We've had interviews with Dabo, Skalski and Spector so far. Spector just told me that he will return to Clemson next year, despite the fact that he was already a graduate this year. Great news! I'll have those along with Venables and more players posted in a bit!
DABO: All right. Well, you know, it's getting close. This is kind of a Wednesday for us here in Clemson. I think it's a Monday, everywhere else. But it's like a Wednesday for us as far as our prep and routine. We've had a really good practice here. Really proud of our guys. Excited to be back in the playoffs. Excited to be back in New Orleans and a chance to do something we haven't done, and that's win a Sugar Bowl. We're looking forward to it. Congratulations to Ohio State and Ryan. Same thing, back in the playoffs, and it's going to be a great game. No doubt about that. Two really, really talented teams that I know both are going to do everything they can to win. So appreciate the opportunity to be with you.
Q. As you can imagine, your voting Ohio State 11th on your final ballot and some of the comments about Ohio State's worthiness as a playoff team because they played only six games has not gone unnoticed up here. There are people who think it's gamesmanship or you don't have as much respect for Ohio State as people here would like. What would you like to say about that?
DABO: Again, what I've already said. It's a big deal because, you know, we're having to play them. As I said earlier, there's no question Ohio State is good enough to beat us. They're good enough to beat anybody of these four. They're good enough to be the national champion. That's not a question at all.
I didn't rank anybody who didn't play nine games or more in the top ten. Nobody. And then after that, I said, okay, anybody who played at all, that's how I will rank that group. And that's why they were 11.
Nobody [inaudible] I didn't even consider anybody. It had nothing to do with whether or not [inaudible] I mean, I have all the respect in the world for Ohio State and for people not to think that, I can't do anything about that. I think the world of Ryan Day. We've talked many times. They're a wonderful program. We recruit against them because I think we have a lot of similarities in how we go about our business. So there's really nothing to it.
As I said, you can change the name to any other name, anybody. Southern Cal had been 6-0. I wouldn't have had them in there. So no disrespect. I mean, people can perceive and take things however they want, but for me, especially [inaudible] every year I take it seriously. But especially this year, I just don't think it's right. It's not that they're not good enough. I just don't think it's right that three teams have to play 13 games to be the champion and one team has to play eight.
So if people have a problem with that, I don't really care. It's my poll. And it doesn't matter who the person was. It has zero to do with Ohio State.
And, also, I will remind the Ohio State people, I voted them in 2017 for the same reason. I left Alabama out. And guess who was mad at me then? Alabama people. And they were good enough to win it. And it doesn't matter whether Alabama was good enough to win it; they won it. I just felt like Ohio State deserved it. I felt like they played more games. They were the Big Ten champ. And to me that mattered.
So that's why I put Ohio State in ahead of Alabama that year. I played Alabama. I went to Alabama. So, you know, I'm an equal opportunity guy here, I guess. So I love University of Alabama.
There's no gamesmanship. I just didn't put anybody in there or consider anyone that didn't play nine games or more. It's really as simple as that. It just worked out we have got to play one of those teams. That's on the committee. that's what they decided to do. I think games matter.
I don't think it's right Texas A&M and Oklahoma, that Florida, that Cincinnati got punished because they played more games. These games matter. That game against LSU, that was a big deal for Florida.
And I know we can say, Well, yeah, but they should be one of the best teams. The game's not played on paper. You can go back and look at the top ten preseason rankings every year for the last 20 years, there's a lot of those teams that finish the season not even ranked. The game's not played on paper.
And in this year? Guys can get injured. You can get beat. There's a lot of games that we've won where we weren't supposed to win. And there's a few that we were supposed to win that we lost. That's football.
And so to just say, Oh, well, they would have won, I don't think that's right. That's nothing to do with Ohio State. Give me another 6-0 team, it would have been the same result.
So people take it personal, but it's nothing personal at all. So that's up to the committee.
Q. Was there any part of you that kind of thought, Well, there's a reasonable chance we'll play Ohio State and maybe just to make it easier?
DABO: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. You don't think I know that's going to be public? But to me, right is right. It's not always easy to do the right thing.
I absolutely knew that I would be the poster child for whatever. I could probably run for governor in Michigan and might have a good chance, but probably not very popular in Ohio.
But, listen, I don't live my life that way. I'm not going to say, Well, let me put them here and do something that I absolutely don't believe in. Again, it's not that they're going to [inaudible] they could beat us by two touchdowns. They are plenty good enough to beat us. They are good enough to win it all.
I just have a problem with the fact that three teams got to play 13 games and one has to play [inaudible] I don't care what the name is. Change the name. Ohio State, whoever. Fill in the blank, Penn State, Michigan, Southern Cal, I don't really care.
That's just my standard that I put in place. And I wasn't going to change that because being politically correct, well, and trying to appease people. It is what it is.
Q. Do you have an update on Xavier Thomas? Do you expect him to be available? Anything you can provide on why he missed the ACC championship?
DABO: He was unavailable. He was in a protocol situation.
But the biggest thing that we're going to do, we're not going to say anything about anything until game day. And we will put out an available/unavailable list just like we've done all year and leave it at that.
Q. Playoffs in general haven't been very close. I know there's an exception. Maybe you guys had the greatest win in your history with a second to go against Alabama. The average point spread is 18 points in these games so far. I've wondered if you had a 35,000?foot view of why that is.
DABO: We obviously had an incredibly close game with Alabama, as you alluded to.
But we had an unbelievable game with Ohio State last year. That was about as good a playoff game as you could be a part of. The others we had haven't been as close. I know it's a big stage, and it's a game of a few plays. It's a game of momentum. Those type of games, momentum is a huge, huge, thing.
Sometimes games can get away, turnovers, et cetera. I know when we played Alabama in the playoff...the one time we played them in the playoff game in New Orleans there, we had two back to back turnovers. We're in the game, and we're driving with a chance to score and take the lead.
And we get a pick, runs it all the way back to the ten. They score. The very next play, they kick and we throw a pick six. And it's just a few plays. And, again, the momentum and sometimes it's just...it's hard to turn it.
I think the best teams have won. That's my opinion. I think the better teams have won the games.
Q. As you watch Justin Fields preparing for this game, what jumps out at you? Anything that you've seen that compares and contrasts with the quarterback you saw last year?
DABO: He's very confident. I mean, he's a great football player. This guy, he's going to be a top two pick, top three pick. I can't imagine he wouldn't be. He can do it all. It's another year in the system. He's just a dangerous guy. He's got great confidence. He understands it. He creates a lot of conflict because of his ability to run the ball.
DABO: The heavy play action, the quarterback run. He's confident in his throws. He's very confident in his receivers. They have got three great, great wide outs. Those guys are as good as you're going to see in [Chris] Olave and [Garrett] Wilson and that number six. He's just a dynamic player. There's nothing he can't do, and we know that. Just like last year, two elite, elite quarterbacks, mentally, physically, emotionally, skill set wise taking the field in New Orleans on Friday night.
Q. Trevor Lawrence, after three full years, the individual accomplishments we're all familiar with. Heisman finalist, national champion, ACC player of the year, and so on down the line. If you could, could you describe the impact or legacy he's built at your program and is building and also maybe compare it to the way Deshaun Watson left and what Deshaun meant to the program.
DABO: Well, I mean, they're both very similar as far as what they mean to the program. I mean, there have been just incredibly committed guys. Two great human beings, first of all. Great examples, great teammates, great leaders, great preparers. You name it. Both of them graduated in three years. Incredibly disciplined with their lives and, I mean, you just couldn't find two more committed guys to win it. Two great winners. That's what both of them bring to the table.
Obviously, Deshaun led us to our first National Championship. He kind of paved the way. And his will to win, I mean, that last drive against Alabama to win the National Championship with one second, that's the epitome of Deshaun Watson.
And then Trevor Lawrence coming in as a true freshman and winning a National Championship, that's the epitome of Trevor Lawrence because his moxie, his savviness, as a true freshman, his confidence to go win a game like that under that stage, a lot of people going to that game when he's a freshman and the moment is too big and all this stuff, there's not a moment too big for Trevor Lawrence. I mean, he's as good ?? he's the first Trevor Lawrence, that's the way I would describe him. He's the first one. There will be a lot of people trying to live up to the standard that he set as a quarterback for a long time in this game.
Q. You've been adamant that Trevor [Lawrence] should win the Heisman. Do you feel like maybe he hasn't gotten the type of consideration for that award because he has done what we've come to expect from him over the last three years? And the other guys maybe have had unexpected seasons, weren't really talked about before the year.
DABO: Yeah, it's a stat, media driven award. I felt the same way about Deshaun Watson. It just is what it is. To me, he's the epitome of the Heisman in every regard. You're talking about a guy that lost Joseph Ngata, Frank Ladson, and Justyn Ross for the whole year. And he's thrown for more yards than any team in the history of Clemson this year. Unbelievable what he's done.
People say well, he missed 2 games....he played nine games. He was unbelievable. Played nine of the 11 games. And it's just amazing. If you really know what you're looking at, what he does and how he makes everybody else better, how equipped he is, his ability, his knowledge, I mean, it's just off the charts.
And, again, that's [inaudible] I know it's not a pro potential award. But he's lost one game. It's not a career award either. We all know that. But his season has been [inaudible] this has been the best he's been. And he's 34?1 or whatever as a starter. There's not a better [inaudible] and that is not a knock on anybody. There's some amazing, amazing young football players out there, college football players, that are very deserving of the Heisman. Absolutely. But the best player in the country is Trevor Lawrence. And to me, it's not close. But it's not up to me. It's not [inaudible] I don't get a vote in the Heisman. And obviously I'm biased, but for good reason.
Q. You've had a lot of teams here in the College Football Playoff. How do you feel like this year's team stacks up with the other teams you've gotten to this point?
DABO: Similar. Every team's kind of had a different path and, I've never really had a team that's had the challenges of this team. Nobody has. There's nobody in the playoffs that have had to deal with what it took to get to this point. So this team's unique in that way.
But similar in [inaudible] I feel good about how we're built. I like our guys in the trenches on both sides. We've had great quarterback play. We've got some explosive skill. And we're starting to play our best football. And I still think our best football is still in front of us. So similar.
Q. Just wanted to ask you about Coach [Kerry] Coombs. What have you seen from him this year? Ohio State's defense schematically, how is it different or similar from what you saw last year with Coach [Jeff] Hafley? And from a personnel standpoint, I know they lost a lot of talent on the back?end. What have you seen from their personnel this year?
DABO: Very similar. And why would it not be? They're really, really good and not much has changed. A little bit more two safety. Maybe just a hair more two safety. But they believe in what they do, man. They're built to stop the run. And that's more similar than not.
And personnel wise, I mean, they're no different than we are. They lose good players every year, just like we do. But they replace them with good players every year, just like we do. And they do a good job of developing their guys.
I thought that we did not play well in the game last year. They did a great job. I didn't think we played great at wide out. The best thing we did is we took care of the ball, and that was the difference in the game. But we got to play better than we did last year, that's for sure.
But they're built the same. Really good up front. Those deep tackles are really good players. They've got depth at end. A lot of experience at linebacker. They've moved [Shaun] Wade in the corner. That's different from last year. He's an elite player. Number 7, same thing. Those safeties. 5, [Baron] Browning, all those guys. They're a really, really good football team. Again, built in the trenches, built in the front seven, and built to stop the run. So we'll have our hands full.
Q. Wonder if you can talk about what you've asked your players to sacrifice this year. Every team has done it, right? It's been a tough year, and you've asked more of them than ever before. If you can get into a little bit of what you've asked them to sacrifice and how difficult... I shouldn't say difficult, but how challenging this probably has been for them.
DABO: It's unprecedented. It's been incredibly challenging. I just tell them, don't give up what they want most for what they may want at a moment. It's just really that simple. And the teams that do this the best and manage this the best, that's who's going to finish the best. And I challenged them early on, this could be a competitive advantage. It doesn't have to be a competitive disadvantage. The glass is half full. It's not half empty. It's all about taking what we've got and making the best of it.
And it's been an unbelievably tough year on these kids. Incredible. People will never know. There will be books. There will be documentaries. There will be things. These kids 20 years from now will be telling stories that people won't believe. This is unprecedented times. We have never had a moment like this. And what these kids had to sacrifice to be able to play is incredible.
Again, that's why I'll go back to the way I did my poll. I mean, from isolation to virtual work to not seeing their families, post game. Just the way we've had to meet. Just buying into not going places, not doing things. I mean, a lot of these kids have just done church online. You name it. Just the adjustments, very abnormal what they've had to do. But they have all sacrificed so that we would have a chance to get to this point. And I'm just really proud of them, really proud of them. Their commitment, their leadership, and how they bought in.
And not just the players, our staff. All of our medical people, our administration. I mean, it has been an unbelievable undertaking that we've all been a part of. And we're near the end here. And everybody's just got to stay committed. Every time ?? we tested four times a week, and every time we would get that test again, but, again, just the discipline that they have had to apply to their lives has been incredible, you know? And I'm just super proud of them. And most people, I think, don't really understand what all has gone on this year.
But this team, this team in particular, really fought to play. I mean, they fought to play the game. And I'm so thankful that we have been able to play. This has been a year I'll never forget. This is one of the closest teams I've ever been a part of as a result because we've just had each other. So looking forward to seeing them finish well.
Skalski, Spector, Turner, Venables, Mike Jones and Tyler Davis are below in that order. We'll get Tony Elliott, Trevor Lawrence and offensive players tomorrow!
VENABLES: Just incredibly excited. Thankful for the opportunity to be able to play back in the Sugar Bowl. So proud of our guys.
Started the year with nine first?time starters. First game back at Wake Forest, and it's been a lot of fun. I'm really proud of our guys, how much they've grown up, certainly improved, but just developing an identity and going through some struggles along the way, and they're just getting better.
It's been a fun year and a fulfilling year. There's nothing better for a coach to just watch your guys get better from the beginning to the end. Watch leaders develop. Watch freshmen really get their feet wet and learn how to play the game at a high level and just coming together. Just the chemistry and those types of things are developed throughout the course of the season.
And overcome a lot of adversity, everybody in college football. What a crazy year it's been. But just thankful for our players, their families, the sacrifices that have been made, certainly for our fans and our administration, our coaching staff, and our families.
And just got a great perspective on the opportunity that we have. And, again, just thankful more than anything else for our players and all of their hard work and their investment in Clemson and trying to make this a special, historic year.
Q. You just talked about your leaders, and I want to ask you something about particularly your senior guys. How important have the parents of those guys been that you've had in developing that sort of character and leadership? And in particularly Nyles Pinckney's mom and dad and their impact on the program.
VENABLES: Yeah, I mean, without their support ?? our players, they're going to get support from the people in this building certainly. And we've also got to be the same ones that demand more and to demand their best every day.
Without the support of the families ?? not everybody has the same support system, so wherever that source ?? that resource is coming from. Sometimes it's a coach. Sometimes it's somebody in the hometown. Sometimes it's an aunt and uncle. Certainly for Nyles, it's his family and they live just down the road, having moved from Wells Branch to right down the road here in Pendleton. It's been a great source of support from again not only him but also nourishing the things that we're all about as a program, as a football family.
So their leadership, there's no question, we wouldn't be here without those leaders, Nyles included. Seeing him grow up, even as a fifth?year guy, to see him grow up has been really satisfying. And thankful for, again, him just sticking in there because there's been a lot of things that have happened with Nyles injury?wise, in particular, and then playing behind a bunch of other great players.
But he's always been a guy that's always been ready. When given his opportunity a couple of years ago in the national championship, he's in there making a critical tackle, a critical stop on a fake field goal in the national championship. And so just very, very proud of him.
And, again, just thankful for again, like you said, the support system from our players' parents, second to none. We're incredibly fortunate.
Q. How is Justin Fields a different kind of player from the guy you played against last year?
VENABLES: I don't see a whole lot different. He's a terrific player. Can do it all. Can run. Can throw with precision. Run with strength and play with great poise. He's a great leader, very natural. Got an incredible skill set. Great presence in the pocket. And he's, without question, their leader on offense, so everything goes through him.
He's a great game manager, as well. But poised and experienced and just incredibly, incredibly talented. I see more similarities than differences.
Q. Could you describe for me, if you can, the impact and legacy you think Trevor Lawrence is leaving and will leave behind when he does end his career at Clemson?
VENABLES: Yeah, I mean, all the great quarterbacks are defined by how they win. And nobody has done it better. What I love about Trevor, he's a fierce competitor, really hard on himself, always demands more from himself, but he's got this steadiness that the great ones have. And he's got a unique quality; makes everybody around him better.
He's the first to shoulder the blame. He's one to be in the back of the line as a leader and serve and just has tremendous humility and has since the day he's gotten here.
He comes from, again, talking about parents, just wonderful people. And he's been a joy to be around.
But legacy, I mean, we've been fortunate to have some great ones here. And nobody's done it better than Trevor and just done it in a very first?class way.
Q. Chris Olave is a great receiver. Missed the Big Ten championship game. How much of a difference maker will he be, and how difficult will he be to prepare for?
VENABLES: He's a great player. Can take the top off the defense, very savvy. Really understands the ball and can make all the competitive plays. He's got speed, length, size, toughness, savviness. This will be the best group of receivers that we've played against this year. So we'll be challenged for sure. But Chris is a terrific player.
Q. Obviously, Dabo's [Swinney] comments about Ohio State and where he ranked them got a lot of attention. Maybe some people have taken it one way or another. How much of that is just Coach Swinney and his frankness that you've probably gotten used to over the years?
VENABLES: Yeah, he's going to speak from, again, his heart. And he's going the stand on his beliefs. And he's certainly not going to be politically correct.
And I'll be honest, certainly I'm paying attention, but it doesn't really affect us at all. Again, this is just another great opportunity.
And so whether or not he upset the apple cart or what not, Ohio State is going to be excited to play just because it's a great opportunity. You get in the playoffs, that's what it's all about, is making the most of your opportunity.
And, certainly, this year everybody's worked hard. Everybody's had a lot of struggle. Everybody has made a lot of sacrifice. Whether or not you're able to play games or not, whether you start or not. There's been anxiety for everybody. There's been unsuredness, a lack of security, a lot of unknown, a lot of pain, a lot of hurt.
And, certainly, again, the commitment to a team is hard and demanding on everybody. So to say who's had more or less is certainly not for me to judge. But I know it's been tough on everybody.
As a matter of fact, I remember ?? maybe it was the day that the Big Ten announced they weren't playing and Kevin Wilson and I, who we coached together at Oklahoma ?? and our families are close. But we're on the phone just trying to see what each other's heard and what's going on. Just how disheartening it was for us as coaches to think, Man, they're really going to cancel this college football season.
To fast forward to what seems like three years later ?? it's been one of those kind of years for everybody ?? how could you not just be so, again, appreciative and thankful for everybody that's had a hand in getting to this point.
You don't need any extra motivation playing these games. You kidding me? It doesn't matter who you're playing. It's what you're playing for, and that's what our focus has been on here.
Q. This is a little bit of a follow?up on that. Dabo's [Swinney] reputation has been kind of this "awe shucks" guy. And can you speak to the evolution you've seen, how comfortable he is in his skin now?
VENABLES: I think he's always been comfortable in his skin since I've known him. He's the same exact guy. He's the guy that I thought he was when I saw him from afar. He's just very genuine, real, authentic, raw, emotional, speaks from the heart, true to himself, true to his values.
When you're in the spotlight, people are going to ?? they can manipulate it any way they want. And he's not ever tried to claim to be a perfect person or have an opinion that everybody can agree with. When you're in the spotlight and people put a mic in front of you, you can choose to be somebody you're not or, again, just be true to yourself.
So I know he's a fierce leader, somebody that is an incredible man, husband, father, Christian, leader, coach. Know he cares deeply for his players and his program and the former players, and every one of the members of our families.
And he loves this sport. And he loves the sport, what it stands for, how it's changed lives, the generational change that you gain through your experience as both a player and a coach. And he's somebody that's benefited greatly from coaches and the opportunity to play this game, and he's impacted and changed for the better so many lives.
So there's nobody on this earth that I have more respect for. I know who he is and what he stands for. And I know how he's made me a better husband and a father and a Christian and a coach. And just very, very thankful for him. And that doesn't mean we have to agree with everything, he doesn't expect that, with everything that he thinks. But we certainly are there to support him in every way, and he's as real as it gets.
Q. There's a reason that teams don't run the wishbone anymore, don't run the veer. Is there ever going to be a magic bullet defensively for what's going on offensively with the spread, do you think?
VENABLES: Oh, man, I don't know. Down in our staff room, you hear all of our complaints. Woe is me. It's hard. It's harder than it's ever been to coach defense. But I love it. It's a challenge. I don't know, it's tough.
But again, hey, man, you try to do the best you can and try to help your players, a lot of rules. Again, they decide when they snap the ball, they get to decide when ?? if things don't work, they get to punt. On defense, you've got to stay on the field and you've got to stop people. That's the name of the game.
So I love it. I love the challenge of it. There's been different things. In the, whatever, 27, 28 years that I've coached, there's been a variety of things that have changed. Like you mentioned, you go from the option to the spread and all the different intricacies. There's still more that's the same than not.
The fundamentals of the game don't change. The physicality of the game doesn't change. The precision, the timing of things, a boxer's punch, the great ones, that's always been the same, their ability to time it up and the strategy that goes behind it. Certainly there's some of that.
But there are option principles in a lot of what you see just from different presentations. So we kind of attack it with a "everybody's against us" kind of a mindset. And so it's a lot of fun. I'll be very honest.
But it is more challenging now than ever because a lot of the rules, there's some gray area. And I just use the RPOs, for example. The NFL, you don't watch an NFL game and watch there be any gray area whatsoever. If that lineman is down the field, he's down the field. If the mark is three yards, if they're beyond three, then they just call it when it happens at three.
And I think people that have actually been out there that have expressed concern about some of the rules and just pushing the envelope, so to speak, is because of their experience in some things that I'm talking about. Whatever those rules are is harder than ever for officiating crews to manage the game now more than ever, too.
But anyway, it's ?? I'm not complaining. You just asked the question. I love what I do. I love the challenge of being a defensive coach. But things that stay the same, your fundamentals, technique, physicality, mindset, that hasn't changed.
DAY: Just got off the practice field. Team's been working hard getting ready to play in this game. Really looking forward to going down to New Orleans and playing in the Sugar Bowl. What an honor to be going down there. Such a great city.
And certainly wish we were spending more time in that city and getting to know it. Been down there a couple times. Went down there for a Super Bowl. Just unbelievable culture and great people. So it will be a different experience, but we're still excited nonetheless and excited to play against a great opponent.
A rematch from last year. So the preparation has been great. Everyone had as good a Christmas as we possibly could have, not able to really be around our families.
But the guys have overcome a lot this year, and now we have to finish the race. We've got to finish it strong and looking forward to continuing the preparation as we head to Friday night.
Q. You said last week you thought Justin [Fields] would be fine. He said he would be fine by Friday. Have you had to do anything with that thumb to hold him back or limit him? Do you have any concerns about what he could be able to do on Friday night?
DAY: No, no, I think he'll be fine.
Q. As a quarterback and now as a play caller, when you're going up against a team when you know they have guys who can get consistent pressure up the middle, up the middle of the line, how does that change the things you have to think about as a quarterback? And then now as a play caller, how has that changed how you coach a little bit, how you call plays?
DAY: The defense is second in the nation in sacks. They create a lot of disruption, like you said. Really good players and really good schemes. They've done it against just about everyone they've gone against.
So we've got to understand that. We've got to understand the patterns. We've got to do a great job of firming up protection. The quarterback has got to understand that. And it just comes down to preparation, understanding the different patterns that you're going to see. Knowing that you're going to see some things that you maybe haven't seen before. That's part of it.
And they know us very well. They always have really good schemes. So we'll have to continue to do a great job preparing so that when we get out there on Friday night, you know, we're anticipating as opposed to reacting.
Q. It's funny, Ryan, I think I asked you the same question last year, but I'll ask it again. When you're going against a defense led by a coordinator like Brent Venables who has this huge reputation, et cetera, justly deserved, does it pique you and your staff even more to sort of figure it out and go to battle against something like that?
DAY: Yeah. I mean, he's one of the best defensive coordinators in college football, and he does a great job calling the game. Seems to always know exactly what the other team is doing in terms of the plays that they're running each play and seems to call the right defense into that play a lot. And why that is, I don't really know. But I can tell you that he's been doing it for a long time, and it's a good challenge.
Q. You talked a little bit about how the players have had to sacrifice so much, sacrifices really from everyone. Have you sensed stress from them throughout this? And how do you deal with that as a coaching staff? A different kind of stress than you would normally deal with in a normal year.
DAY: Yeah, there's definitely different stressors that are going on, for sure. And they're coming from different areas. The stress of living a different life than you lived last year and all the different things that come with it: Not being around your family, not being able to socialize, not having fans, not receiving the rewards of hard work, games being canceled, and handling disappointment. All that stuff adds up.
I think the fact that they really had to stay in isolation for the most part. And then I think there's also the stress of the body and the emotional toll this season has taken. I think for some guys who have done everything right in practice throughout this whole time, while others have missed practice ?? and the amount of people that have missed practice in the last month alone here is staggering. And so those who have practiced every day, that stress load adds up on them as well.
So I think, like you said, all those things add up to where they're at right now. In some way it callouses you and makes you stronger, and that's a good thing, too.
Q. Ryan, I wonder if you could reflect on the circumstances of how you got to Ohio State. It was after that 31?0 loss to Clemson where Urban [Meyer] kind of retooled the staff. If that doesn't happen, are you there? Because obviously you flourished since you got to Ohio State.
DAY: Yeah. I was with the 49ers at the time and had a few conversations with Coach and jumped at the opportunity to come to Ohio State, not knowing exactly what was in store. Certainly didn't in my wildest dreams think I would be sitting where I am right now, but I guess that's college football.
And it's been a blessing. I learned so much about what Ohio State is, what the Buckeyes mean to so many people throughout the country, what winning at a high level means. And just blessed to be around such great people like Gene Smith and all the people here who strive for excellence.
It's been great. Our family loves it here. And, you're right, sometimes I wake up and just have to pinch yourself a little bit because it wasn't that long ago that we never would have thought of being in a situation like this. But a lot of that has to do with the people that are around you. We have great assistant coaches and great players and great administrators here, and that's what makes this place great.
Q. Ryan, in a normal bowl season, you guys would typically be there a few days in advance of the game and you would have all these festivities and the team would partake in some of that stuff. This year is obviously different. Have you tried to recreate some of that going into this game? Or is it just entirely different and just a game? What is that like?
DAY: Yeah, it's been very different for a lot of reasons. One, there hasn't been that much of a lead?up time. Usually you have three weeks, at least two weeks. This was quick. I mean, this was I guess 12 or 13 days. Plus, you had Christmas in between. So there hasn't been a lot of downtime that way.
And, really, we're not able to do a whole bunch of stuff together other than practice because of everything that's going on, certainly all the positive tests that have come up over the last month. So we've taken a lot of precautions that way.
So it's going to be more just like a game. We're going to go down there the night before, get some rest, get to the hotel, wake up, get ourselves ready to go, and then go play the game Friday night.
So, yeah, it's one of those things that we're just going to have to sacrifice this year, is the bowl experience. You think about it, it's kind of a downer because you would love to spend a week in New Orleans and all those things that come with a bowl game. That's part of the reward that I was talking about that these guys ?? that's been taken from them this year.
Whether it's fans in the stands, whether it's the recognition, or whether it's the number of games you play, and a bowl experience, those things do add up. You could say they don't, but they do. And it doesn't mean you need to sit around and cry about it, but it's something you need to be aware of. And so, yeah, once we get down there, we'll try to do everything we can. But in the meantime, it's getting ready to play the game and it's all preparation here.
Q. It's rare, I think, even for a player of Justin's [Fields] magnitude to maybe get another chance to go up against one of the ?? the only team that's beaten him to this point, at least at Ohio State. I guess, how do you see this game playing into the legacy he could leave here and just the opportunity that's ahead of him as a competitor?
DAY: Well, I think he left that field wanting another shot and now he has another shot. He's not the only guy that has felt that way. There's a lot of other guys on our team that felt that way. You would have never thought you were going to make it all the way back here to go play in this game. And the journey was so strange to get here, but here we are.
And now we have an opportunity to go play them again. And this is the reason why everybody works so hard during that off?season, was to get to this opportunity. Now we've got to go make the best of it.
Do I know what it means? I don't know. It's an opportunity to go play Clemson. And if we win, we go play for the national championship with everything that's gone on this season. And that's what matters. Has it been normal? No. But here we are. We asked for this opportunity, and now we've got to go.
Q. You mentioned practice a little bit ago. I'm just wondering if Chris Olave and some of the other players who were out against Northwestern have returned to practice? And how much ?? if you've got the whole team together practicing, how much that will help now as you prepare for Clemson?
DAY: One of the challenges for the last month has been, like you said, the amount of guys that have been in and out for whatever reason, whether it's been for the virus or guys just being out because of injuries. The numbers are off the charts. So that has been a major challenge, is trying to prepare for games but having guys come in and out of stuff.
We have a bunch of guys back. Guys are starting to practice now. It will be good to get some of these guys back to play on Friday night. But it's not like you just throw them back in there and they're going 100 miles an hour again. There's a ramp?up to it. They didn't really do anything for ten days. They had to pass their cardiac test, and then you have to kind of ease them into it, especially the skill guys because of soft tissue injuries.
I think we're doing as good a job as anybody of having a really good protocol and how to get them back safely to play. But it certainly has been a major challenge. Guys in; guys out. Like I mentioned before, that puts a lot of stress on the guys who are in there who are taking the reps in practice. You have to practice to get better, and we haven't had the luxury of playing in 13 games leading up to this. So we have to continue to practice.
So that's been one of the challenges this year, and it's something that our guys have embraced. It hasn't been easy, but they've overcome it, and here we go.
Q. You talked a lot since you've been here about your offense and staying aggressive. I'm just wondering, does aggressive always have to mean throwing the ball? Can a team be aggressive running the ball? Or just what's your idea when you think of that? And why is that the preferred position, for lack of a better word, for your offense?
DAY: I don't think it's preferred. I think the idea is to score. Like in the Big Ten championship game, we ran for 330 yards in the game. I forget exactly what the number was. So we're always going to strike a balance. We always want to do that.
I think when you look at the numbers, I think they would probably show that that's what we have. We have a pretty good balance. I don't know what our passing and running numbers are right now. But we always have to put pressure on the defense, and throwing the ball is a huge part of that. That also opens up the run game, and I think that's part of how you attack teams. And if you're not executing at a high enough level, then you need to get that fixed.
But whenever you start not calling it aggressively, that's when bad things happen. You lose confidence, and that's not the way we're wired. We're going to go out there and try to score as fast as we can and try to score as many points as we possibly can but, at the same time, keeping that balance of controlling the ball. So whatever that is.
And then we'll look schematically what gives us our best chance. In certain teams, they load the box and you have to throw the ball.
We didn't throw the ball as efficiently in the last game as we would have liked to have. We missed a few opportunities. Could have been a bigger number, but it wasn't. You learn. You've got to get better at it.
We're always looking for that balance. And being aggressive is both. It's sometimes playing with tempo. It's sometimes taking shots. But at the end of the day, if you're forcing the team to defend the entire sideline and run and pass and the quarterback run, I think that's when you put the most stress on the defense.
Q. If I can follow up on that just quickly, last year in this game, you guys kicked two field goals from the 5 yard line. That would seem to run a little counter to almost everything you just said. I'm just wondering how those two field goals have sat with you over the last year as you framed your mindset for this offense this year.
DAY: Yeah, you don't want to go back and replay the game last year. But one of the issues was field goals in the red zone and not scoring touchdowns down there. We had one called back. We had a drop. It just didn't happen.
So we've got to make sure that we're scoring touchdowns when we get down in there. But in games like this, we've also got to be smart. If our defense is playing well and kicking field goals is something you've got to do at that time, you've got to do that. You can't just be reckless either. We also went for it on fourth and one and threw a touchdown, I think it was, in the fourth quarter. We're always going to be aggressive, but at the same time you can't be reckless.
Q. How important is this game as a program marker? You guys are right there. You're up 16?0. It slipped away. But you've got Alabama and Clemson. How important is it that it is Clemson and that you have a shot to make a statement?
DAY: I don't know. I don't know how to answer that, Rob. I would say in a normal year I would probably have a better feel. I don't know.
I think this is more about this team and these guys on this team, the leaders, and what they've done and their story, the story that these guys have and their journey to get to right here and what the final chapter is going to be. That's more to me what this is about. This is about a bunch of guys who have just been through so much. The season canceled, then restarted, and then games canceled, and here they are, right back to where they started a year ago to play Clemson again. It's just an amazing story.
I think it's more about them than it is a statement about where we are. We'll see when we all come up for air and maybe reflect on that in the off?season. But this is more about our culture and our team. And I really would love for these guys to have something at the end of the season, a big ring to show for everything they've done because they've sacrificed so much. That's really the story to me.
Q. Given all that you just mentioned, this might be a difficult question to answer. I know Dabo [Swinney] has been fairly outspoken about the idea that playing 11 games as they have is different than playing the six that you have. When you compare this year to past seasons, do you feel like your team is in a different place having only six games under their belt at this point in the year, physically, emotionally, mentally? Or has the toll of all the other stuff been so great as to sort of ameliorate any level of differentiation there?
DAY: Yeah, I mean, everything about this season is different, from the amount of games we played to all of the above. I don't even know where to start. We could talk about it for an hour. But, yeah, everything about it's been different.
And to sit here and tell you exactly where we are compared to years past, no, it's totally different. Everything about it's different, the way we practice, the way we eat, the way we meet, the way we travel, the way ?? everything. Preseason camp to all of the above. So this is a different season in all areas.
Q. With everything that Justin [Fields] went through in the last year, the way last season ended to the Indiana second half to Northwestern, how do you stop him from trying to do too much against Clemson when obviously there's so much riding on his shoulders? And then secondarily, how much did Justin change you as a coach in the time that he's been at Ohio State?
DAY: Well, I think the first thing is you just have to win the game. I think one thing that happens a little bit at Ohio State is that people want you to win a certain way here. And I think sometimes that's a little dangerous.
But right now, there's only one goal, win the game. It doesn't matter if you win 6?3. Doesn't matter if you win 52?51. Just win the game. I think that has to be the approach, not we're going to beat a team by 28 points, are we going to throw for 500 yards and be on the Heisman trophy watch or whatever. It's win the game. If you win the game, you move on. That's what matters. So I think that's the focus.
It's been fun. Every time you have different quarterbacks come in, you learn a lot about yourself and you build different relationships and certainly have a special appreciation for Justin as a competitor and as a person.
Q. The fan bases of these two teams, some view it as a rivalry. I was just curious kind of what you thought and what people in the Woody think. Clearly you guys recruit against each other. You've played in a lot of high?stakes games. What do you think of this Ohio State?Clemson series?
DAY: Well, it's the second year we're playing them in a row. And they've won two national championships here. I think it's four of the last five years they've been in it. I think they won six ACC championships, if I'm correct. They've been right at the top of the game for almost a decade now. So they're up there.
And then when you look at where Ohio State has been in the Big Ten and playing in the CFP and our games against Clemson, if we continue to win, we're probably going to run into Clemson or Alabama along the way. So rivalry? We're not in the same conference. But certainly if we move on, we're going to see these guys. It's always great to get to this point and play against a great competitor like Clemson.
WILSON: Yeah, good to see everybody. Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Years. Again, we've kind of been in a mode here of kind of at the same time line of preparation. So, yeah, we've got a good model of how we've been preparing here the last couple, three weeks.
It's kind of a different bowl scenario this year. You're here with your practice site, routine, not as much time in between, not the recruiting piece in between, none of the award shows and all that stuff. It's a little bit more like a championship week.
Clemson is used to playing in the ACC championship, like we've had the good fortune to do in the Big Ten. So like a preparation. We've had some good work. It's going to be a tremendous challenge. They do a great job on defense as always.
Prepping well so far. Looking forward to finishing the week and having the best showing we can have here Friday night down there in New Orleans.
Q. I'm wondering if at any point over the last couple of years, you've noticed it becoming more difficult to do kind of "check with me" stuff at the line of scrimmage and having to either huddle or play at a really fast tempo to give the offense more of an advantage? Especially against this team, you check, they check, you check, they check. It seems like you could get yourself into a little pickle there, if you got into that kind of rhythm.
WILSON: I think since we've been here, Bill ?? I remember the first year we did this, years ago. 20 years ago at Northwestern, after that year, everybody thought we were smart and they started asking questions: What do you want to run on this play? A two?three technique or this play to a one? If we can't block the three or you can't block the one, we're going to lose. Every play needs to have a single hire, two?deep answering the pass and a guy for protection.
Since we've been over here, with what Coach [Urban] Meyer had going in place and what Ryan [Day] and I started with, a lot of plays sometimes have a lot of answers. So if you're trying to find the perfect play, you need to ?? I always used to use the word "reasonably sound." You're not going to be perfectly sound, but you've got to be reasonably sound.
Clemson does a great job creating negative plays. I think they're second in the nation in sacks, second in nation in yardage loss, tackles for loss. You have got to do plays where you don't give up the negatives. You're reasonably clean. You're protecting the quarterback.
You can always get cute. You can always have the ?? I guess the tall glass would be to O.D. But the end of the game, it's going to come down to blocking. It's going to come down to tackling. It's going to come down to ball security. It's going to come down to short yardage and scoring situations.
Like I said for the last year, every day somebody is kicking somebody's butt. Whether it be in the media world, you guys are writing great articles or not. Whether it be coaches recruiting great guys or not. Practicing well or not, winning games. Every day you're going to go out and kick some tail. And we can get cute with signals and scheme. But at the end of the day, somebody's got to play well. They do a tremendous job of scheme. They do a tremendous job of playing hard, playing physical, and kicking butt. That's whey they're a great defense every year. That's Coach [Brent] Venables.
Q. You mentioned they're a team that gets a lot of pressures. It seems like Justin [Fields] may be in a couple of these games. Teams have been able to make him a little bit uncomfortable with blitzing. Are there things you guys can do as coaches to help him be more comfortable in those situations?
WILSON: That's a great question. I do think the really great teams can, one, create pressure and, as you create pressure, not give up big plays. So your ability to make your protections work, your ability to make your identifications work, your ability to make your offensive line or tailbacks work to figure out who's coming. And then, also, by the way, the coverage is changing. So the quarterback is feeling people moving around him.
So the best way for ?? one, you practice well. And Coach [Ryan] Day and Coach [Corey] Dennis do a great job with their meetings of prep. But that quarterback looks great when everybody is functioning around him really well.
And this is going to be a stressful game because of all the stress that Clemson brings with their different looks, different formations, different fronts, coverages, pressures, twists, blitzes.
But bottom line, they make you work. Every play is a fistfight in the passing game from a protection standpoint, whether it be one?on?one rush or twisted pressures.
And in every play for Justin is a fight because the pictures are changing and your ability to process and get to the right read and distribute the ball on time, on target, as there's a lot of moving parts.
So he's a tremendous player. His quarterback rating is still one of the all?time highs in the history of the game. So I think he'll do well. But he will do better, as all quarterbacks do, when the surrounding parts do their job to help him.
Q. A little bit more on Justin [Fields]. First three games of the year, he's 11 touchdowns, no picks, 87% or 88% completion. Almost playing perfect. Then the last three games, I think it's four touchdowns, five picks. We know you guys got in that rhythm where you had a canceled game, then you play, then a canceled game, then you play. Ryan [Day] was out. Corey [Dennis] was out. Chris Olave is out. How much did that affect Justin and the whole offense? And where do you see Justin right now in his preparation to try to play his best game Friday?
WILSON: I think he's been preparing and practicing really well. I think he gets ?? with Coach Day and his background, I think some strong guidance and direction on how to prepare and how to practice study.
And then we work really hard. I don't know how many times you guys get a chance to see us at practice, but I basically run the scout defense. And we're doing it because I'm trying to give them the looks the best we can, so you're getting a game look. And that's hard because your young players and scout team players aren't quite as talented as what you're going to go against on the field, but you're really working hard just to create those looks.
I know in the one game Coach Day was out, we did put up some pretty good numbers. Even the last couple of games, I think we put up 500 yards. So we're running it well. It's nice the other parts are picking it up.
It will be difficult to run like we ran the last few games against Clemson. But I think the balance has made us a complete deal. Maybe those numbers initially were almost too high, unrealistically high. I don't know if anybody's completed 87% for the year.
But, again, if he's been off a little bit, as much as anything, maybe as a player sometimes, you can try. Maybe you can have a choice you might want back. But at the end of the day, we as a unit play more complete. His talent, his greatness, his play?making ability takes off and I think we're okay.
Q. I asked Garrett [Wilson] this. Chris Olave, I would imagine, as much as anybody on this team, wants to play in this game, especially after missing the Northwestern game. What's your sense of him? And just how different is this offense with him in it?
WILSON: Well, I think there's a comfort factor with the timing and the time that we're Justin and him have had together. Whether you call that a security blanket, I don't know if I would say that, but I think there's a lot of confidence. He tracks deep balls unbelievably well and has great spatial awareness.
I think there's a lot of confidence that I think, you know, Justin knows in time if he's going to him. Between him and Garrett, particularly as years went long, those guys had a great chance, if he could get it to someone on target, to make a play for him.
He's a tremendous player. It's good to have him back practicing. He's looking well. We'll see how the week keeps going. He's one of the best deep?ball threats, not because he's fast. I think his baseball background, playing center field. His ability to track deep balls has been very impressive through the years. He's one of our veteran players. He's a great player.
I know he took last year personal, maybe a little bit more personal than he should have. But I think that's what competitors do. He's looking forward to continuing preparation and going out Friday night and seeing how the game unfolds for him and the opportunities he has.
Q. Wyatt [Davis] has made All?American today. I just wanted to ask what he's meant to that front for y'all.
WILSON: He's very, very tough, physical, stout, playing hard. Has a bit of an old?school nastiness to him. Both he and Josh Myers in there, kind of side by side.
Made a commitment to come back. A lot of guys were opting for this. He opted to come back and be a Buckeye and help his teammates and give us a chance to maybe play for conference championship and now have a chance to play in the final four here.
He did that because he's not only a great player, but he's a great teammate. You guys don't see a lot of this, but as hard as he plays, as physical as he plays, as tough as he is, sometimes the best thing he does when he brings the juice and talks to our team, he carries a lot of clout. He has a lot of heart, a lot of conviction. Not only does he talk that talk but he walks the walk. He's a tremendous player and his accolades are well deserving. And proud of him and glad we get to go to war with him this week.
That's going to be a great battle for the linebackers that Clemson has and their toughness and physicality with Wyatt [Davis]. Those are some tremendous one?on?one matchups. I was just watching some tape of last year's game. Their linebackers had a couple of plays where they almost congratulated each other. The other opponent, JK [Dobbins] and the one linebacker locked up one time. You can see them appreciating and respecting each other, how tough they play. So that's going to be exciting watching Wyatt and our inside guys against those great linebackers that Brent [Venables] has.
Q. I wanted to ask you about that. I mean, you guys have played these guys before. You're familiar ?? you've had success moving the ball on these guys last year. How much does that help just the demeanor, plus adding the fact that the way you guys have run the ball the last two weeks, the last two games especially, how much does that help the confidence, the demeanor, of this offense heading into this game?
WILSON: I think ?? I don't know if ?? I mean, I think sometimes it can be talked ?? I don't know how many times I think our players are not somewhat confident going into the games. I think there's a lot of self?assuredness our guys have, the way we work, the talent they have, the competition we create in practice going against each other, et cetera.
Having played against them ?? I guess, if things come back or you can physically put on plays and see a blitz they're doing this year, Hey, they did that blitz last year. Not that it's going to happen again, but you can see the players you're going against. You can see yourself competing against those players.
But at the same time, what you've got is ultimate respect, because you've got as consistent a program in college football this decade. And it shows up every week. Having worked with Coach [Brent] Venables for nine years, I know the way he coaches, the way he teaches, the way he leads those guys, the way his kids play, the way their defense plays. So you've got your hands full. So it's nice to have a lot of confidence, and it's nice that we moved the ball last year. But the key thing is not moving the ball, it's getting points.
In this day and age of college football, you're not going to win championships kicking field goals. You're not going to win championships scoring 17, 21 points. You got to get in the end zone. We had some success, but we've got to find more success against him because it was not good enough last year.
Q. Just wanted to reflect on how you got there. Obviously, you were available in 2016. But just the circumstances after that playoff game. If Clemson doesn't beat Ohio State and shut them out, Urban [Meyer] doesn't retool the offensive staff, and here you guys are.
WILSON: Yeah. I'm just very fortunate, very grateful. Not wishing bad, ill luck or ill will on anyone, but the opportunity was allowed to be here.
I've had the opportunity to have coached at Oklahoma and Ohio State now for, what, 13 years. I think in the last 50 years, I think Ohio State is number one and Oklahoma is number two in wins in the last 50 years. Those are the two most winning teams.
I've also had the opportunity to be at Northwestern and win a Big Ten championship. Had a chance to spend six years in Indiana to build a program that's still doing pretty well. Those are actually the two programs with the most losses. So I've seen the two spectrums of where it is.
But I'm grateful with the opportunities and jobs and the people we have, that Coach Meyer gave me and my family an opportunity to be here. And with that to work with Ryan [Day] and Coach Doug [Calland], Coach [Tony] Alford and now Coach [Brian] Hartline, the guys we've got.
Really most important than anything else is just go out there and practice and have a little fun with Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis and [Jeremy] Ruckert and Luke [Farrell] a little bit and have a good old?fashioned ?? get a little pass pro down there and make sure the defensive linemen know you're there and just have a little fun coaching ball.
So very, very grateful to be here and excited to finish this season and, if we're lucky, have the opportunity to keep doing this for years to come.