down to earth, what you see on TV is what you get. He has allowed me embrace who I am as a player and a person. Having the support from him and the coaching staff just makes your comfort as a player go up.
On Kelly Bryant:
Knowing Kelly, since I came in with him, he’s always been a great guy. Always calm and collected, never flinches at anything. I think he’s really exceled this year and has surpassed the expectations anyone had for him. If you talk to Kelly, you can tell from just the confidence he has that he’s determined. He’s focused. You can tell from how confident he looks when he’s making plays, scrambling around making plays on his feet.
On the biggest difference between this defensive front for Alabama vs. last year:
This year they’re definitely a lot tougher. It’s harder to move off the ball from the point of attack. They’re definitely more stout inside. You can see that from tape. They do a lot of variations, so we’ve got to recognize those and get the right calls to the line.
On if they have more confidence as an offense now that they’ve seen Alabama’s offensive scheme:
Yeah, we know what to expect this game. This is the third year we’re playing them so we know what they’re going to bring and how tough the game is going to be. It’s just going to be a brawl out there.
On the best front seven they’ve played this year:
We’ve played a lot of great front sevens. Alabama’s up there and they might be the best we’ll play all year. Auburn and NC State have two great front sevens, but Alabama just poses a different threat. It’s going to be a different challenge for us.
On being the “tour guide” for his teammates in New Orleans:
It is [fun] but sometimes you don’t know the answer to everything. So, I just have my phone at my side and do some quick research. But, for the most part it’s been a fun experience for me showing them around.
On his first meeting with Co-Offensive Coordinator Tony Elliott:
Well the first time, he came there were a lot of schools there and he wasn’t really saying much. But, when we went one-on-one, he gave me the perspective of the program. He didn’t really have to say much aside from that I should come check it out and that I’ll love it. That’s exactly what happened.
On whether anything about Clemson reminds him of home:
Yes sir, Just the people, how close-knit people are, and just how things are run around there. It reminds me a lot about home.
On what it will be like playing at the Superdome and being so close to home:
It’s just going to be a surreal experience, and it really hasn’t dawned on me yet how big of a deal it is. But, I think that afterwards I’ll realize how big it was and just the impact that I had or can have on the game. With everyone watching me and me being from here just puts a cherry on top of it all.
On what it was about Clemson that led him there:
I was looking for a balanced offense, a good program, a program that would do it the right way. They’re constantly recruiting players and you want to be and play with the best and they always push you to be better. In terms of me coming in at that time and not knowing what I want to do just kind of shed light on the situation. I took my vision from there, and I just really liked it. It was the best option for me.
On the mentality going into the Allstate Sugar Bowl:
I haven’t really thought about that but I would say it’s like a tiger getting ready to pounce on its prey. We are loading up, practicing, preparing, and anxious for Monday to come.”
On what makes him effective:
I think the biggest things are the way I practice and prepare. The guys that get open in practice are the guys that the quarterbacks throw to in a game.
On the biggest misconception of Clemson heading into the season:
People thought we lost too much to get back. We’re really young, inexperienced, and lost so many guys on the offensive side of the ball. It’s kind of what we are doing now by developing younger players during and after practice for competitive depth next year.
On the Alabama defense and plans to attack it:
I can’t reveal too much but over the last couple years but we have done a good job at attacking their weaknesses. Alabama’s defense doesn’t have many, but we take what they give us one play at a time.
On his secret to success against Alabama’s defense:
We elevate our game whenever we are challenged against a really good opponent. It is what champions do. Coach Swinney has built this program for these types of games by setting high standards for us as players.
Q. Can you talk about the excitement to be here in New Orleans and what it means to this program to be back after some fifty plus years?
SCOTT: Yeah, it's very exciting. Coach Swinney kind of has this special skill or talent of maybe predicting the future. And at the very beginning of the year, he always starts off his talk with a bunch of numbers. And he kind of uses those numbers as goals for our season. And one of those numbers was the number of years since Clemson had been to the Sugar Bowl. And that was one of our goals from the very beginning in August, and it's great to be here.
I think our players and coaches understand the history of the Sugar Bowl. The last time I was here was actually as a coach's kid. My dad was coaching Florida State, and they played here in 1989 against Auburn. So I have great memories of that. I was 8, 9 years old running around. It's great to be back as a coach at a historical bowl game.
Q. Alabama is doing well on the defensive side of the ball. What do you see differently from them this season than you saw from them last year in the championship game?
SCOTT: There are a few new faces and new names but the same results. Schematically, they're very similar to what they've done the last two years. I think the best teams know what they want to do and they do it well. And I think probably the same could be said about us offensively. We're not a whole lot different than maybe who we've been the last two years.
But, you know, it's very impressive that with some of the departures they've had over the last few years defensively that there's no drop off whatsoever. Very physical. They make you earn everything. There are no free plays out there. Literally every run and every pass completion, there's a guy right there
So the biggest thing for us is really to focus on ourselves. We got a lot of respect for our opponents. But part of our plan is really focusing on our execution and to be sure that we go out and give ourselves the best chance to be successful.
Q. Do you see the progression of Kelly [Bryant]? Do you see a different guy each and every week that's gone out and gotten better to be ready for this moment in this situation?
SCOTT: Yeah, I think the biggest difference from where he was the first 2 1/2 years to where he showed up in August, he was a different player, a different quarterback, the confidence that he had, the ability to throw the ball, understanding what we're doing offensively. It was really night and day from where he was, even in the past spring.
Once the season started, I think obviously being a first year starter, there's a lot of lessons that you learn each and every week. But really from our perspective, he's been the same all year long. That's one of the reasons that we're sitting here today, is because of his consistency. That's one of the best traits that you can have in your quarterback, is some that's very consistent and doesn't play up or play down in certain games, in certain moments.
He's just been very consistent. Whatever we've asked him to do in order to win a game, he's done it. In some games, we've thrown it a little bit more. In some games, we've asked him to run the ball and do different things. And he's always risen to that challenge. And I think it's quite remarkable for him his first year to play the way he has and lead this team.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the respect you have for Minkah Fitzpatrick.
SCOTT: Great player. Kind of over the last few years we've had the opportunity to play a lot of great players and guys that we respect and have a great skill set. I think he's probably one of the most complete players that we've studied over the last few years. Very technically sound. He doesn't get out of position very much at all. He uses his hands very well. He has his eyes in the right spot. And not only does he know what they want to do defensively, you can tell he spends a lot of time in the film room. He anticipates things very well. And I definitely would say is one of the best players that we have faced in the past and probably will this year.
Q. Talking to Jalen Hurts yesterday, he's glad now that he has that year under his belt as opposed to starting in this type of game last year as a true freshman. Do you have any concerns with Kelly [Bryant] now that the stakes are getting higher? I know he was in the ACC championship. Is there any question marks how he will handle it because the stakes are getting higher?
SCOTT: For us, not really because this has kind of become the norm. That's a great spot to be. I would say four, five years ago we couldn't sit up here and say that playing in a playoff game is the norm.
I know this is his first playoff game. Really, the playoff for us started when we played Auburn, it felt like. We just had so many big games this year and even in the past, big games where everything is on the line. And we played some very talented teams and talented defenses.
But, again, the message that Coach Swinney has really instilled in our guys is it's not about who we play. It's not about where we play. It's not about what time we play. It's about how we play and it's about us. And all those other factors really should not have any implication on our success. We control our success. That's really the mind set that our guys have.
So we have a lot of confidence in Kelly. We've got other guys. Justin Falcinelli starts at center. It's his first time playing in a playoff game. Really that's not been our focus at all. Our focus has really been on ourselves and doing all the things that we can do to get ourselves ready to go.
Q. Coach, you've had at Clemson such stability at the core where Alabama has had a lot of turnover. How much do you think that helps that you guys have been around for this run the last three playoffs?
SCOTT: I mean, I think just speaking from Clemson's side, I do think our stability has been very important for us. There's a comfort level on our headsets, in our game planning. I think even for our players, they know what to expect from us. We know what to expect from them. It's been kind of part of our winning formula, I would say.
I would also say just looking across the field, it's very remarkable the consistency that Alabama's been able to play with at a very high level and losing multiple coaches. I think that says a lot about Coach [Nick] Saban and his program. But we're very proud of the consistency and stability that we've had at Clemson.
I think a large part of that credit goes to Coach Swinney. He has an environment he's built an environment at Clemson that coaches don’t want to leave, they want to stay. And I really feel blessed to be there and be a part of that.
Q. Your guys have got to be pretty excited about this challenge that they've obviously faced the last two years, going for round three. Have you sensed a sentiment from these guys knowing that they are getting ready to battle one of the best defenses in the country?
SCOTT: Yeah, it's definitely a huge challenge for those guys. Every time I talked to our offensive line, I remind them that they're one of the reasons that we're here. Personally I coached wide receivers. We've had a lot of great receivers over the last eight or nine years come through Clemson.
I really feel like the change in our program and in our offense the last three years, a lot of that credit goes to those guys up front on the offensive line because the skill guys can only take you so far. Even a great quarterback can only take you so far. At some point, you have got to win in the trenches.
I feel like our guys up front really took a huge step forward about three years ago, and I think these guys understand that. They know the importance. It really starts up front for us. We can't do anything running the ball or on the perimeter without those guys, and I think they see it as definitely a challenge.
Alabama has one of the best front sevens that we'll play all year. There's a lot of respect for those guys, especially the guys that have played and even the guys that didn't play the last two years. They were on the sidelines, and they saw what type of battle that was against Alabama. You're not going into the game kind of guessing what it's going to be like. You know there's an expectation that you know what you're going to get from those guys up front. It's definitely a challenge, and we look forward to it.
Q. You hit on your receivers. It's been a big part of your offense for several years now. Now you kind of put Ray Ray [McCloud] in there taking more snaps, obviously Deon [Cain] and then Hunter [Johnson]. You look at these guys. How do you see them comparing to what you had supposedly last year?
SCOTT: Yeah, I think one thing for us, part of our formula is we believe in playing a lot of guys. I think each year leading up to this year, we played about seven receivers every game. Our seventh guy would get somewhere between 10 and 15 snaps. This year we're playing nine guys a game. Our ninth guy is getting somewhere around 10 to 15 snaps.
For us, whenever we do lose key players, like last year losing Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, it wasn't as drastic a change for us because Deon came and played so much. Ray Ray McCloud played so much over the last two years.
But I have been proud of the way those guys it hasn't been easy. Each of those guys have had their moments of success and maybe some challenging times. But for them, they take a lot of pride in the tradition that we've had at Clemson at the wide receiver position. All the guys that have come before them that are in the NFL and they take that on as a big responsibility to carry that on and to continue to improve that.
And look at this matchup, it's a pretty easy to say that Alabama is known for their secondary. Coach [Nick] Saban and their defensive staff do an excellent job, very well coached, very technically sound.
So it's a big time matchup. Each coach talks about their matchup, but we've got to win that matchup on the perimeter to have a chance to win the game. Last year we made just enough plays to be able to get it done. And this year we're right back at it. It will be a heavy weight match.
Q. What was your first impression of Hunter Johnson?
ELLIOTT: Is this guy going to survive? I'm here with all these Division I athletes. He showed up. He's a small guy, unassuming, doesn't look like a football player. But the moment he took off running and we saw him catch the ball, just his knack for the game, we knew he'd have a chance to compete.
Q. How often does he drop balls in practice? Does he ever drop anything?
ELLIOTT: Actually, I think he dropped the first one the other day, and I had to get on him. I said, "Hunter, I'm not used to yelling at you for dropping the ball." He doesn't drop the ball. I think that's why he's so successful is because he practices the right way. He takes practice like it's a game. That's why he's able to perform.
Q. What is it about him that makes him able to perform and produce at that high level against a good team?
ELLIOTT: I think it just goes back to who he is at his core, his belief system. Very, very confident, very, very humble. He understands it's a privilege to be out there. Every day, when he comes to practice, he treats it like it's a privilege. His attention to detail is unbelievable. He's got a coach's mind, grew up in a coaching household. He understands what it takes to be successful, and that's why he's able to compete.
Q. Alabama has a ton of injuries on defense. When you watched them from the beginning of the season to the end, how have you seen them adapt given all the injuries they've had?
ELLIOTT: They keep saying there are a lot of injuries, but they just keep rolling guys in there. I swear they've got about 25 defensive linemen. Every time you watch film, you see a different one. Literally in our staff meetings watching film, we're like who's 24 [Lewis]? Who's 4 [Allen]? And they just keep rolling them in there. But you see their system. They ask those guys to be ready to perform. The biggest area of concern would be their linebacker motion. I think they're going to get a lot of D linemen back. Really the linebacker position is the one that probably gives them the biggest issue just because they ask those guys to do so much. But when 30 [Wilson] was in there, you saw him come back from his foot injury later in the season versus Auburn playing at a high level.
But, when 30 [Wilson] was in there, you saw him come back from his foot injury late in the season versus Auburn, playing at a high level. Obviously, 42 [Holcombe] has played a lot of football for them early in the season. And then I think one of their best players on defense is 32 [Evans], the way that he runs around. So I anticipate that with the time off, they have an opportunity to get those guys healthy and really haven't seen them go away from what they do. They just keep plugging guys in and asking those young guys to step up.
Q. What's it like to watch Minkah [Fitzpatrick] on film?
ELLIOTT: He's incredible to watch because he does so much. I mean, he can go out there and play corner, lock you down. He can lock your slot down. He rushes the passer. If they need him to go back and play off the hash, he can do it all. You can tell he's like a quarterback out there. He gets those guys in the secondary where thee need to be and plays with a motor. And you can see that everyone feeds off his confidence.
Q. What about Kelly Bryant?
ELLIOTT: Going into it we knew athletically he had everything he needed. We just didn't know how he was going to perform when the lights came on. Right out the gate seeing how he came out against Kent State, being able to throw the ball where he needed to throw it, he continued to progress. Biggest thing is, when there was a little bit of a lull and we weren't hitting the deep balls down the field, he never lost confidence. He kept throwing the ball. And that's just a sign of maturity that he trusts the process, he trusts his ability. And he understands that you're going to have to work through some low times to get back to performing at a high level.
Q. What did you make of when people were questioning you guys at the beginning of the season because of having to replace Deshaun [Watson]?
ELLIOTT: It's "next man up" is the mentality. We've been working for a long time as a program to get to that point. And we challenge everybody, whether they're a starter or a backup going into it, you have to prepare as if you're a starter because you're one snap away from being the guy that the team is counting on. So Kelly had a great mentor in Deshaun. He saw it every single day what it looks like to prepare, what it looks like to go out, your practice habits, your demeanor, how you handle the media. He had a perfect example in front of him. And he was a young person that he took advantage of that. A lot of guys, when they're in a backup role, they sit there and wait their time, twiddling their thumbs. He took advantage of it. He prepared every single day. And, when he got his opportunity he performed. So just having Deshaun there every single day showed him what a I said it before, Deshaun prepared like a pro. I think that's what Kelly has been able to adapt and learn throughout the season, how you prepare like a pro.
Q. Was there ever doubt through spring practice and summer that he would be your guy? Was that ever a question in your mind and Coach's [Dabo Swinney] mind?
ELLIOTT: Never a question. I think right out of the gate when we started we had great chemistry, great cohesion. And you could tell that he'd been working in the off season with the guys. The team was very, very confident in his ability. The biggest question and concern was we'd never seen him do it under the lights. When you talk about going on the road to Louisville, we're going to have to go to Virginia Tech, playing in those environments, he'd never been the guy out there first. That was our only concern. Physically and mentally, we knew he was prepared and ready. He had waited his turn. He really brought the guys together.
And we were excited about what we had offensively. Because there were a lot of questions with all the guys that walked away. But we saw that the guys rallied towards him. He's got a great demeanor about himself. The guys really feed off him. And now we just need to see him do it.
Q. Did those stages, those road games against those teams, compare to what we'll see on Monday?
ELLIOTT: I think, when you're playing Florida State in Clemson, that's a big game when you're on the road at Lane Stadium at night, College GameDay, biggest game in a long time. They got all their former great they're honoring there. Go to Louisville. And, if you look back to when Deshaun [Watson] was a young guy, Deshaun didn't play quite as good at Louisville. Third game of the season Kelly [Bryant] goes there and leads us to one of the biggest victories we've had on the road in our conference. I think he's going to be ready for the moment. And what you're learning about Kelly is there's never a moment that's too big for him. I think that's something that he learned from Deshaun, too, is just, once the smoke clears and you're on the field, it's just football
Q. Character wise or personality wise do you see similarities in how they handle things?
ELLIOTT: No question. I think it stems from both of their backgrounds. Everybody knows Deshaun's background, his humble upbringing. And Kelly [Bryant] has a similar story. Family structure might be a little different, but he overcame serious adversity in high school that potentially took the game away from him. So, when he was able to overcome that and put the game in perspective for him, And like I said on [Hunter] Renfrow, he treats it like it's a privilege. That's what you see out of Deshaun and Kelly. That gives them that calm demeanor to never panic.
Q. Have you seen a defensive end as big as Raekwon Davis?
ELLIOTT: No, I have not.
Q. What's the challenge in game planning?
ELLIOTT: One, he's an unbelievable athlete. To be 6'7" 300 plus pounds, his change in direction and length. Biggest thing for him is just the challenge of having that length. He's got the versatility to go inside. So he can play 3 technique, and he can line up at defensive end. So, when he's at end, he has the length that he can use to his advantage. When he's inside, he also has that speed and quickness to create an advantage on centers and guards. He's a lot like was it Jonathan Allen from last year? A lot like him in his versatility but he's bigger. He's a lot longer than Allen was.
Q. A lot of teams facing Alabama just don't even try to run, looks like they just concede that they can't do it. How important is it for you guys to be able to say this is a big part of what we do and we're going to find a way?
ELLIOTT: No question. You've got to run the ball effectively. You haven't seen anybody just come right out at Alabama and knock them off the ball and get four or five yards a clip. You've got to have ways within your scheme to generate a running game. But you've got to stay committed to it, keep them honest. You don't want to get in a situation where it's passing every down. Because they've got packages to bring speed guys on the field and really create some havoc. You've got to keep them honest, keep them in their base personnel by trying to effectively run the football.
Q. What's special about Hunter [Renfrow] that allows him to have success as a player that doesn't get talked about enough or doesn't get enough credit?
ELLIOTT: I don't think his natural ability gets talked about enough. You look at him he's as quick a guy we have on the field. Maybe not as fast as some other receivers in Deon [Cain] or Tee Higgins. But he's very, very quick. And it's the way that he goes about it. He's a master of his craft. And that's something that's being lost with young people nowadays. Because they watch the pro guys. And the pro guys are very, very talented. And they can get away with not having good technique. They can false step in their routes. Their break points don't have to be perfect. But Hunter is a master of his craft. So he understands leverage, influence, break points, setting up defenders. He reads coverages well. So he's a master of his craft. And that's why he's able to compete with guys maybe a little more talented than him.
Q. What would the matchup be like him against [Minkah] Fitzpatrick? What do you think that matchup is going to be like?
ELLIOTT: I think it's going to be the key matchup in the game. Obviously, Hunter [Renfrow] has had some really, really good games against these guys. So they're going to be gunning to make sure that they take him away and force other guys to make plays. I'm anxious to see that matchup. Obviously, Minkah is the bigger more physical guy. But Renfrow is a technician. So you're going to see technique versus athletic ability. And, hopefully, our technique will win.
Q. To a reader that just sees Minkah [Fitzpatrick] make a lot of plays, how unusual is his versatility?
ELLIOTT: Well, most guys in the secondary are either a safety or they're a corner. So he can play in the box. He can play out of the box. He can go isolate into the boundary, take away your best receiver. He can go back on the hash and just be a middle field player. So not many guys can do that. A lot like Jabrill Peppers. He was a guy who was very, very versatile. But Minkah is bigger, longer, a little bit faster, and probably more versatile than Peppers was.
Q. Is this a game where no matter how much success you have running, you got to stick with it and keep pounding away?
ELLIOTT: No question. You've got to keep them honest. They're built to stop the run. And you've got to make sure that you keep them honest. Because, if you don't, you get into a situation where they can get speed off the edges. They can stay fresh by rotating guys in, if you're constantly in passing situations. You've got to run the ball effectively in this game.
Q. Last couple years you guys have had primary success through the air. Is there a sense of confidence that, if things don't go well on the ground, you have found a way to gain yardage through the air against the Alabama defense?
ELLIOTT: You've got to take whatever they give you. And the last couple years, obviously, that front seven was unbelievable. And you knew that you weren't going to be able to run the ball. And our strength was at the positions outside with Mike Williams and then Deshaun [Watson] with his ability to throw the ball. I think going into it you've got to have a plan to run it; you've got to have a plan to pass it. And then, as the game unfolds, once you play a little cat and mouse, you'll see which one they're going to give you. And you have to try to take advantage of that and create opportunities.
Q. Personnel wise it's safe to say it's probably not possible or, to the extent that you can't simply replicate what you guys have done, just because you have a different cast of character, maybe they have a different cast?
ELLIOTT: I think our confidence is there to be able to throw the football. Because, if you watch how Kelly is throwing the ball down the stretch obviously, the guy that probably played some of the biggest plays in the game last year was Deon Cain. And he's back. And Ray Ray [McCloud] is chomping at the bit because he didn't get any catches in this game last year. Our perimeter guys are excited to play. Biggest thing is take the ego out of it and whatever it takes to be successful. So whatever they're going to give us, we're going to try to take advantage of.
Q. They're not 100% at linebacker. But can you talk about how they're getting healthier at linebacker, how does that affect your game plan?
ELLIOTT: To me, in my opinion, the best football player on the field for them has been number 32, Artur Davis. He is a contact player. He's all over the place. You can see he's a very instinctual guy, lot of experience. 42 [Holcombe] made a lot of plays for them when he was in there early. And there was a transition when number 30 [Wilson] came back healthy. He started playing. Obviously, [Dylan] Moses was a young guy you could tell his experience he was gaining experience every single week. But they ask those guys to do a lot. Those guys are the heart and soul. You can tell they do some things where they flip based off where your alignment of your tight end is. So it looks like those guys are getting healthy at the right point, and they're going to have all their bullets in this game.
Q. How have your skill positions this year impacted the way you and Jeff call a game as opposed to last year where you had a Mike [Williams] or a Jordan or Wayne [Gallman] that were sort of feature guys?
ELLIOTT: I think the depth hasn't changed it much. The identity of this team is a little different whereas, last year people were committed to stopping the run. So we led with the pass a lot with Mike and those guys on the perimeter. Whereas, this year we've been able to run the ball probably with more success than we did last year, as opposed to 2015 we ran the ball a lot. I think it's more so how teams are trying to defend us. And with the emergence of Travis and those guys being big play guys. Wayne was just a steady, consistent pounder. He was going to get you four yards, but he wasn't going to break as many big runs. Whereas, now you've got dynamic young guys that can break big runs in the running game. So that gives you more flexibility and options there. It's more so, not necessarily the depth, as how teams have played us and how the identity of this offense has come about.
Q. What did you think when you saw y'all were going to play Alabama again for the third year in a row? When you're in the moment it's hard to appreciate the historical significance. But trilogy is sort of a big thing in sports, and the first two legs of this have been pretty impressive.
ELLIOTT: No question. It's let's go. It's almost like this is what we do. We work all year to hit our goals and get an opportunity to play against the best. Everybody knows for so long Alabama has been a standard in college football and a team that we've been trying to chase on the field. So in order for us to get to where we want to be, obviously, you've got to match up against the best and got to have your victories against the best. So, if that's what it takes, we're ready for a challenge.
I'll have videos for Scott and Elliott posted later today.