GINA LEHE: Coach, before we turn it over for questions, if you could please make a brief opening statement regarding your preparation and the transition period between the Playoff Semifinal and the National Championship game.

DABO SWINNEY: Okay. I appreciate it. Well, first of all, we’re just really excited to be back in the game, and proud of our team for how they competed against a great Ohio State team.

As far as the transition and stuff, we had excellent preparation for our playoff game. That’s really kind of more the bowl experience for us, as far as how we go about getting ready for that type of game. This is a different animal. Obviously we don’t have as much time to prepare for this one. But the transition has been very good.

We did lose a day of prep compared to last year just because we – last year we played on a Friday and traveled back on Saturday and coaches got to get in the office on Sunday. But we didn’t get back to Clemson until after 9:00 Sunday night, so we tried to get as much work done as we could on the plane, on the flight back, so just been a long couple nights here for us as coaches, but player-wise, got back in here yesterday and had a good start to our prep. So we’ll have good work here in Clemson. We’ll practice here Friday morning before we’ll travel down Friday afternoon to Tampa to resume our prep.

You’ve talked about how different this season was where the bye came and not having to play as many games in a row as you did last year. How did you see that maybe impact or affect the team later in the season and then against Ohio State?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think from the season standpoint, we just – I just felt like we had more juice than we did last year. Last year we were – two factors: We played 10 straight, which is a huge challenge, but we were also, as I’ve said many times, top heavy, especially defensively. We were kind of one deep when it comes to guys that were really ready to play championship football. We had the first group, and then we were a lot of freshmen behind that. Just not a lot of depth and experience competitively, and that took a toll on us. Guys played a ton of snaps.

This year, as far as the bowl, we were able to get rested up and get ready to play Oklahoma last year, and it was the same. But this year the biggest difference in our team, which is something that I saw back in camp, was we just kind of had more competitive depth. I felt like we were going to have more guys functionally ready to go play winning football at a high level. That’s the way it’s been. Right out of the gate, you lose our starting D-end in Austin Bryant, but just more guys, so Christian Wilkins is able to step up and more guys ready, and I think the experience that we had last year was huge for a bunch of these guys, Kendall Joseph was a freshman last year. So we just have more competition, and then I think the bye week was big, too, from just an overall timing standpoint in allowing us to kind of regroup and have a strong finish.

But we’re a healthy team, much healthier than we were this time last year, and again, we’ve got more depth than we had this time last year.

What are nerves like the first time you go through this as a player and a coach? Do you think that contributed at all to some of the attention to detail that you’ve referenced several times, and how different is your confidence level when you go through it again?

DABO SWINNEY: You know, I mean, I think nerves to me are the same playing in this game or opening up at Auburn or playing South Carolina State. To me. It’s probably not the right answer you want, but that’s the way it is. Every game is just monster. We want to win, and we work really, really hard to prepare.

To me nerves are a sign that, hey, something good has got a chance to happen, and I’ve always embraced that, and I think that you draw on all your experience. It all matters. Certainly that stage and that type of moment that these guys got to experience last year was huge for them, no question about that. But you know, it all counts. I think all your experience that you have, good and bad, along the way, prepares you for each and every opportunity that you get.

But I think the biggest thing from last year is, you know, just the fact that, hey, they know they belong, they know they’re good enough, and just maybe the emphasis on how thin the margin for error is when you get in some of these games. You know, some games you can maybe make a few more mistakes than others and maybe you’re that much better than that team and you overcome that, but in games like this, and we’ve had several games where you’re playing really good teams, really good teams, you just don’t have a lot of room for error, and I think our guys have a great appreciation for that.

As far as last year, just they made a few more plays than we did in a highly competitive game. That was the difference.

I was just wondering, Deshaun, he threw that interception early and I wanted to know if you guys said anything back and forth, and what is it about him that in these playoff games it seems like he’s been able to take his game to a very, very high level?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, our receiver fell down. It’s not just – yeah, he gets credit for the interception, but it’s not good when you’ve got a receiver fall down on the ground so now your target is gone, and the only guy standing is the guy that’s the defender. Really there just wasn’t much to say other than, hey, tough break, let’s go to the next play. Bottom line.

But as far as him playing big in all these games, Deshaun Watson has played big in every game since he’s been at Clemson. The guy is 31-3. The only losses he had are a loss in the National Championship game where he played great. He lost at Georgia Tech his first year in a game that he played about 12 or 14 snaps and had the lead in the first quarter when he exited the game with a torn ACL, and he lost at Pitt -­against Pitt this year in a game he threw for 570 yards and scored 42 points and had 72 percent completions. I think he’s played great his whole three years. I mean, great. You can pinpoint a couple of bad moments here and there, but I don’t think he’s just played great in these playoff games. He’s played great for three years and been a consistent performer, as consistent a guy as I’ve ever been around.

What makes him special in all of those games, not just these playoff type games, is his preparation. The guy is an unbelievable winner, and he is incredibly attentive to details and a great, great student of the game. I mean, he just loves to grind to get ready, and then when it comes game time, he just goes and plays. He knows that he’s prepared. He’s put the work in. And so there’s a lot of confidence that comes with that. To go along with, obviously, his ability to do whatever he needs to do to win, whether it’s make a tight throw, a deep throw, a check at the line, a great run, a scramble, whatever it may be, he’s got the ability to do it.

What challenges present themselves preparing for a team that changes its offensive coordinator a week before the game?

DABO SWINNEY: Not really – I guess you’ve got some nuances that might be a little bit different maybe from a play call or something like that, but you’re not going to – it’s not like they’re going to come out and run the triple option. They’re going to dance with who brung ’em. They’re going to do what they do. It’s just as simple as that. Maybe it would be a little bit different if they had a month to get ready, like that first game, but you’ve got basically a game week to prepare. You’re not going to vary too far from – and why would they? They’ve been really, really good. They’ve won 26 in a row. I don’t think they’re going to do much different. Like I said, there may be some little nuances here and there, but it’ll be within the framework of who they are offensively, and again, why would they change. They’ve been incredibly – nobody has stopped them. They’ve been incredibly successful. The quarterback has played very, very well. They’ve run him. They’ve got outstanding backs. They’ve got the best receivers we’ve seen, a great tight end. They’re going to do what they do. They’re going to play within the scheme of their system, and then I’m sure that the way the game goes dictates maybe how things could get called. If they get up on us, then they’re going to call things a certain way if they’re behind. So those are all things, in-game adjustments as you go, but as far as just the scheme of things, they’ll do what they do.

You obviously played Deshaun as a freshman and know some of those unique challenges. What impresses you about how Alabama has brought along Jalen Hurts as a true freshman this year, and what kind of challenges are there to playing a guy so young for them?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think it’s rare that you have a true freshman start at a place like Clemson, a place like Alabama. That’s a hard thing to do, and the challenges are there’s a lot of unknowns going into a season. That’s the biggest challenge because you don’t really know how the guy is going to respond because you just got him. You’re just now starting to coach him. And so there’s some challenges there. How he’s going to handle certain venues and things like that and respond to adversity? Those are probably the biggest challenges, and just experience, just limited – it’s not like – I don’t care how good a player you are as a freshman, you’re going to be better as a junior. You just get better with time.

I think you’ve got to be smart, and I think that’s what Alabama has done. But he’s got a freshman anymore. The guy has played, what, 14 games. I mean, heck, he’s well on his way into his junior year. I mean, this guy has played a lot of football, more football than some of the guys that start as a junior in college.

He’s not a freshman anymore. He’s got a ton of experience. He’s been there, done that. He’s played. He’s handled adversities. He’s made big plays in big moments on the road, at home, you name it. I think he’s an excellent young player that’s just going to continue to mature, but I think they’ve done a great job in bringing him along and giving him what he could handle early and then kind of growing that through the season.

He’s definitely solidified himself as an excellent player and obviously a great leader for them.

I was wondering if you could recall, you hired Thad Turnipseed from Alabama three and a half years ago, how you kind of sold him on coming to Clemson and kind of the open-ended job offer you gave him in terms of title and stuff?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I’ve known Thad a long time. When he was a GA he was kind of my staff as a GA. I had one student helper, and it was Thad. So he was a little younger than me. He was hurt, couldn’t play. His career had come to an end, so he still wanted to be involved. I’ve known him a long time. Always thought a lot about Thad and his family. I just had a spot open and just called him up and said, hey, man, you interested? He was going to have to take a pay cut to come with the job that I had, but you know, he really wanted to be a part of the team. It was an opportunity for him to kind of get back more hands on from within the team standpoint, and he’s done a great job for us. He’s done an excellent job in kind of helping us build our recruiting department along with Jordan Sorrells and then just a lot of our external affairs, especially with some of our marketing and branding and our new facility. He’s got a great background in that area and has brought a lot to the table and done just a great, great job for us.

If my math is right, you had seven guys drafted off of that defense from a year ago. What does it say about the state of your program and what Brent Venables has done for you given how good this defense is?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, first of all, we recruited well, and not just recruited well but evaluated well, because it’s not like we got – everybody is a five-star over there. Nobody wanted Ryan Carter except Clemson, and he’s turned out to be a heck of a player for us. Jadar Johnson was just – he wasn’t some big-time recruit. Neither was Van Smith at safety. Those guys have played very well for us. Cordrea Tankersley, same thing, just kind of a blue-collar guy that’s developed nicely.

I think to go along with some of those guys like Dexter Lawrence who was a five-star type of recruit and a Christian Wilkins and Carlos Watkins, we have those guys, as well, mixed in there, but Ben Boulware was just a good player coming out of high school that had plenty of opportunities. But he wasn’t at the top of the world as No. 1 linebacker guy or anything like that. Neither was Kendall Joseph.

So I think the main thing for us is we’ve evaluated well, and we’ve developed our players. So I think it’s a credit to our strength and conditioning staff and obviously our defensive guys, Coach V and our staff. We’ve had great continuity across the board from a staff standpoint, but especially defensively. When you can have continuity, you can kind of get to that next level from a development standpoint. Our philosophy has been in place for a while as far as who we are and what we do. So it speaks volumes to all of that, and just when you lose that amount of guys and you can -­sometimes people will look and say, well, you’ve got a bunch of starters back, but they might not have been very good. So that may not matter.

And then you can look at it and say – what about Alabama? What do they got, three to four starters back on defense, and they lost the world, too. But they ain’t missed a beat. It’s because of the same thing, they recruited well and developing those guys well, nurturing them through their program.

The last 18 years, only four teams that lost the National Championship game were able to make it back the next year. Why do you think it’s been that difficult to try to make it back?

DABO SWINNEY: That’s an easy question. It’s just really hard to do. I mean, heck, it’s been 35 years since – or 34 years since Clemson got back, and now we’ve been able to get back in back to back years, which is just incredible. It’s really, really hard to do. There’s very few programs as you just said that can maintain that type of consistency. It’s just very, very hard to win at a very high level consistently. You’ve got to have a lot of things in place from a culture standpoint, just program people, you name it. You know, it’s hard. Nowadays especially, you’re having to win 14 games to get to this point, and there’s just a lot that goes into it. So with health and injuries and the parity of college football, 85 scholarships, everybody has got good players, I think the fact that recruiting has moved up and you’ve got a lot of really good players that become seniors that are going to some of these other schools, and so it’s just very competitive and tough to do. That’s the short answer.

Any injury updates coming out of Glendale?

DABO SWINNEY: No, we’re in good shape. We’re in good shape.

Coach, how gratifying has it been to see Artavis Scott develop not necessarily just as a player but just as a student?

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, so gratifying. One of the guys that is incredibly underrated and undervalued. He’s been – he graduated in three years and is leaving here as the leading receiver in the history of our school, and he did that in three years. I mean, it’s just incredible the production that he’s had, the consistency, his ability to stay on the field, his toughness. Just really, really proud of him.

I mean, he was very capable, obviously, but I don’t think very committed to being a great student coming out of high school. One of those guys that was really kind of all about the ball, and man, it’s just been awesome to watch him transform his life here and really value and be as hungry to be great academically as he’s been athletically. He came in here and that’s what happens when you get around Deshaun Watson. He roomed with Deshaun, and I think he saw the drive that D-Dub had, and those two just took off together, and I’m just proud of Artavis. He has been a great football player for us, and he’s going to be an excellent pro, too.

What were some of the biggest differences between this year’s team and the team that came to Arizona last January to play Alabama?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think offensively we’re just deeper at running back. I think that last year when we came to Arizona, we had four freshmen at wideout. Renfrow was a freshman, Ray-Ray was a freshman, Trevion Thompson was a freshman, Deon was a freshman, even though he didn’t get to play in the game, so we were younger at receiver. We did not have Mike Williams last year, and we had a true freshman at left tackle in Mitch Hyatt. I think we’re just better across the board offensively. We’ve got more guys at running back. We’re more experienced at receiver. Even though we’ve got a true freshman at right tackle, I think we’re better up front. And then Deshaun Watson is a better player right now than he was last year.

Just really – and then defensively, I think that we just were a little bit – we’re more consistent than we were this time last year. We were very good, a top-10 defense last year, but too many big plays, very inconsistent at times. This year we’ve been a much more consistent defense throughout the season, and a big part of that is, as I said earlier in this conference, is we’ve just had more competitive depth, which has just helped us, and I think we’re healthier. Mackensie Alexander was banged up, and he was our best corner guy, and he went out early in the game. Shaq Lawson was coming off of injury, didn’t really get to practice all week for the game, was able to play. So we weren’t quite as healthy as we are this year, as well. That’s probably the biggest differences.

GINA LEHE: Coach, we really appreciate your time today and look forward to seeing you in Tampa soon.