TIGERS WIN 29-23!!!
WHAT A GAME! I said to someone on the way to the field in the 4th quarter that it felt like Tampa in 2016, and it really was a similar feeling. When I got to the field from the press box, the Tigers had the ball with 94 yards to go, 3 minutes left and down 2 points. I felt pretty confident that Trevor would at least get them in field goal range for the win, but instead, they went right down the field and scored on Etienne's 3rd touchdown of the game! Higgins made his biggest play of the game with a 2-point conversion catch after missing most of the first half with a head injury. I said to someone that they might have scored with too much time left, nearly 2 minutes, but I still felt confident that the defense would somehow, some way, keep Ohio State out of the end zone. Just like they did against UNC and so many other times before. Sure enough, Nolan Turner comes up with an INT in the end zone to seal the game! What a great moment of redemption for the guy after having probably the worst game in his career! He missed a big open-field tackle on 3rd down and also was burnt on the 4th and one touchdown pass. His dad was in Heaven smiling at the end, though! You can't spell Nolan without NOLA, and the Tigers will be heading there in a couple weeks for a shot at history and their 3rd national title in 4 years!
I'll have the trophy celebration, press conference and more shortly!
Well, that had to be a great game to watch. I'll tell you, unbelievable performance. What a night. What a journey for our team. What a way to end a great decade tonight. Unbelievable decade that we just finished up. And just really proud of our guys. Proud of these seniors. Got their 55th win tonight. That ties a college football record. The resiliency, the will to win, the heart, the character, just special. Just really proud. I wrote two things down on my call sheet this morning. I wrote down "quarterback run" and "running back pass." And as it turns out, Trevor [Lawrence] had 107 yards rushing. Travis Etienne had three catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns receiving. It is just amazing how it all kind of came together, like I hoped it would. But I'm just going to tell you what a great football team Ohio State is. They had a great start. We did not start off very well at all. We did not take care of the things that Clemson should handle. Twelve men on the field, dropped ball. Had a pick six that we dropped, missed a field goal. Just gave up two big plays off of base routines where we just didn't play our job at the end. So it was pretty frustrating, but I thought our defense played great. I think that was a real key in the game, they were able to hold them, miss a bunch of field goals. That gave us a chance to find some rhythm offensively. But just a heck of a game. Winning the turnover margin was big. Chad Smith, fifth-year senior, had 12 tackles. DK [Derion Kendrick] had a huge game and [Baylon] Spector, two sacks. Also, Will Spiers was amazing. That was one of the things I told the team last night, a punt is one of the best offensive plays you can have in a game like this. I think he [Will Spiers] had seven punts for 44 yards, five inside the 23 of 50-plus to give us some field-position opportunity. Just really proud of our team, especially the 94-yard drive to win it. Defense getting the stop to set it up and then Nolan Turner finishing it. He gave up the big fourth-down touchdown. And for him to come back and make the game winner was awesome. Unbelievable night. Just appreciate the Fiesta Bowl for a great week. We've had an awesome week here. Just great hospitality and our players have really enjoyed it. And also want to thank our fans. I think we're probably outnumbered three to one here tonight, but our fans were great. They hung in there with us and did not give up on us. More importantly, our team and staff hung in there. Just really appreciate the opportunity to be here. We're going to celebrate this one, and then give these guys a couple of days off. Then we're going to get focused on trying to find a way to win one more. It's going to be a heck of a task, but we're thankful that we got the opportunity. Just so proud of our team for their heart and their fight tonight to win the game. Again, congratulations to Ohio State on an unbelievable season. Their quarterback, that defense, their running back – is special. It was a back-and-forth game. A tough one for either team to lose, but in the end, these guys found a way to get it done.
Q. Dabo, it was like a heavyweight fight tonight. Felt like punch after punch, each team having to take out the adversity and move on from it. What did you guys take from earlier in the season to face this adversity today and win this game? COACH
SWINNEY: It is just the DNA. It is our program. It's not just this season. That's just how we're built. One of the things I told them at the half, I thought we took their best punch. I don't think we could have played worse, but we took their best punch, and it was 16-14. My message to them at the halftime was: We have to find a way to get the lead in the third quarter, because when we take a lead in the fourth quarter, we finish. I think we're now 102 when we take a lead in the fourth quarter, 102. So that's not just this year. That's just who we are. It is just what we do. We finish. That's the mindset and the DNA of our program. So that's everything – your off-season, spring practice and how you meet. That's your camp. It is how you practice every week, all of that stuff. It is your staff, the leadership and the development of leadership on your team. It is culture. That's what it is. It was awesome to see.
Q. Dabo, when you walked into the offensive huddle before that "go ahead and drive," what you did tell the team? What was your message in that moment?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I just said, “Let's go win it, man.” Trevor [Lawrence] kind of took over the huddle, to be quite honest with you. He called the guys up, and he just said, "Hey, man, I love all of you guys. Let's go win this thing." It was just a real poise. There was never one second that I did not think we were not going to win the game. That's the honest answer. Trevor and I talked about it on the sideline, "Man, is this fun or what? I'm not real sure how we're going to win this thing, but we're going to win the game and it is going to be an epic thing." I actually went over and met with him right before the last drive there, and we talked about two or three things that I felt like we had set up. And one of them was the play to Travis [Etienne]. We had run a little quarterback counter a couple of times there. So it was set up. Don't have to have great protection. It is a really hard run fake. He really executed it beautifully and Travis found a way to get through the trash and took it to the distance. Just a huge -- I thought we might have scored a little too quick, but it was kind of like, Maybe he was down at the one, but then it's up to your defense to go win the game.
They're a good front, good back, well-coached, and just outnumber you all the time. The quarterback run is a little bit of an equalizer. We needed to keep them honest enough to where we could get some stuff in the play-action game, and biggest play of the game came off the quarterback run that we had set up the whole game.
Q. The play that they ended up calling targeting, third and five, second quarter, you got leveled. You were on the ground for a little while before you popped up, and you guys finished that drive, and then you scored the next drive. Can you take me back to that moment when you were on the ground? Like, what were you thinking about and what were you envisioning going forward?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Yeah, I just got a bad stinger, so it kind of scared me a little bit. I hadn't gotten one in a while and couldn't really move my arm for a second. That's why I laid there. Then just got kind of mad and popped up. I didn't know it was targeting, either. I thought it was -- I don't know if it was a three and out. We would have had to punt. So, I was kind of pissed off. We're off the field and I see it is targeting, then had to sit out one play, and just came back. We knew we had to score there. The game was getting a little out of hand. Just had to put a drive together, and we can take anything we can get. That targeting call was huge. Being able to finish that drive and score and then the next drive put it in again really gave us some momentum going into halftime.
Q. For Chad, Coach [Dabo Swinney] stole my thunder a little bit. For you being a guy that really had to grind and wait patiently for your opportunity playing special teams, and taking your opportunities coming off the bench and on defense, getting your chance finally to start all season, how special is it to be the MVP of this game and to have a chance to go out and finish your Clemson career with back-to-back national titles?
CHAD SMITH: It is pretty unbelievable. Kind of got to pinch myself. Just being here five years, early enrolled. Just maximizing my opportunities at my time here at Clemson. The thought of transferring never really hit my mind at all. I love it here. Coach Swinney is a hell of a leader, great guy. Being able to be around these players, my teammates, it's special here at Clemson. To be able to have a night like this tonight, it is pretty surreal. Credit to the other ten guys, the coaching staff, the offense, special teams. I mean, I may have gotten an individual award, but it really was a team award. I wouldn't have been able to make those plays without my teammates.
Q. Trevor, can you just kind of walk us through how the long run unfolded, and also what Coach [Dabo Swinney] was saying about how you've developed your identity as a runner and gotten more confidence in your legs? What's that process been like the last year or two?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Just obviously took some work in the off-season getting bigger, stronger, faster, all of those things. Just getting better at running the ball, staying in the lanes and being patient. I just wanted to do whatever I can to help us win, and me running the ball this season has been important in some games to help us win. Kind of had that play -- or those couple of plays in our back pocket that we didn't use for a while. Then we got the opportunity. It was wide open and just credit to the guys up front just being patient, making those lanes for me, and then just making plays.
Q. Coach, you mentioned this decade at Clemson. I think in 2010, you were 6-7. In 2011, you beat West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. If you went back to 2010 or 2011 and told yourself this is the kind of success you guys would have had, and you would be here tonight possibly playing for your second national title in a row, what are your thoughts like? Is this something you ever dreamed of?
COACH SWINNEY: Absolutely. I mean, I said in 2010, after a six-win season, we're fixing to have the winningest decade in Clemson history. I dream big. Actually, we're a little short. I dreamed a little bit bigger. We missed a couple, but we've had a great run. It's been an unbelievable decade. What we've done on the field and off the field, it gets lost a lot of times what we've done academically. We've been top ten 9 out of 11 years, 8 out of the last 9 years: Us, Duke and Northwestern. So these are a bunch of graduates and great young men who have come through our program. We've stayed committed to the purpose of our program. And it's been a great decade. But as I told them, we've got a windshield mentality in our program. That's why we're consistent. It is always about what's next. Our dreams are always greater than our memories and that's just the way it is. So we're just getting started. The best is yet to come.
Q. Trevor, what kind of ran through your mind when Coach [Dabo Swinney] called the play that ended with the go-ahead touchdown? And take us through what were you seeing as that play developed.
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Honestly, I wasn't a big fan of the play in practice, because it's tough if the defense doesn't really bite on it and that safety comes down hard. It takes it away. I was a little bit -- I felt like it was good because of how well we set it up throughout the game and thought it was going to work then. Throughout the week, I was like I don't really like this play. In the moment, we had a chance.
COACH SWINNEY: Is that why you threw it in the dirt two or three times? I made him reload it, like, three times.
TREVOR LAWRENCE: It's tough. You've got guys off the edge coming. O-line did a really good job holding them off. It is a weird play for them. It is a run pass-type blocking. For them to hold off long enough and for Travis [Etienne] to find his own and sit down. Like said, I threw it to him, but after that, his running for the catch was unbelievable.
Q. Dabo, Nolan Turner sealed the deal for you guys with that interception at the end of the game. Can you talk about the special relationship you have and how special it was for you, as well as for him to seal the deal for you guys in this one?
COACH SWINNEY: So proud of him, man. I love him like a son, and obviously great friends and teammates with his dad. Actually worked with his dad for the two years I was out of coaching in '01 and '02. His dad was actually a GA (graduate assistant) for me a little bit while I was the interim. So obviously deep relationship and just an unbelievable story. And to see him grow and develop and just to see his -- Listen, you go out there and it is fourth and two, and you give up a play like that. He was a little too far outside, no post help. [Justin] Fields made a great play. He was very disappointed in himself and felt like he let the team down. Unfortunately, they were going to score. That's one thing I told him: You gotta keep your head up. You're going to make a winning interception and just have to go to the next play. So it was just pretty amazing to watch it all play out. He's been a really good player for us and had a big interception in the Notre Dame last year in the Cotton Bowl. I don't even know if he was a one-star recruit, but he's really, really good. He's a really good player and was going against elite guys out there tonight. That was a huge play. Just happy to see him be able to have that moment and I know his dad is up in heaven smiling down on him. No doubt in my mind. Just really cool.
Q. Coach, Tee [Higgins] was probably the hottest wide receiver in the country coming into the game. Eight touchdowns in the last three games. Just how difficult was it to run the offense without him in the first half? And can you elaborate on the status of his injury?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah, I didn't even know what happened. They just said he was out, said they were going to take him in to x-ray or something. I really don't know. I just was so into the game, we just put the next guy in, [Diondre] Overton and [Joseph] Ngata. How about that play Ngata had? What an incredible catch on the slant. That was a terrible throw. He caught it like on the ground. It was unbelievable. Took a shot. We just -- we just were kind of -- Jeff [Scott] and I were trying to shuffle everybody. We had [Justyn] Ross moving. We had Overton in different spots. It kind of flustered us a little bit as far as getting everybody in the right spots. But we just kept playing. I didn't know what was wrong with him. They just said that they were taking him into the locker room and when I got in there, he said he felt like he was going to be able to go. That was really it, but it was good to get him back. Had a couple of nice ball possession plays in the second half.
Q. Trevor, could you expound a little more on that play that you hated? What was going wrong in practice? Did you let the coaches know? And just how difficult was it to execute?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: We've had it for awhile. I think it was more so -- we've had it in for a couple of weeks probably. It was the week before I didn't really like it as much. This week, it just wasn't really clean. Wasn't connecting on the throw like we wanted to. We got a few good reps. So, I didn't feel super confident about it because I didn't have great practice reps at it. It was set up so perfect, we couldn't not run it. So we ran it. Luckily me and Travis [Etienne] were on the same page and we made a good play.
WITH THE WIN...