Clemson National Championship postgame news conference
DABO SWINNEY: First of all, obviously a disappointing night for us, not the way we envisioned it going. But let me just first say I’m incredibly thankful for our team. I’m thankful for our team. I’m thankful for God’s grace, for allowing me to be part of such a special group of people, coaches, staff and players, and just an unreal year. I mean, incredible. It’s just an incredible year, two years. Won 29 games in a row. It’s been a long time since I’ve stood in front of a team with a loss.
But this team in particular, just really special. Coming into this year, 80 freshmen and sophomores out of 120, to get back to this point, I’m just super proud of them. It’s incredibly difficult to even get here and super hard to win it. That’s for sure.
But I’m proud of our guys. Incredible leadership and focus all year long, and a lot of history made by this group. I’m forever grateful for these seniors. These seniors, what an amazing group of young people. Just dynamic young people that are unbelievably committed, and just Tanner Muse and Pollard and Cervenka and Anchrum, Denzel and K’Von, Fibs. So many guys. Just tremendous, tremendous leadership. So I’m thankful, and just blessed to have been a part of it with these guys.
But tonight was all about LSU. What an unbelievable game. We had an opportunity there in the third quarter. I loved how we responded and got the ball back with a three-point lead, and we just couldn’t quite put enough plays together. It’s probably the worst we’ve been on 3rd down in a long time. We had opportunities on 3rd down, but we just didn’t convert, and give them credit.
But I thought LSU played a beautiful game. I thought their quarterback was tremendous. Those receivers – man, they made some incredible plays that were really well-covered, several of them, but they just made the play. And that’s what you’ve got to do to win these type of games. You give them credit, I thought they played a heck of a game and deserved to win the game. They were definitely the better team tonight for sure.
I’m really happy for Coach O. I think he’s one of the good guys in the business, and I’m happy for him. I know what it’s like to be in that situation, and you pour a lot into it, and certainly no fun to be in this seat, but I do just say congratulations to them. Beautiful football team that earned it, and we were the first 15-0 team last year, and to see them do it, they earned it. Simple as that. So hats off to them, and I thought they played with tremendous character and class and just will to win. That’s what championship games are all about, and just too many big plays and just not quite enough from us when we had some opportunities to give ourselves a chance there in the fourth quarter.
But again, just proud of our seniors. These guys are leaving here with 55 wins, and this hurts right now, a lot of pain. I’m disappointed, hurt for all our fans. But what an incredible run. We’ll get back to work. We start spring ball six weeks from Wednesday, and excited about next year’s team and the challenge of going back to work and putting another team together.
We’ll celebrate this group. We’re going to have our banquet next weekend. We’ll celebrate this wonderful group of seniors the right way, and then we’ll get back to work and see if we can get back here.
Trevor, it’s obviously been such a long time since you lost a game. Just what you’re going through emotionally, and does it take any sting out of it knowing how much you have coming back next season, and quick turnaround like Coach said before spring ball?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Yeah, it sucks. I think the worst thing is you don’t get to go back and play with this group. So for me that’s the worst thing, just those seniors, especially the guys up front, some of the wideouts. It’s just going to – we’re going to be fine. We’ll be back. But it just sucks not getting to finish the way you wanted to with those guys.
Trevor, can you kind of put your finger on what happened tonight? You just didn’t feel like your throws were sharp enough, and what was going on, especially in the second half?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Yeah, it was a lot of different things. First of all, I think LSU did a good job. They brought a lot of pressure, they did a good job mixing up the coverages. But at the end of the day I just didn’t play well enough for us to win. Too many missed plays by me, missed a lot of receivers, and it just wasn’t my night.
What was the issue on 3rd down tonight? Was it anything in particular they were doing defensively or do you think you just missed some throws? Where did you see the breakdown there?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Yeah, it was both for sure. I think a couple times they had us schemed up pretty good and they stopped us on 3rd down, then a handful, at least four, were missed throws or just them making a good play on the ball. So it’s a lot of different things. But like I said, at the quarterback position if you’re going to win games like this, you’ve got to play really well, and I just didn’t do that tonight.
Trevor, as a competing quarterback, I wanted to get your thoughts on what you thought about the way Joe played and led that team to win.
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Yeah, I mean, he’s great. He’s unbelievable. He’s a great player. I’ve got a lot of respect for him and just his journey, and really just their whole team. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. Like Coach said, they play with a lot of character and class and hats off to them. They beat us tonight, and there was no excuses, but yeah, he played great for sure.
Trevor, you mentioned in the semifinal how physical Ohio State was. I was wondering if you could comment maybe about the physicality of LSU, and moving forward, where would you like to improve heading into next year?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Yeah, it was obviously a physical game. Any big game like this, when you’re playing a really good team like this it’s going to be physical. Just little things I know I can do. I can be more accurate. I wasn’t accurate tonight. Didn’t put the ball where it needed to be, didn’t give my guys a chance enough, and it comes down to that really, giving them a chance, and I just didn’t do a good job of doing that.
Trevor, towards the end of the game in those last couple minutes, coaches are coming up to you, teammates are coming up to you and comforting you. What was your message because this is the first time you’re going through this at Clemson?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Yeah, you get so busy looking for what’s next, and a moment like this happens and you’ve got to – man, it sucks, but you’ve got to look back on what you’ve done, and we’ve done some great things, and we’ve got a lot more in store ahead for sure. But it’s just you’ve got to look back and enjoy all the things you did accomplish because what we were able to do is pretty amazing to be a part of. Just going to miss this group of guys, and I hate how it finished. But man, we did some really amazing things.
Tanner, obviously not finishing your career the way you wanted to, but I guess your senior class tied last year’s class for the most wins of all time. What do you think your legacy will be at Clemson?
TANNER MUSE: I think at the end of the day, I’m going to be defined as a person more than a football player. I think the way I came in day in, day out, the work I put in just to get here I think is at the end of the day what I’ll be defined as, how good of a person I was and just how I impacted others and all these young guys I got to work with. I just appreciate them for loving on me and letting me love them. I can’t thank them enough.
Dabo, when Trevor had the fumble, came over to the sideline, you spoke to him there directly. What did you tell him?
DABO SWINNEY: I just told him to keep his head up. I told him I loved him and that, hey, listen, you’ve got – this is a great opportunity to lead and to respond. You know, he’s had so much good. We all have. We’ve had so much just unbelievable success, so many great things, and he’s never lost a game. I mean, he’s – and he’s not going to lose many. I’ll go ahead and tell you that right now. He ain’t going to lose many. He’s going to be a hard guy to beat forever because he’s special. And he had a tough night tonight. For whatever reason, just didn’t have his best night.
But I just – man, I wouldn’t trade him for nobody. I love that guy. That’s it. I just told him, hey, keep your head up. You’ve got a great opportunity here to respond. It’s easy when everything is good. So just told him I’m proud of him and appreciated his fight, his grit, his will, and hey, that’s ball. Listen, he was giving everything he had, and it was a good play by them knocking it loose.
We go over there and love on him when he throws touchdown passes, I’m going to love on him when he had a mistake, too, because his effort was tremendous. Again, just didn’t have our best night tonight, but man, I love Trevor Lawrence. I wouldn’t trade that guy for nobody. And he is special. I know exactly how he’ll respond. He’ll get right back to work, and we’re going to have a really, really good football team next year. We’ve got tons of guys back, got 15 mid-years there, and this is a bad moment, but even if we’d have won it and it was a great moment, it’s still just a moment.
The true joy comes in the challenge of trying to go do it, and we’ll get back to work on that. Literally I think six weeks from Wednesday we’re back on the field, and I look forward to it.
It stings tonight. Really just – I don’t ever plan to lose. It just stinks. But listen, this is about LSU. I mean, they earned it. Like I said, I’m really happy for Coach O. I’ve got a lot of respect for him and their players. They earned it. Nobody gave them anything, they went and earned it. So tip your hat to them. This was their night.
But it wasn’t our night, but man, what an unbelievable year. What an unbelievable decade, to be honest with you. Just an unbelievable decade. Excited about starting this new one.
We’ll learn from it. We’ll get better. Certainly there were some things that were there where we had our chances, but just didn’t do enough tonight. Give them credit.
Coach, how much of a game changer do you think the loss of Skalski was, and did you agree with the call?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I’ll have to go look at it. I didn’t get to see it very clear. But listen, that’s football. There’s no excuses. We’re not making any excuses. That’s football. Next guy up. As a matter of fact I thought Jake Venables went in there and played well. I thought Jake did some really good things and got some good experience in a critical game like that. I hate it for Jamey. He’s such a wonderful young man and such a great leader and all that. But you know, they were just the better team.
Given that you just noted the great decade that you guys have had. Given the fact that you built a program where the expectation is vying for a National Championship, how would you define this era of Clemson football?
DABO SWINNEY: Somebody asked me that the other day. I just said, “transformative.” I’m not sure that’s a word, but that’s the way I’d say it. From where we were in 2009, my first year, to where we are now, been in five straight playoffs, and we’ve won two out of the last four National Championships, and we’ve been in four National Championships. You know, I think we’ve got 69 wins in the last five years, which is the most ever in the history of college football over that span. So we’ve built a program of consistency, and that’s really what it’s about to me, and it’s not just on the field. We’ve been top 10 academically nine of my 11 years and eight out of the last nine, us, Duke and Northwestern. So we’ve had a lot of consistency on the field and a lot of consistency off the field.
That’s truly what to me matters most. We’ll have more opportunities. These are tough moments. But when I hang my whistle up, it won’t be about these moments. It’s not going to be about the confetti flying and winning a National Championship or a very disappointing painful moment like this where you come up short. It’s really more about the relationships that you have. That’s the true joy, just getting a chance to just come to work every day with such great people. I’ve got a wonderful staff that are so loyal, so committed, and just a bunch of beautiful young men that lay it on the line.
And again, I mean, we won 29 games in a row, and sooner or later you’re going to lose one. This certainly wasn’t the one we wanted to lose, but I know how we’ll respond. We’ll get back to work. You can’t win two until you win one, so we’ll get back to work and see if we can come back and have a great year next year and really just try to achieve our goals. We’ve got five simple goals and they don’t change. This doesn’t change our goals. The last goal we have is to win the closer, and we hit four out of our five. We didn’t get that one done. But I’m just really proud of this group for how they competed and what they did on and off the field.
And then these seniors, I’m just so thankful. I mean, truly, just God’s grace to allow me to watch them develop over the last four and five years, to be with guys like Tanner, just thankful for them. I’m thankful. No scoreboard changes that. We all hurt. We’re all disappointed, but we’re not defined by that.
These guys, they competed with all they had. So sometimes you come up short. Only one team can win, and the best team won tonight. That’s just the bottom line. They were the better team tonight. There’s nothing you can do but tip your hat and get back to work.
Over the last decade, you’ve tussled with some of the toughest teams, some of the best teams ever. 60 minutes with the LSU Tigers, can you talk about the intensity of 60 minutes tussling with them like you did tonight?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, well, they were an awesome team. Again, it was – I knew coming in it was going to be a game of a few plays, and we just didn’t string enough opportunities. We had a little down-the-line screen that probably would have gone for a ways to Tee, critical 3rd down, and we just didn’t make some plays that were there that we usually make, some routine stuff. When you’re in a game like that, when you know that – I mean, their offense this year was just special, and they did an amazing job.
Again, I mean, they made some plays tonight that you just got to tip your hat to them because the ball was in the only place that their guy could catch it. I mean, we had great coverage, and that was championship football, and that’s why they’re the champions, because they made those type of plays, and that’s what you’ve got to do.
But it was great. I mean, it was very competitive. Our guys competed their tails off, and this will be a painful tape to watch, but one that will help us. It’ll help us get back to work and build next year’s team.
You know, I’ve been on both sides of it. But we have, we’ve played so many great teams. That Alabama team last year was a great team, but we were a great team, and we were a better team that night.
But this team, what they accomplished is really special. Beat a great Ohio State team a couple weeks ago that I thought was really, really good. But tonight this was LSU’s night. I’m happy for their fans. This is a unique situation, to be – to play a National Championship game basically in your backyard. What a unique opportunity for them, and I thought the environment was amazing. It was a great environment, great crowd, great energy all night from both fan bases.
Just, again, they earned it and did what they needed to do to win.
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