CLEMSON — Even though final exams are finished, life has been anything but easy for Josh Watson this week.
“It’s kind of hard to get out of bed some days,” Clemson’s sophomore defensive tackle said. “I’ve been popping some pain pills.”
Dabo Swinney’s Chick-fil-A Bowl practice plan is working just the way he wants it to. Clemson’s head coach called LSU – the Tigers’ New Year’s Eve opponent – the most physical team the Tigers have played in some time.
So he’s treating practices exactly that way. Clemson finishes its on-campus portion of bowl workouts Friday, but the Tigers will earn their break by completing bruising practices first.
“Iron on iron, iron sharpening iron. It’s just battling in there,” Watson said. “Coach Swinney’s got his foot up our butts, basically, and he doesn’t plan on taking it out for about four days.”
Watson says Swinney is “doing a good job” of preparation, including running the dreaded “Paw” drills – also known as “Oklahoma” drills – where a running back runs behind an offensive lineman with a defensive lineman trying to bring him down. If the running back breaks free, the offense wins. If he goes to the ground, the defense wins.
“That’s what it’s going to be like on the 31st,” Watson said, “so we’ve got to get prepared.”
That’s all about simulating LSU’s style, Swinney said.
“We’ve tried to create what they’re going to see in this game,” he said. “When you play a triple-option team, you’re going to present what you see week to week the best you can. This team we’re playing, their style of play is the most physical that we’ve seen in quite a while. So we try to do the very best we can and work for it.”
Sophomore defensive end Corey Crawford said practices are, on a 1-10 scale, “10 and a half, as far as being physical.” It has been a constant message from Swinney.
“We need it to have the upper hand on (LSU),” Crawford said. “They’re a physical downhill team, and they’re going to come and hit you in the mouth, so we have to be ready to strike back.”
Proving a point about the ACC and Clemson’s physicality, Watson said, is important.
“I’d like to prove some people wrong,” he said. “People like to think we’re not as physical. Because they’ve got an SEC logo on their jerseys, they’re tougher than us. We’d like to get out there and show them we put our pads on the same way they do.”
By the time the Tigers leave Clemson, the framework for that plan should be in place.
“You try to get dialed in and honed in on what we’re going to do, and button up the game plans as if we were getting ready to play on Saturday,” Swinney said. “Nobody wants to spend a lot of time game-planning when you get to the bowl site. You want to be locked in on what you want to do and spend that week getting precision down and sharpening up your execution, just studying, getting the plan. Guys have responded well, practiced hard and we’ve put them in adverse situations and they’ve responded well.”
Swinney announced Wednesday that sophomore cornerback Bashaud Breeland will miss the bowl game due to a groin injury and would undergo surgery Thursday to repair the injury. Breeland has been limited by a groin injury that bothered him over the second half of the season; he missed the Wake Forest and South Carolina games with the injury.
“He had practiced some this month with the hope of getting him ready to play against LSU, but it is apparent he will not be well enough to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl,” said Swinney.
Breeland started five of the first seven games and had 30 tackles in those games. He played in just three of the last five and had just two tackles in 52 snaps. He played in 10 games and had five starts overall. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss, three passes broken up and a sack.