Football

Clemson Offense Talks Buckeye Defense, ‘They punched us in the mouth’

It was the Clemson offense’s turn for Sugar Bowl media day on Tuesday, as Tigers’ offensive coordinator Tony Elliott spoke with reporters, as did quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne, receivers Cornell Powell and Amari Rodgers, tight end Braden Galloway, and offensive lineman Matt Bockhorst. Here are the highlights of everything that was said on the day.

Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott

— Going into the game last year you didn’t realize how good and athletic Pete Werner was. Now that he’s inside the box, he’s around the play and he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s also big enough to set the edge. After the game last year they had a bunch of respect for him.

— The defensive structure looks similar from Ohio State. New faces but the product looks similar.

— Ohio State is very smart on defense. They are well coordinated. Everybody understands where they’re supposed to be. The only difference is the names and faces. The defensive ends know how to play the zone read.

— When Dabo Swinney believes in something, he’s gonna let you know.

— The experience of last year’s game gives Clemson an idea of what they need to fix from last year. The Ohio State defense will have wrinkles but the base is the base and at the end of the day, everybody does what they’ve done in the past and what they do best. New faces and new names, but this is another tough Ohio State defense.

— The CU receivers didn’t play well last year, nor did the interieor of the offensive line. “Everybody is going to be challenged to play better.” He expects OSU to attack them in the same way since it was effective last year.

— Last year they punched us in the mouth. We have to match their physicality and intensity.

Offensive lineman Matt Bockhorst

— Bockhorst is an Ohioan. “It definitely means a lot.” He played last year but wasn’t a starter, so this is a bigger game for him. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Next year isn’t guaranteed.

— Tommy Togiai is strong and explosive. An anchor. The inside guys are all good and well coached. It’s going to be a challenge. These games are won in the trenches. Haskell Garrett is a great talent as well.

— Travis Etienne and Trevor Lawrence are two special players and sometimes they’ve made plays without the help of the offensive line. Lawrence is as good of a person as he is a player. Etienne is the leading rusher in ACC history, which you can’t even really appreciate right now. He’s been on the field with them at times where he’s been in awe at what they do.

— They wanted to improve and correct their running game after the Notre Dame loss. To play against a team as talented as OSU, you have to be on your A game.

— When he committed to Clemson, people who knew him were shocked. There were some weird reactions. He has a bunch of friends who attend Ohio State so he has some bragging rights on the line. “It’s a passionate rivalry, I’ll say that.” This game matters to a lot of people.

— Justin Hilliard and he were teammates. “What an incredible athlete.” It’s been tough for Hilliard to go through all of the injuries in his career. He’s healthy and you can see it on film. He’s a special athlete. “I really appreciate Justin and look up to him.” It’s special to play against him. Great to see Hilliard stick it out and produce as well as he is.

— What has been the motivation for this team? It’s an intrinsic motivation to see how good they can be. They should be no more motivated to play this game than they would be to play in week one. The motivation has to be there internally. “The best is the standard.”

Tight end Braden Galloway

— Do they embrace the role of being hated nationally? “We don’t focus on anything that’s outside of the program.” Can’t focus on outside noise because that’s the quickest way to break up a team.

— He’s look at this game like it’s any other game.

— Travis Etienne is faster than he thought he was. Galloway likes to think of himself as fast, but Etienne is on another level.

— Tony Elliott is versatile and confident as a coordinator. Those are the biggest keys in no matter what you’re doing. He has great play calls and preparation. He can get the ball in any kind of way.

— Ohio State linebackers are very athletics. Good in space and coverage. They have a lot of guys that can cover the tight ends, so you have to study each of them individually and see how you can attack them.

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence

— Asked about his legacy, he said he hasn’t thought about it. “I’ve just been trying to live in the moment these past three years.” That will help leave the legacy you want to leave. “I just want to be a good person. That’s the number one goal for me.”

— It was cool to be a part of the “We want to play” movement back in the summer. He was just a small part of it and really didn’t do much, but a lot of guys have been helped by having this season happen.

— He is 34-1 as a starter. The loss last year to LSU was probably necessary for personal growth.

— Justin Fields is from 20-30 minutes from where Trevor Lawrence grew up. “We’re friends. We’ve got a good relationship.” He doesn’t see it as a rivalry with Fields. Others might, but they are friends and excited to play against each other.

— Nobody’s perfect, interceptions are going to happen. “It’s just part of the position.” Just have to stay confident and keep playing your game.

Receiver Amari Rodgers

— Do you care about Clemson being hated by outsiders? They’re not going to dwell on that stuff too much. They see it and use it as motivation, but at the end of the day they play for each other.

— Does this feel like a rivalry? No. “I feel like they have more beef with us than we have with them.” This isn’t like the South Carolina game.

— “Trevor is low-key a dual-threat quarterback.” A lot of people have slept on that in his career.

— Why is he so effective out of the slot? “I just feel like my route-running ability is good.” He’s good in space and creating separation. He’s a student of the game. You have to know coverages and leverage of the DBs to be a really good receiver.

— The receivers didn’t play to their standard last year against Ohio State. They have been challenged this week by Dabo Swinney to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

— Shaun Wade is a long corner and can cover a lot of space. He also stays right on your hip. You have to move him off of his spot. It takes film study to find ways to attack him and anybody else you’re facing.

— Why haven’t they played well in New Orleans? Don’t know, just haven’t had the best luck. He likes New Orleans, but won’t be able to enjoy it this year because of COVID.

Running back Travis Etienne

— They learned a lot from the Notre Dame loss. They kept fighting and had the heart of a champion. It was necessary for this team to have that downfall at Notre Dame. They had to recalibrate their minds and get back to who they are.

— Etienne is 0-2 in New Orleans. He’s ready to try to make things right and get a win in New Orleans.

— He has 20 tickets that are going to family for this game.

— Ohio State is structured to stop the run with their 8-man fronts. Just have to have the mentality that nothing will be given so they’ll have to earn each yard.

— Bingo night last night was a great experience. “I feel like my card was kind of rigged.”

— Why are they hitting their stride as a running team right now? They have a structure where you get better each week and work it. You keep grinding and stay coachable and it shows up on Saturdays.

— He hasn’t thought about his poor rushing performance against Ohio State much. They are structured to stop the run, so you have to find other ways to get him involved, which they did. They’ll do it again this weekend too.

— Regarding OSU’s versatile linebackers, you game plan for it but you’re still going to be who you are. That’s what got you here and you trust the coaches will put you in positions to make plays.

Receiver Cornell Powell

— The receivers have been challenged by their coaches to go out and make a statement on Friday. They have a ton of respect for Ohio State’s DBs. The receivers will need to make one-on-one plays to succeed.

— The Ohio State secondary hasn’t had a drop off. At this stage, you’re playing the best of the best. Everybody is an NFL prospect so you have to win your matchups.

— Tony Elliott gives them a lot of direction in terms of being a man, a future husband and father. It’s good to have somebody like that around. He’s a huge part of the offense’s success.

— The first time he saw Travis Etienne as a freshman at practice, he said he thanked God that Etienne was at Clemson and not somewhere else.

— The receivers are challenged throughout the entire process. How they practice, how they study, everything.