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Clemson Football

Orange Bowl Selection Press Conference | Swinney and Heupel

December 5, 2022
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Josh Heupel

MIKE LIOTTA: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Capitol One Orange Bowl selection day press conference. Clemson will be the home team for this year's game as the ACC representative. They come in with a record of 11-2, champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference. This will be Clemson's seventh appearance, owning a 4-2 record. Tennessee, the visiting team, comes in with a record of 10-2, finishing second in the SEC East. The Vols are making their fifth appearance in the Capitol One Orange Bowl and their first since 1998. We're looking forward to having both teams here in south Florida. This year's game will be played on Friday, December 30th at Hard Rock Stadium, televised by ESPN at 8 p.m. eastern. Before we open it up, we are bringing in Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms for some brief remarks.

ERIC POMS: First of all, we're incredibly excited about the historic matchup in the 89th Capitol One Orange Bowl between No. 6 Tennessee and No. 7 Clemson. It is the highest-ranked non-Playoff Capitol One Orange Bowl matchup we've hosted in the College Football Playoff era, No. 6, versus No. 7. One of the highest in recent memories. A tremendous matchup. We have a great partnership with these conferences, with the ACC, having their champion Clemson Tigers coming here. Fantastic season, 11-2. Seven times they've been in the Orange Bowl. I mean, it's been seven years, I'm sorry, since they've been here in the Orange Bowl, and the fourth time in the last 12 years. So excited about that. Tennessee, what can you say? I think one of the great stories of college football this year. Excited to have the SEC come back to South Florida for the fifth year in a row. It's been 25 years since we've had Tennessee down here in the Capitol One Orange Bowl. Coach Heupel has a very special place in our history, leading the Oklahoma Sooners in 2001 in the national championship game down here. There's tremendous demand for this game. We're excited about it. You can feel it here in South Florida. We're going to paint this town orange on December 30th. With that being said, thank you so much.

MIKE LIOTTA: Thank you, Eric. We will now welcome in Tennessee's head coach Josh Heupel to say a few opening remarks, then we will open it up for questions. Coach, go ahead.

JOSH HEUPEL: Good afternoon, everybody. So happy to have the opportunity to be here with you guys today. We are so excited and happy about the invitation to the Capitol One Orange Bowl. I'm really proud of our program, the steps that we've taken in the last two years. Extremely proud of our staff and our players. This season was a really unique one. So proud of the accomplishments that we had on the football field. It's truly a team that's connected, that competes extremely hard. We're really proud of the steps that we're making. Really excited to have the opportunity to compete in the Orange Bowl here later this month. I know, having played in it and coached in it two previous times, this bowl game is as good as it gets. It's a very unique and special opportunity for our football program, and one that we couldn't be more excited to partake in. I know that our fans, Vol Nation, are going to show up in droves. They're excited about this opportunity to compete. What a prestigious game. Very honored to be a part of it.

MIKE LIOTTA: Thank you, coach. We will now open it up for questions for Coach Heupel.

Curious how much you've been able to follow Clemson from afar over the years, how you perceive Coach Swinney's program, if you've seen them at all this season, how you compare their defense to Alabama's defense?

JOSH HEUPEL: Yeah, in recent years obviously I've had an opportunity to see them sporadically throughout the season, but see them. It's a tradition-rich program. They've had a ton of success, not just in past seasons but in this season, too. Obviously finishing it out with an ACC championship. We have great respect for the quality of opponent. Coach Swinney has done a fantastic job with that program since he's taken over. Obviously you look at what they've done defensively year in and year out, one of the top in the country. Haven't had a chance to follow up and watch in detail, just the personnel or the scheme. Can't dive too much into that. Obviously we'll do that here in the coming days and certainly over the next week. But offensively they're historically a really good program, too. Certainly last night were very explosive and created a bunch of big plays. Great opponent, one that we're excited about having the opportunity to go compete with here at the end of the month.

Could you talk to me about coming back to Florida. You had a very successful stint at UCF, now you'll be back in Florida. You know a lot about the state. You have Joe Milton, who is from Florida. He'll be leading you against Clemson. Let's talk about it.

JOSH HEUPEL: Yeah, Joe is certainly going to be excited about having an opportunity to go play in an area that he certainly is familiar with, but so many friends and family, coaches and mentors that have been a part of his life will have an opportunity to come see him play in the football game. Certainly for me, having familiarity with the state of Florida, having been down there, a lot of our staff as well, having recruited down there. It's a place that we certainly know well. But not just through my experience down there as a coach, also just having played in this bowl game as a player, having coached in it two previous times as a coach, as well. This is a great week leading up to the kickoff. The bowl committee does an unbelievable job of taking care of the athletes and the staff. It's absolutely first class. The football game itself is always one that is highly competitive and a special environment.

What's the plan for kind of filling the gap of Alex Golesh? How will you fill his shoes? Who is the accountable coach that can recruit over this next month with Alex gone?

JOSH HEUPEL: Yeah, certainly losing Alex is something that we're excited about. I think it speaks to the growth inside of our program. When I say that, just that the success that we're having on the field, the style of play, the culture that we have inside of our building, for him to have an opportunity to go run his own program is one that I and the staff are excited for him to have that opportunity. In the coming days we'll understand how we want to fill that out on the recruiting trail, then as we get into game preparation as well. Excited for him. Again, I think it speaks so well to what our players and staff has done in a short amount of time here at Tennessee.

You talked about your past experience in this game, won a national title here in 2000. Talk about how what you're going to say to the players who may not have experienced this big bowl game atmosphere. How are you going to tell them about what they're going to see here?

JOSH HEUPEL: Yeah, at the end of the day the game is the most important thing. It's the most memorable thing of all the week of festivities. I think it's important that you enjoy the buildup and opportunity to see a new place, see a new culture, enjoy the festivities of the week. At the end of the day the most important thing is the game. When it's time to lock into your game preparation, your practice, you got to be completely invested in those moments. At the end of the day, at the end of the week, man, you're going to get an opportunity to play in a very special game. This is an historic, iconic game. A lot of these guys have grown up in an era of watching the importance of this football game. I know I grew up in that as well. This is a special opportunity. You're going to have the entire country watching this football game when this is slotted here on TV. It's a special opportunity, a special moment, and a memory that you'll have forever.

Because you have coached in this game twice since you won the national championship, is it only natural to have some pangs of nostalgia when you come to this event?

JOSH HEUPEL: Yeah, there will be things that will spark memories from my two stints as a coach being back in Miami. But certainly as a player, too, absolutely will bring back a lot of great memories. Really excited about having an opportunity to lead a program in this football game. This game is extremely special to me. A lot of great memories. Really looking forward to that opportunity. Already have teammates that will be able to come to the ballgame, guys that shared the field with me. Really looking forward to that opportunity.

Obviously there's a lot of kids that opt out of bowl games these days. With this being such a big game, do you expect most of your guys to be there?

JOSH HEUPEL: Yeah, I certainly expect most of our guys to be there. There's guys that are still gaining information, guys that were nicked up on the back half of the season, that got to see where they get to here over the coming days and make a smart, educated decision for them and their future. This is a special football game. This is important to our program. It's important to our players inside of the locker room. Certainly I believe we'll have a majority if not a full roster when we get down there for it.

You obviously know the American Athletic Conference, what it takes to succeed. Why do you think Alex could succeed at that level as a head coach at this moment?

JOSH HEUPEL: He's smart. He's competitive. Offensively what he came in and learned while we were at UCF, then transitioned up here to Tennessee. He has a great ability to communicate and relate to student-athletes. He's relentless as a recruiter. There's no doubt in my mind he's going to do a great job of leading that program.

Speaking of your playing days, you were actually a Heisman finalist at that point. Hendon Hooker may have a chance to go through the same process. Has he leaned out to you for that process, from your experience?

JOSH HEUPEL: Yeah, unfortunately he doesn't have control of that at this point. Hendon certainly deserves to be at that ceremony. He certainly is one of the best players in college football. The growth of our program is a direct correlation to what he's done, what he's invested, how he's helped build the culture inside of our locker room. Dynamic play-maker that has played his best in the biggest moments. Fierce competitor that makes a ton of plays. I certainly hope that he has that opportunity. 

Dabo Swinney

MIKE LIOTTA: We are joined now by Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. Thanks for joining us, coach. If you could start with a few opening remarks and then we'll open it up for questions.

DABO SWINNEY: We are super excited to be heading back to the Orange Bowl. We've got a team that's excited. Really proud of our guys, how they finished the season.

To have the opportunity to play in this game is something that you really dream of. Especially here at Clemson, took 30 years to get back there when we got there in '11, now to get back there for the fourth time in 12 years, I'm thankful that this team is going to get that experience, and our staff, because it is an iconic bowl experience, one that I know everyone will enjoy being a part of.

Eric Poms, the entire Orange Bowl staff, they do an amazing job, as does everybody that's affiliated with this bowl. Then you throw in the fact that you get a chance to compete against a team like Tennessee that may be the best team in the country this year. They are one of those teams that certainly can play with anybody. They showed that all year.

It's a great matchup. I know both teams, both fan bases, are super excited to see these teams compete on the field. But we're thankful for the opportunity and, again, really proud of our team for how they competed, to win this ACC championship, earn the right to get back to the Orange Bowl.

With that I'll take your questions, along with saying congratulations to Coach Heupel and Tennessee for them earning the right to be here as well. The job that they did this year was amazing. Got a chance to see them quite a bit. It will be a great matchup.

MIKE LIOTTA: Thank you, coach.

We'll open it up for questions.

We all know the times we're in in college football. We're going to see a lot of kids opting out. What do you do to convince your kids that the opportunity to play in a game like this doesn't come along every day and that should enter into their thinking?

DABO SWINNEY: I mean, it's an opportunity to play, first of all. Not only play, but again to have an experience that is really special. It really is.

I mean, again, I got to go to the Orange Bowl in 1999 when I was coaching at Alabama. It was Tom Brady's last game at Michigan there. That was special. That was the Y2K days. That was an unbelievable experience for me as a young coach.

Obviously to get back a few times here at Clemson, to know those memories that have been built throughout our teams over the years, you share those things and all that.

At the end of the day, I mean, I don't think you really should have to convince someone. At the end of the day if somebody doesn't want to play, you respect their decision to keep moving.

You got a head start on your preparation for Tennessee as you prepared for the Gamecocks. Wondering what you were able to glean from watching the film on them? Your last meeting against Tennessee was in the 2003 Peach Bowl, first year on staff at Clemson. What do you remember about that night?

DABO SWINNEY: I remember first of all it was a great finish to our season. We went from 5-4, to probably getting ready to be shown the door, to 9-4. Coach Bowden got Coach of the Year. I got to stay at Clemson longer than 10 months or whatever (smiling). I remember that very well. It was a great finish to our season, the way we finished.

I remember Tennessee was a very good team, a very talented team. But we were really playing our best ball there. Charlie Whitehurst was hot, the receivers. Chad Jasmin I think was the MVP of that game. It was just an electric atmosphere in the Peach Bowl there. A fun way to finish the year.

It was a big win for us, huge win for sure. Tennessee I think was a highly ranked team, maybe a top 10 team, in that game. It was special 'cause, again, it was a good way to start off my first year there at Clemson I guess 20 years ago now.

That's what I remember.

You talked about your history at Alabama and Clemson playing the Orange Bowl. What are you going to tell your players about the history and what it means to be a part of this game? There was a time a couple weeks ago when you looked like a possible Playoff team. How do you respond to some of the fans who might not be as hyped up about coming to a non-Playoff game?

DABO SWINNEY: Well, first of all, the history of the Orange Bowl is amazing. I mean, some of the greatest games ever in college football have taken place at the Orange Bowl. It's a big-time experience, it's a big-time bowl.

As far as the other part of your question, I mean, both of these teams are Playoff-caliber teams. There's four spots. It's really, really hard to be in the final four. We're fortunate we've been there a few times and have had some success there. It's really hard and you don't control that. Technically you could have the same record as someone else, someone not put you in there.

I think the biggest thing is if 11-2, being your league champion, going to the Orange Bowl, if you're not happy with that, I don't really know what to say to you. It's really hard to win. Man, the players and the staff work extremely hard. There's not many teams out there that have 10-plus wins. Tennessee, the season they've had, unbelievable. Then for our team as well.

Both of these teams, even though we're not in the final four, we're both teams that certainly for 12 to 13 weeks were one of those few teams that had the opportunity. We both had opportunities to kind of play our way in there. We didn't get that done. But you got to give the opponent credit.

Again, that's football. Both teams had an amazing season. This will be an exciting opportunity to finish our year again with a Playoff-caliber game. That's what this is. Next year is one more year of the final four, then it's going to 12.

I think this is a great experience for our team, the staff, both teams, then also our fans. It's Miami. It's the Orange Bowl. You're playing Tennessee. I think any time you get a chance if you're a fan of your team, any time you get a chance to see them play, it ought to be exciting.

At most if the whole world goes perfect, you get 15 games, 15 days to play this game, be a fan of your team on the field that day. We're here. We're going to have 14. I'm thankful we got one more game to play.

Hopefully we'll have a great crowd. I don't doubt that we will, great environment. Two regional fan bases that I'm sure will support each team.

You mentioned two previous games, 2003 against Tennessee in the Peach Bowl. Did you have any input on the fumblerooski? Back to 2000 Orange Bowl, Alex Zow was your quarterback for the special year, how special is it to have him part of your program now?

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, that was Brad Scott there who was our offensive coordinator. I think it was Kyle Browning, No. 28, that we headed that ball to. Everybody kind of comes out, puts it under his legs, goes out the backdoor. That was a great play in that game. I know we hit the trap a couple times with Chad Jasmin, heck of a game, Derrick Hamilton. Kevin young blood. The head coach at Virginia, Tony Elliott, was playing in this game. There was a lot of great moments for sure.

Yeah, I was talking about that with Andrew Zow the other day. When you're in the moment of things, you don't really know. I just remember that game. We had the lead, a minute something left. There's this long gangly guy out there at quarterback for Michigan. Oh, we're in pretty good shape here. All of a sudden this guy Tom Brady takes it right down the field, ties it up, we go to overtime. We missed the extra point in overtime. That's how we lost that game. I'll never forget that either.

You go on about your business. Next thing you know 60 years later Tom Brady is still doing that (laughter). He's making a living doing it.

What do you expect out of Cade Klubnik in a top-seven matchup in the Orange Bowl in his first career start as quarterback?

DABO SWINNEY: Hopefully first of all great preparation like he's been having, but playing within the system, being smart with the ball, doing what he's coached to do. I thought he did an amazing job of that last night. Really just hopefully pick up where he left off. He was accurate, made good decisions outside of maybe one or two in the run game. He extended some plays. He did some things with his legs.

Just continue to, again, play within the system, bring that great energy, and protect the football.

Curious what you saw from Tennessee in preparing for the Gamecocks. Obviously Hooker went out in that game unfortunately. Your impressions of their offense, defense, schematically?

DABO SWINNEY: Not just the Gamecocks. I got to see them several times this year. I mean, they're unbelievable. I mean, I haven't obviously got into really breaking them down, game planning, but I would imagine they got to lead the country in scoring or offense. I can't imagine they don't.

As explosive of an offense as I've seen in a long, long time. Unbelievable tempo. Incredibly fast. Receivers making plays. This is a team that you can tell just has fun playing. You can tell that they're very connected.

Coach Heupel and his staff, they've done an unbelievable job of building this culture and really putting it together right out of the gate. It's not easy to do. I know they missed some plays against South Carolina, and South Carolina hit some amazing plays. But, man, they bounced right back the very next week, got back on track, shut out Vanderbilt, scored a million points and a bunch of yards.

They'll be a handful, for sure. I'm glad we don't play them this week. Hopefully we can find a way to make 'em punt a couple times because they don't punt very often.

MIKE LIOTTA: Thank you, coach. Appreciate your time. We look forward to seeing you down in South Florida.

DABO SWINNEY: Thank y'all. It's an honor to be there. Congratulations to Tennessee. Look forward to spending a great week with you guys in Miami. Go Tigers.

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Orange Bowl Selection Press Conference | Swinney and Heupel

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