We have to bounce back. At Virginia Tech, we didn’t play our best game. Credit to them. A lot of the problems we had were because of the level they played at. We didn’t play well, but in the fourth quarter we had the ball down six with a chance to win it. With the two interceptions, the score got uglier than the game was. They played well and they outplayed us. We have to bounce back and certainly the opponent this week presents every kind of challenge you could ask for.
It is amazing what Dabo (Swinney) and his staff have done down there. The consecutive 10-win seasons, the fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title, they have 25 straight wins now. He and his staff have done a great job. It is the combination of great talent and being an extremely well-coached team. They do everything well.
They are the No. 1 offense in the ACC. They are averaging over 45 points and 550 yards per game. A lot of times you would say it starts with the quarterback, but you could say it is any one of their players it starts with. Obviously (Trevor) Lawrence is an extremely gifted quarterback. If he was immobile, he would still be great with his ability to stretch the field and make every throw, but he can also run the ball. It presents some numbers problems. If you load more in the box, then you are going against Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers. This might be the best collection of wide receivers that ever faced. Travis Etienne, there are some great tailbacks in the league in Cam Akers and A.J. Dillon, but he is right up there. They are all great players. The difference with Clemson, and I said this a year ago, is how good their offensive line is. This offensive line that we are about to face on Saturday and the Notre Dame offensive line in ’17 are the probably the two best offensive lines we have ever played against. You have this really good offensive line, with an extremely gifted quarterback, a big-time tailback and three receivers and a tight end that are versatile. I think collectively, this is the best offense we have ever faced. We have a challenge on our hands.
Defensively, with Clemson every year you look at who they are going to graduate and you have a little bit of hope, and then you watch the film. They are No. 1 in the ACC in defense. They are giving up 11.5 points per game. I think Carolina had 290 yards against them, which is the most any opponent has had. Only one team has scored in the 20s, and that was Carolina with 20. Across the board, these are all high-end players. They have done a great job. We are going to go down to a great environment. Our players are up for the challenge and we know what’s in front of us. We are excited about it. We get this opportunity once a year against Clemson. Certainly, we did not play well a year ago. I think that game, as much as anything, flipped our season. After that game we had to do some real soul searching as a team and as a staff. I was proud, since then, of how our team has responded. Here we go and we get another shot at them. We are going to have to play well, but that is what makes it fun. We embrace the challenge and know how tough it is going to be.
I have always let you know that if a player is out for the year, I would let you know. Sage Surratt is going to be out for the season. He suffered an injury that will require surgery and unfortunately he will be out for the year. I feel bad for Sage. He was having a great year, what I thought was an All-American and All-ACC type-season. He is a great competitor. He was a kid in the offseason that really became obsessed with becoming a great football player. I feel awful for him, but that is football. It just seems that every year, there is that one position where you get hit. Unfortunately for us right now it is receiver. Scotty Washington will not play this week. Scotty is not out for the year. I’m not sure when he will be back, but this week is not looking good. Hopefully at some point we will have him back. I was watching last year’s Clemson game. When I got home, my wife suggested we watch a horror movie and I said no, I already got one here. I’m watching our Clemson game from ’18. That was a game where it was linebacker. Ryan Smenda couldn’t play because of a hamstring. Justin Strnad had a concussion, D.J. Taylor got hurt in that game and Cameron Glenn got ejected for targeting. At the end of the game, we had a skeleton crew and Clemson made us pay. This is a game where we would love to be at full strength, but it is week 10 and everybody to some degree goes through this. Except Clemson, they are playing with a two-deep that looks exactly the way they thought it would be out of preseason camp. That is one of the advantages to always playing with a big lead, their kids haven’t had to play as many reps as our kids have being in all these one-score games. Waydale Jones, Steven Claude, A.T. Perry, there is a reason we recruited these guys. They are talented and this is their chance to step up and we have confidence they will. It is never good to lose a player of Sage’s caliber, but the silver lining is we now know we have four games left. Donavon Greene has not played, so we can get him going a little bit and play in these last four games and not lose his redshirt. Everyone else will need to step up. We need to play a little bit better on the O-line, the running backs will need to play better, the tight ends will need to play better and Jamie Newman is going to need to be really sharp.
On finding the hot hand at wide receiver with Sage Surratt out for the season:
Right now we’re just trying to get guys lined up and these guys have been getting practice reps the whole year. If you watch us practice, you notice that we’ve been given Waydale, A.T. and even pulling Donavon up and getting those guys practice reps the whole year. The reps in practice are 50-50. Those guys are now going to get in the game and we’ll see what they can do. Certainly, you’ve got to be able to get lined up and you’ve got to be able to do your job and you’ve got to be able to make plays. Right now, we’ll definitely play Steven and Waydale to start, A.T. will work in there and I’m sure at some point we’ll get Donavon in there and again, those guys are good players, they really are. They just lack experience. It’ll be baptism by fire this week but hey, that’s football and that’s the ACC. We have all the confidence in the world that those guys will ready to go.
On if he thanked Dabo Swinney after the game last year for turning Wake’s season around following their loss: “I don’t remember thanking him for that game. I think sometimes Dabo is accused unfairly of running the score up. In last year’s game, they had their subs and their two’s in and they were just running base plays and we didn’t stop them. At that point, we had a bunch of back-ups in because we were injured and after the game, I just wanted to defuse any notion that they tried to run it up and I just said, ‘Hey thanks. I saw you pull your guys and if it comes up, in no way were you guys trying to run it up. You were just running base plays and we didn’t stop it and it’s our job to stop them.’ I thanked him for that but I don’t remember thanking him for the beating that we took and that was our fault, not theirs but certainly the next day at the team meeting, we had a sense that the season could turn and our response to that game was going to be critical and we had a heart-to-heart with the whole team of the things that I wasn’t doing right, that I wasn’t doing a very good job with and I promised to fix it but then I showed some plays on film and that was one of the few games here that I could think you could turn on the film and say, ‘Wake Forest quit.’ That really bothered me. That really tore me up and I didn’t sleep for a few days and I said, ‘I’ll own it. It’s my job to prepare you but you’ve got to own what you’re putting on this film. We own it together, we’ll get better. If we point fingers at each other, it’s not going to get better; it’s going to get worse.’ I think the response from the football team speaks for itself what happened after that game.
On what needs to be fixed up front in order to get the passing game going:
I think a lot of times when you run the ball, you say, ‘Ok, you’re not doing a very good job up front’. The nature of what we do on offense, people may not like it or be critical of it but the results of it speak for itself the last three years and it’s that, ‘We’re going to take what a defense gives us. And when Virginia Tech is blitzing linebackers and puts its rover right in the box and is playing single coverage on the outside, it’s hard to get your run numbers. I don’t know if we didn’t run it well. We didn’t have the numbers to run it and all year we’ve had that that type of box count and we’ve thrown the ball for 300-400 yards and Sage, Scotty and Kendall have had huge games and in that game, credit to Virginia Tech, they covered us. We didn’t get the separation that we’ve gotten most games. I think Caleb Farley’s a good player; Deablo’s a good player, the other corner that was suspended is a high-end player and our receivers were probably more challenged than they’ve been all year. When you get challenged like that, you’ve got to play with more detail and you’ve got to run the offense better and I think we had a little bit of a frustration level and when you get to week nine and for the first time it’s not as clean as it is in practice or in other games. I don’t think our response to that as an offense was as good as it needed to be. We had some things open in the passing game that we missed. Kendall Hinton, three or four times, was wide open across the middle and those are plays that we usually hit in our sleep and whether Jamie overthrew it or underthrew it or Kendall dropped it or the angle of the route wasn’t like we’ve practiced, we were off. We didn’t play well. And if you go back there and you run it 20 times again and we’ve run that play a thousand times and there are some highlights, we flat out didn’t play well. The route wasn’t as detailed or the ball wasn’t where it should be and if the game comes down to Jamie hitting Kendall Hinton, I’ll take those odds every single week. Our players aren’t robots. At times, they’re not going to be perfect. That was a game against a good football team and an ascending football team that we had to execute at a really high level, especially what they were doing on defense and the bottom line is that we didn’t do it. No excuses. We didn’t play as well as we needed to play and I think if you go into any game like Clemson, yes they have this and they have that, we’ve got to fix ourselves because if we executed like that, then some of those seven wins that we’ve played like that wouldn’t have been wins.
Senior punter Dom Maggio
On how his skillset will determine the Clemson game:
Everyone sees them as tough. They have talent throughout the board, offense, defense and special teams. That’s something as we get into ACC play; we always have to keep focus on special teams. Trying to help our defense skill position-wise, Clemson, being how good they are, they have a high-powered offense so we can help our defense if possible. We’re going to try our best. Hopefully we don’t have to do too much of it but that’s our mindset every game. We hope that they’ll have some fair-catches far and long and hopefully their return yardage can help our defense the best they can.
On road games compared to home games:
I love playing in front of our home crowd. It’s always awesome. It’s good to see this year everyone get out with the success that we’ve had and staying in the stands throughout the game, it’s been awesome and we appreciate Deacon Nation for that. I do like getting on the road and playing in some big environments and this is among the best big-time environments in all of college football at Clemson. Seeing the tradition that they have and get to hopefully get those guys on their home turf and in front of their fans. It’s always a big opportunity that we’re thankful for and we’ll try our best there.
On the team’s mindset heading into the Clemson game:
This is our one-week season. We have Clemson and we all know how good they are and we’re going to play our game. If we play Wake Forest Football in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams, and if we play to the best of our ability, we can beat anybody in the country so that’s our mindset and we’re going to take it to them on Saturday.