CLEMSON — The No. 2 Clemson Tigers just opened bowl practice in preparation for their matchup with the No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Dec. 29 (4 p.m., ESPN).
But even with only two days of practice in the books, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney may be further along in his game planning and prepping for an opponent this season than ever. The amazing thing is that the extra game planning being done is direct result of the Tigers being away from their offices — not extra time in them.
“The beautiful thing about being on the road a lot is everything is on computer,” Swinney said. “So, it’s not like the old days where you had to be sitting at your desk to get anything done football-wise. Football never ends for us. It goes with us everywhere we go. We have these neat little things called computers and it’s got all the film, all the cut-ups, everything, you name it.
“For me, personally, I feel like I’m probably more ahead than I’ve ever been from a prep standpoint at this stage because I’ve had a lot of plane time. I have had a lot of long legs, so I have had a lot of time. Usually, my plane time is up and down and in and out and it is kind of hard to get situated. But I have had a lot time. I’ve seen all their games on both sides and have a good feel who they are and what we’ve got to do from a prep standpoint.”
Not only Swinney that used the travel time to his advantage.
“Same thing with our staff. We had a staff day Sunday and Monday, and then we went recruiting Monday evening. Then (Tuesday) was a recruiting day for us,” Swinney said. “We are going to grind up here for the next week and then we will give them Thursday, Friday and Saturday, it is almost like an open date kind of schedule for us. Then we will come back in here Sunday morning for meetings and a lite practice and then we will head to Dallas on the 23rd.”
With the extra game planning already in the books, Swinney believes the 12-0 Fighting Irish will not change who they are or what got them to the playoffs because it worked through the first 12 games of the season.
But he also acknowledged the Tigers will have to be prepared for a little trickery — given the extra prep time that each team has building up the game.
“I think everybody is who they are at this point. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have some game-plan specific-type wrinkles, but when it’s all said and done, we are who we are and they are who they are,” Swinney said. “They’re going to do what they do. They won’t vary too much from that–that’s what got them here. At the end of the day, they are really good.”
The key for the Tiger defense, as will be the case for the Fighting Irish’s defense, will be finding a way to slow down the quarterback.
Ian Book, a junior quarterback, threw for 2,468 yards in the regular season — completing 70.4 percent of his passes and amassing 19 touchdowns against only six interceptions.
“Their quarterback’s a heck of a player. He’s slippery,” Swinney said. “He’s got a very good arm, the ball comes out fast, a lot of quick game, a lot of short passing game, a lot of screens. They do a good job of getting the ball to the back in the passing game.
“(The wide receivers) are some big, long dudes and the quarterback has a really good feel for the back-shoulder balls and those guys have great body control they’re great route runners … I don’t think they will vary from who they are. I think they’ll have some game-plan specific things to try to attack us, but when it’s all said and done they are going to do what they do.”
Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia.