Sugar Bowl week is underway.
Four days ahead of the much-anticipated Ohio State-Clemson rematch in the College Football Playoff semifinal, Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney joined the media for a Zoom press conference to preview the Sugar Bowl and of course, field questions about his decision to rank Ohio State 11th in the Coaches Poll.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables also met with the media on Monday to talk about his defense and the matchup with Justin Fields and Ohio State's offense.
A bullet-point rundown of Swinney and Venables’ comments:
- On the Sugar Bowl: "It's getting close. This is kind of a Wednesday (preparation-wise) for us here in Clemson. I think it's a Monday everywhere else." Says it's a chance for Clemson to win a Sugar Bowl, which has never happened before.
- On voting Ohio State 11th in his poll: "It's a big deal because we're having to play them. There's no question Ohio State is good enough to beat us. They're good enough to beat any of these four. They're good enough to be a national champion." He says he didn't rank anybody in the top-10 who played fewer than nine games. "I have all the respect in the world for Ohio State." Says he thinks the world of Ryan Day. "There's really nothing to it. ... You could change the name to anybody." He says he wouldn't have had USC in the playoff either if they were 6-0. "I just don't think it's right that three teams have to win 13 games to be the champion and one has to win eight."
- In defending voting Ohio State 11th "I voted them in 2017 for the same reason. I left Alabama out. And guess who was mad at me then? Alabama people."
- “To me, right is right. It's not always easy to do the right thing.”
- Based on his ballot... "I could probably run for governor in Michigan and have a good chance. Probably not as popular in Ohio."
- He doesn't have an update on defensive lineman Xavier Thomas and whether he'll play in the Sugar Bowl. "We're not going to say anything about anybody until game day."
- On Justin Fields: "He's going to be a top-two pick, a top-three pick. I can't imagine he wouldn't be. It's another year in the system. He's just a dangerous guy. He's got great confidence in what they're doing." He says Fields "creates a lot of conflict" in defending them due to his ability to run.
- On Ohio State's wide receivers: "Those guys are as good as you're going to see."
- Swinney says "there's not a moment too big for Trevor Lawrence." Mentions a lot of people will be trying to live up to the standard that he set.
- On the Heisman Trophy: "It's a stat-, media-driven award." He says Lawrence is the "epitome of the Heisman." ... "This has been the best he's been. He's 34-1 or whatever as a starter."
- How this Clemson team compares to past Clemson teams that made the playoff: "Similar. Every team's kind of had a different path. I've never really had a team that's had the challenges of this team." Says they have "great quarterback play" and "some explosive skill."
- On Ohio State's secondary scheme this season compared to last year: "Very similar, and why would it not be." He says the Buckeyes have played a tad more two-safety looks this season.
- On Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett: "Those D-tackles are really good players."
- On Ohio State's defense: "They're a really, really good football team. Built in the trenches. Built in the front seven. Built to stop the run."
- He says the sacrifices made by Clemson are "unprecedented," and what they've had to sacrifice to play is "incredible." ... "The teams that manage this the best, that's who's going to finish the best."
- Venables opened his press conference by expressing his gratitude for his players for the sacrifices they've made to make this season possible in what's been a tough year for everyone.
- On Justin Fields: “He's a terrific player. Can do it all. Can run, can throw with precision, run with strength, play with great poise. He's a great leader, very natural, got an incredible skill set, great presence in the pocket. He's, without question, their leader on offense. Everything goes through him. He's a great game manager, as well. Poised and experienced and incredibly, incredibly talented.”
- On Chris Olave: “He's a great player. Can take the top off the defense. Very savvy.” Said Ohio State's receivers will be the best group of receivers Clemson has played against all year.
- On Dabo Swinney: “He's going to stand on his heart. He's going to speak on his beliefs. He's certainly not gonna be politically correct.” Said Swinney has “always been comfortable in his skin ... He's as real as it gets.”
- Venables said he and Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who he worked with at Oklahoma, talked during the offseason about what they were hearing about whether this college football season would actually happen.
Additional quotes from Clemson defensive players
- Clemson linebacker James Skalski, when talking about Ohio State's running backs: “Master Teague, what a football name.”
- Clemson safety Nolan Turner said last year's game against Ohio State was one of the most physical games he's played in.
- Turner isn't worried about Ohio State being more motivated going into this year's game because of what happened last year. “You shouldn't need any extra motivation for playing in a game like this.”
- Turner, who will miss the first half against Ohio State due to a targeting penalty in the ACC Championship Game, said he feels like he needs to play better this year even with the interception he had last year.
- Turner is confident Lannden Zanders and Joseph Charleston will step up as starting safeties with him being out for the first half, while Ray Thornton, Tyler Venables, R.J. Mickens are others who could play there as well.
- Clemson linebacker Baylon Spector also brought up physicality when asked about last year's game against Ohio State. Says it was a long game, too. He remembers James Skalski and Chad Smith, who started at linebacker last year, being exhausted.
- Clemson defensive end Myles Murphy said his teammates have told him Fields is “very strong,” so when the Tigers get to him, they have to wrap up if they're going to finish sacks.
- Clemson linebacker Mike Jones Jr. said the back-and-forth with Ohio State has been “nail-biting” and he's always curious “what will happen next,” with people paying attention to what teams are saying on both sides.
- Clemson defensive tackle Tyler Davis: “They've got one of the top offensive lines in the country. Everybody on their offensive line is great. It's going to be very important to go in and set the tone.” He says Ohio State's offensive line is a “nasty group. They really get after it ... They want to dominate their man.”
- Davis on Justin Fields: “He's a physical quarterback that likes to run and can make every throw.”
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and several players are also slated to speak this afternoon, so check back in later for complete coverage of the Buckeye portion of the day.