By Gray Gardner.
Clemson Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris is supposed to be an up-and-coming star in the college football world according to his peers. Saturday’s game versus Troy will be the grand unveiling of his spread offense – an offense that has received much publication this preseason. So how exactly does the Clemson offense stack up against the Troy defense?
Personnel Preview: Clemson Offense
The Clemson offense returns 20 lettermen and 8 starters but replaces its offensive coordinator and starting quarterback.
The Tigers will be breaking in first year starter Tajh Boyd at quarterback. Boyd had a great offseason and summer camp, but don’t be surprised when his inexperience shows early in Clemson’s season, especially since he’ll be working under a brand new offensive scheme.
First year coordinator Chad Morris brought his widely acclaimed spread offense to Clemson last spring, giving the Clemson nation hope for the future. Morris’ offense ranked 5th in the nation in total offense at Tulsa a year ago and ranked 13th and 15th in passing and rushing offense. He will have quite the athletes to work with at Clemson in 2011.
Most notable among the returners on offense are running back Andre Ellington, tight end Dwayne Allen, and receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Ellington’s return is highly anticipated after rushing for a staggering 686 yards on 118 attempts – an average of 5.8 yards per carry – before suffering a season ending toe injury at Boston College. The junior was Clemson’s leader in touchdowns for 2010 despite only playing eight games.
Tight end Dwayne Allen was a second-team All-ACC player in 2010, hauling in 33 receptions for 373 yards and a touchdown. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins started as a true freshman in 2010, catching 52 balls for 637 yards and 4 touchdowns. Allen and Hopkins had little help in the passing game a year ago and will certainly benefit from the massively improved depth at the receiver position which includes freshmen phenom Sammy Watkins.
Personnel Preview: Troy Defense
The Troy defense returns 7 players that started games in 2010.
Most impressive is defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, who recorded 13.5 sacks a year ago. Massaquoi is featured on 11 different preseason award watch lists, including the Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Award watch lists. Massaquoi is joined up front with returning starter and defensive tackle Emmanuel Dudley.
Linebackers Kanorris Davis and Xavier Lamb return in the middle of the defense. Davis is a member of the Pony Express Award watch list and Lamb is a preseason 1st team All Sun Belt team member.
The Trojans return starters Jimmie Anderson and Chris Pickett in the secondary. Anderson has been named to both the 1st and 2nd All Sun Belt preseason teams, depending on the source. JUCO athlete Bynden Trawick will also start in the secondary.
-Price VS Massaquoi
The most prominent mismatch will be up front between Troy defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi and Clemson tackle Philip Price.
Price, a former walk-on tight end turned offensive tackle, has impressed the coaching staff year after year with his physical approach to the game and athletic ability. But is Price capable of keeping Massaquoi out of the backfield?
The answer to that question could tell the tale for the Clemson offense in game one. Chances are, as good as job as Philip Price may do, Massaquoi is going to find his way into the backfield. Expect to see a lot of help in the form of double-teams from the tight ends and guards. Chip blocks from the backfield in pass protection will also be essential to keeping the pocket clear on passing downs.
Chad Morris and Robbie Caldwell will have their work cut out for them in order to keep quarterback Tajh Boyd from getting rattled in his first game as the Tigers’ starter. Jonathan Massaquoi, as noted by head coach Dabo Swinney, might be “the best defensive end this team faces this season.”
-Receivers VS Corners
For the first time in quite a while Clemson will have considerable mismatches on the outside with their receivers. This shouldn’t just be the case against Troy – DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Jaron Brown and the rest of the crew should have the advantage on a weekly basis.
Troy’s best corners are Jimmie Anderson and Chris Pickett. Anderson, while talented, stands in at meager 5’6” 160 lbs.; Pickett at 5’11” 187. All of Clemson’s starting receivers are at least 6’1” 200 lbs.
That size difference may seem insignificant on paper, but on the field it makes a world of difference. Throw the speed and athleticism of Watkins and Brown into the mix and you have a mismatch on every play.
Troy will have to play over the top with their safeties or delegate double teams on one of Clemson’s receivers. Either way, appointing two defenders in the secondary to a single receiver will open up the field for another receiver, tight end, or running back. The receivers will automatically have separation simply because of the way the defense has to respond to Clemson’s personnel.
-Chad Morris VS Jeremy Rowell
Although unproven on a Clemson sideline, offensive coordinator Chad Morris has a considerable advantage over Troy defensive coordinator Jeremy Rowell.
Rowell is in his seventh season as Troy’s headman on defense, and the last two years have not been pretty. His team ranked 73rd in the nation in rush defense, 100th in pass defense, and 89th in total defense in 2010. The figures were not any better the year before. In fact, the Troy defense has been nothing short of disappointing in each of the last five years.
Surely Rowell’s scheme has evolved over time, but still – the fact remains that all of his seasons are on film for Clemson’s study and evaluation. And while even his personnel offers some unknowns with transfer players stepping into starting roles, you better believe Chad Morris has enough video evidence to scheme an effective offensive game plan, especially considering Troy’s ineffectiveness in years past.
Rowell, on the other hand, has zero film of Clemson’s offense under Chad Morris. Sure – he has a season of Morris’ work with Tulsa in 2010. But it’s safe to say Morris has evolved his scheme since arriving in Clemson, fine-tuning it to fit the improvement in athleticism he’s inherited.
Given these facts, it’s safe to say Clemson and Chad Morris have the advantage over Troy and Jeremy Rowell.
Overall, Clemson’s offense seems to have considerable advantages over Troy’s defense.
This doesn’t mean Troy’s defense won’t have any success against Clemson in Saturday’s game. Troy definitely has the athletes to make some plays. But from an Xs and Os point of view – and from an overview of each team’s talent – Chad Morris seems to have an advantage, and will most likely exploit Troy’s defense for big production on offense.
Several freshman and other unproven players – particularly Tajh Boyd – will undoubtedly make some mistakes Saturday. Turnovers could be a factor in this game if Boyd is rattled. If Tajh can manage the game the Tigers should be in good shape.