By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON,SC- For the first time since 2007, the Clemson Tigers are 4-0 and heading into one of the most hostile environments in the ACC, Blacksburg, VA to take on the reigning ACC Champions, the Virginia Tech Hokies. Dabo Swinney’s Tigers have succeeded in beating two nationally ranked teams in consecutive weeks and with Virginia Tech and the Tigers ranked in the top 15 teams in the nation, first year offensive coordinator Chad Morris believes his offense is up to the test after two solid wins against both Auburn and Florida State.
“We had the ball out there for 94 snaps Saturday,” Morris said. “I was disappointed early in the game I felt like our tempo wasn’t where I wanted it to be. Tajh was getting caught up early in the game, reverting back, not looking at me as quickly as I’d want him to. Our tempo was definitely affecting their guys up front though; our offensive line was noticing that.”
Morris has always talked about getting a feel for his players and the series before Watkins’ 65 yard touchdown catch and run, Watkins called Morris over to him and actually recommended that they run the play based off what he saw out of Florida State’s defense.
“You always want to get a feel for your players,” Morris said. “Sammy called me over the series prior to his big touchdown run and said Listen on the next third and medium or third and short, they’re expecting a slant, and I can get them with a double move. I had already circled that play as the one I wanted to run next, so that just credits his maturing process and being able to recognize things like that and have confidence in himself and what he’s seeing.”
One of the past criticisms around Clemson is that when the Tigers get a big lead, they play to lose instead of playing to win the game, however big plays from Watkins, Nuk Hopkins, and several others have proved critics wrong so far this season.
“I told Coach Swinney when I got here that he would never have to tell me GO, instead he’ll have to tell me WHOA,” Morris said. “He’ll never have to say go go go, Chad speed up, instead he may have to tell me to slow down. Those are conversations he and I have on the sidelines late in games, he and I both know that I’m not going to play conservative unless Swinney wants him to. That’s our offense, that’s what we do, sometimes it’s going to work, and sometimes it’s not. You just have to live with that.”
According to Morris, Clemson’s starting running back Andre Ellington who tweaked his hamstring against Auburn and was not 100% Andre during the Florida State game last Saturday is feeling much better today than he did all last week.
“He felt better yesterday than he did any point and time last week,” Morris said. “I think playing in a game and stretching it out, you could definitely tell on Saturday that he wasn’t 100% Andre that I’ve seen. We’ll manage his reps this week, he’ll work out all week but he should be 100% by Saturday without a doubt.”
Morris calls Ellington’s back up, freshman running back Mike Bellamy a work in progress, that continues to show potential and work hard in practice but isn’t absorbing the play book as quickly as other freshmen.
“We try to give him his package and keep growing him, he’s a work in progress,” Morris said. “We had him out there in one of our plays, a play he ran in practice 1,000 times, but instead of railing the sideline he undercuts us, a route he never runs. You have to understand as a young guy that it’s a process. We’re just growing his package, and he’ll continue to get better as the season goes on. He provides a spark for us, but he’s relying on the quarterback to tell him what he’s doing every play, which is okay but that eventually gets old and Tajh has a lot of other things to worry about.”
Morris expects for running back DJ Howard to make an impact in Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech after missing the game versus Florida State with a tweaked hamstring.
“We expect him to go this week,” Morris said. “He’s going to work out today and they’re going to really push him today and see how he does with cutting. But I expect him to be back and ready to roll which will be good.”
Morris doesn’t believe that playing Virginia Tech on their home field will take away from any of the aggressiveness that they’ve shown in the past few games.
“I don’t think it will be affected,” Morris said. “You’ve got to do what you do, I know they’re going to do what they do, and they’ve been doing it. We just have to continue to focus on getting better and playing more physical, that’s one of the things that I keep hearing is that the last time Clemson went up there we got hit in the mouth, that’s something Coach Swinney is going to talk to our players about. We know that they’re going to play physical and we take good pride in that as well.”
Morris talked on Saturday after the game about how proud he was of the team for buying into his new offense and coming into this season with an open mind. He believes that it all started when the team learned his personality and started to trust in him.
“I just think them getting to understand my personality and experiencing some success against opponents and our defense helped,” Morris said. “They had to have some success through spring ball and see how this thing grows. It didn’t take too long for them to buy in; I wanted them to give me an opportunity to prove it to them that this works. But if you look at them and their offense last year, they were hungry for anything and wanted to get their identity back.”
Morris calls Virginia Tech just another football game, and knows that one of these days when he’s sitting on the beach relaxing on the beach somewhere he’ll be able to look back on all of the success he’s had in the past two years, but now he realizes that there’s no time to rest.
“Virginia Tech is too talented, too well coached, you can’t get caught up in everything,” Morris said. “We’ve got to continue to get better, pushing our players, pushing our coaches. And as long as we continue on the path that we’re on, everything is going to work itself out.”
Morris this week, instead of worrying about Virginia Techs’ stout defense and the play makers they have, is solely worried about the Clemson Tigers and getting his offense prepared for what he calls a heavy weight match.
“It’s going to be a great heavy weight fight,” Morris said. “It’s going to be who can withstand each other’s punch throughout the course of the game.”
Although he saw some good things out of left guard Brandon Thomas in both the Auburn and Florida State games, Morris calls that particular position an open one, now that David Smith is healthy and ready to play.
One of the questions going into this week, is how the young players like Watkins, Charone Peake, and Bryant will handle the pressure off playing a road game and being on the receiving end of the hostile crowd noise.
“I’m not concerned,” Morris said. “It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere, just like it is here. We’re going to continue to practice with crowd noise this week. Again if you want to have a championship caliber ball club, you’ve got to win games and win on the road. This is our first test. We’ve proven that we can play at a certain level at home, now we’ve got to take that to the road.”
Morris doesn’t believe that the crowd noise will affect his offense any on Saturday, based on how they do their motion and their counts. But that’s something we’ll have to witness on Saturday in one of the most hostile ACC environments.
Morris admits that he’s blessed with a lot of “toys to play with” in this particular offense. Because of the abilities of these great playmakers, Morris’s mind continues to work and come up with plays even when he’s sleeping.
“I keep a notepad on the bed stand just in case something comes to me in the middle of the night,” Morris said. “I come up with new plays all the time; I’ve used napkins at restaurants, have put the napkin in my pocket and pray that I don’t wash it.”
How did Morris coach Tajh Boyd after the critical mistake he made on Saturday against the Seminoles, which led to an unearned touchdown coming out of halftime?
“He was doing what he was coached to do,” Morris said. “He was trying to throw the ball away and get the ball out, not taking a sack. There wasn’t anyone hollering at him, I patted him on the helmet and told him that there was a lot of football left to play and that he needed to respond and regroup. Last spring, earlier this year that would have probably affected Tajh for two or three series, whereas on Saturday it only affected him for two or three plays.”