Sprott’s Thoughts: Road to Atlanta edition
Welcome to the Road to Atlanta blog, and good morning from New Orleans!
First of all, for those of you who’ve been checking the website for updated content, my apologies. I’ve heard the flu bug is going around the Big Easy, and I’m thinking I may caught a touch of it, so Saturday was a little bit of a struggle for me.
I’ve still got a nice cough going, but I’m hoping the Walgreens-brand Mucinex I picked up after Clemson practice on Saturday — and the plentiful sleep I got — will have me good to go by kickoff Monday night in the Superdome.
As far as our online coverage this weekend goes, this is fun for me. Following the same kind of format I used two years ago when I covered the Tigers during their first trip to the College Football Playoff, I’m going to go with a blog approach, which keeps this kind of fun and loose. I’m not really bound by the same sort of style I use for our print edition, so here you’ll get some first-person narrative from me.
So, with that little introduction out of the way, here’s a little look back at Saturday.
Rex Brown, our photographer at The Journal, and I pulled ourselves out of bed early Saturday to make our way to the Superdome for the first time to cover media day. I’ve only been in a few dome stadiums before, and walking out onto that field, it was pretty impressive to look around and take it all in.
Again, with our print obligations met, I didn’t spend a lot of time with many of the Tigers’ best-known players. They had been made available to us several times in the lead-up to the game already, and all of my work previewing the game — which can be found at upstatetoday.com and in print back in Oconee County and the Clemson area — was already in the can.
So, I decided to talk to some of our local players who I covered while they were in high school. I didn’t get to talk to all of our area guys — all of whom went to Daniel High School — but I did chat with offensive lineman Cade Stewart, tight end D.J. Greenlee and wide receiver/holder Will Swinney.
In recent weeks, I’ve also talked to place-kicker Christian Groomes and linebacker J.D. Davis. With all that said, I need to make a mental note to talk to Kyle Cote, Peter Cote, Judah Davis and Carter Groomes next week in Atlanta should the Tigers be fortunate enough to top Alabama on Monday night.
Given that I’ve talked to most of these guys since their early days at Daniel and have good relationships with them, we kept things pretty loose, so I asked Stewart a little bit about what it’s been like experiencing New Orleans for the first time.
“You see it on TV and in movies, but people are just wild here,” the redshirt freshman told me. “When you actually get out here and see it, it’s unbelievable. I’ve seen the craziest things since we’ve been here.
“It’s incredible the things I’ve seen just being on this team. Obviously, being from Six Mile, I haven’t really ventured to many places, but being a part of this team, I can say I’ve been to Arizona and New Orleans and a lot places other people haven’t been to. It’s cool to come back and tell people about what you’ve done and seen.”
Stewart, along with both Greenlee and Swinney, mentioned a trip to Café du Mon for beignets. The pastry talk has provided an easy point of conversation between members of the media and players from both squads all week.
For the record, I had some Friday night, and they were heavenly.
Greenlee, who’s been to New Orleans before, wasn’t as impressed.
“All it was was like funnel cake,” he said.
After running into that wall, I asked him how the team is feeling and if the Tigers draw any motivation from being a three-point underdog to the Crimson Tide, despite being the top overall seed in the College Football Playoff.
“Everybody’s loose and healthy, and if you don’t feel good about this game, I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” Greenlee said. “We’ll always be the underdog. We’ve just got to play football. People can predict anything, but you’ve just got to play the game.”
Lastly, I caught up with Swinney, who like most of the formers Lions donning the orange and white is a pleasure to talk to.
I asked him a little bit about what his season has been like, as he’s walked in as a freshman and is serving as the Tigers’ holder, while he’s also gotten some time at receiver early in his career.
“It’s been super special,” he said. “It would have been tough to imagine this time last year, but I’ve worked hard my whole life, and to get the opportunity to have a role is huge. I take great pride in my role, and I’m doing the best I can. Then, getting some experience at receiver is valuable, too.”
And while he’s enjoyed the trip, Swinney said the team is locked in and ready to focus on the task at hand.
“When I walked in the other day, you walk in and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is the Superdome,’” he said. “But, I’m going to focus on the same things that got us here and what will win the game. It was cool at first, but we have to focus now.
“We’re having fun, but at the same time, we’re focused on what we’re going to do here. We’re dialing it in, and I’m focusing on preparing myself the best I can.”
FINAL NEWS CONFERENCE THOUGHTS
We’ve had a lot of opportunities to talk to coaches and players from both Clemson and Alabama this week, including media day on Saturday, when Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban each held court for 45 minutes.
After that, the final availability Sunday morning almost felt a little silly, as there isn’t exactly a wealth of remaining unanswered questions heading into the Sugar Bowl.
“Well, I have no idea what we’re going to talk about today, but I’m here,” Swinney said at the outset of his comments.
“I sense a little lack of intensity,” Saban said with a smile after a lengthy delay between questions Sunday morning. “I have a team meeting with the players at 2:15, and I hope they’re not of the mindset that I see here today.”
And, honestly, I think us media geeks and the teams themselves have had our fill of the pregame buildup to Monday. We’re all just ready for some football, as I’m sure all of you are.
Not surprisingly, there were no major revelations to be had during the coaches’ news conferences Sunday morning, but for a good run down of the proceedings, be sure to check out Alex Maminakis’ story here.
Well, folks, it’s finally game day. It feels like I’ve been down here in the Big Easy for about a month — five days is pretty close, right? — and it feels kind of surreal that the big day is finally here.
As promised, I’m here to deliver my prediction, so here are just a few brief thoughts before I hop on the shuttle and head over to the Superdome.
Alabama and Clemson have the nation’s top scoring defenses, so, fittingly, I think we’re in for a defensive battle tonight. Sometimes these things never turn out the way you think they’re going to, but I really think points are going to be hard to come by tonight for both sides.
We’ll know in just a bit if I’m going to eat my words there.
But, with Alabama still facing some health issues on defense, I tend to give Clemson an edge on that side of the ball. The Tigers are fully healthy for the first time in weeks, and it’s just hard to bet against that front four of Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins.
And on the offensive side, Jalen Hurts has big-game experience unlike Kelly Bryant. Both teams have multiple, solid running backs, but Calvin Ridley — through 12 games for the Tide — is the only receiver of note for Alabama. The Tigers have a lot more weapons out wide, including Hunter Renfrow, who has given Alabama fits each of the last seasons.
It should be a defensive game tonight, which warms my old-school heart. But, I think Clemson is the more complete team, and they can win this one by double digits.
Give me Clemson by a final score of 24-14.
Enjoy the game, everyone! And after the game, be sure to check out upstatetoday.com and the print edition of The Journal for full coverage from New Orleans!
Eric Sprott is an award-winning reporter and columnist who recently reassumed the role of Sports Editor at The Journal. After serving in the sports department from 2007-15 — including his time as Sports Editor from 2012-15 — he was in the news department the last two years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @JournalESprott.