Dabo Swinney: 'Championship football comes down to 3 or 4 plays'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Wednesday January 04, 2017

It was a handful of plays that were the difference in Alabama’s 45-40 win over Clemson in last year’s national championship game. A year later, they’re still on Dabo Swinney’s mind.

They were the emphasis in the offseason, and they’ll be the emphasis this week. Not necessarily the plays themselves, but what they represented. Swinney joined WJOX on Wednesday morning and detailed the situations.

“Not to take anything away from Alabama, because they earned it and made the critical plays when they had the opportunities, and we didn’t,” Swinney said. “There were four or five plays in that game that — attention to detail, focus. The first long touchdown, we’re in quarters coverage, this is day one installation, they’re in a 2x2 stack, shotgun, one back, and we don’t know where the tight end is. It’s one thing for a guy to make a competitive play. It’s another when guys are running wide open.

“Just a little more attention to detail, and that’s all of us. Coaches, players, everyone. Don’t take the fundamentals for granted. We had an opportunity to finish a catch in the end zone early in the game we didn’t make.”

Clemson led 24-21 entering the fourth quarter last year, but open plays that Clemson failed to make cost them, as did self-inflicted mistakes.

“We’ve got a lead at the end of the third quarter, 2nd down, we run a sprint out, their DB falls down, our receiver is wide open, probably going to be a 40-50-yard play, and (Watson) didn’t quite get his shoulders downfield and sailed the ball, just missed the play.

“That had nothing to do with Alabama. That was all us, the fundamentals. As we went back to work this spring, let’s be fanatical about the little things, because those are the things that matter the most. We have a lead in the fourth quarter on the plus-40, 1st down, and we fumble the exchange. We end up having the punt, because we got sacked the next pay.”

As Swinney told people back in the spring, Clemson had to make sure it didn’t beat itself. You can’t beat Alabama on talent. The opportunities are few, so you have to take advantage of them. That's what champions do. Alabama did it.

You’ve got to understand championship football comes down to three or four plays when you’re playing great football teams,” he said. “Some teams you may have more rom for error because you’re that much better, but not against this team. Alabama doesn’t beat themselves. They’re rarely out of position, and you have to take advantage of opportunities when they come.”

The Tigers and Tide kick off from Tampa at 8 p.m. ET on Monday.

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.