By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- When Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris made the move from Tulsa to Tiger Town in January after accepting the Offensive Coordinator position with the Tigers, he realized that he was coming into a program that needed changing on the offensive side of the ball. What he didn’t know though was that he was about to hit the jackpot, between Clemson’s offensive weapons returning in Andre Ellington, Nuk Hopkins, Dwayne Allen and Jaron Brown, and the several 5 star receivers the Tigers picked up in their 2011 class.
During the offseason, not many of us would have predicted with their Schedule of Champions that our Tigers would be 5-0 coming into their third ACC matchup, Chad Morris though was confident that bringing his offensive scheme to Clemson would make Dabo Swinney’s team a winner. Coming off a 23-3 victory versus the reigning ACC Champion, Virginia Tech however, Morris continues to believe that his offense hasn’t played their best game yet.
“We’re still not where we need to be yet offensively,” Morris said. “Tajh wasn’t where he had been the past few weeks, he missed some throws, wasn’t quite as sharp as what I hoped he would be, but he did make some great throws and decisions when I take those few mistakes out. We dropped a few ball early, our tempo wasn’t where I wanted it to be by no means, there’s a whole lot. After four weeks of playing at home and now testing them on the road, there’s a long way to go still. Everyone in the country is telling these boys how great they are now, but 5-7 isn’t a good year, and that’s what I have to remind these guys of.”
Morris promises that he will continue to coach his offensive players hard, and that he won’t let up on them just because they’ve won a few games.
“They’re going to respond, they have to this point so why not now?” Morris said. “I have no problem being a rear end, there are a lot of things that can get better, and if we want to be a championship ball club we’ve got to improve in some areas. We’ve got to win on the road and take it one game at a time. A lot of these players haven’t been in this situation, some have won State Championships, but it’s been a few years, so it’s my job to keep them humble.”
One thing that Morris will get corrected this week is continuing to train his quarterback to keep his eyes on him after each play.
“We were snapping around the 15-18 mark on Saturday, and a lot of that had to do with the crowd noise and Tajh communicating to the offensive line what we were doing,” Morris said. “But really though, after the play we’ve conditioned Tajh to get his eyes on me immediately after a play, but for whatever reason he wasn’t, he was looking at the ball carrier and waiting for him to get up. But that’s my fault, it’s the little things like that that I’ve neglected in practice, I’ve backed off on the team tempo period trying to save them on their legs, but what that teaches me is that I can’t back off of them.”
One thing that Clemson fans saw in Saturday’s game that they haven’t seen much of so far this season, was freshmen running back Mike Bellamy getting playing time during the 4th quarter crunch time, what was Morris’s reasoning for having Bellamy in the ball game instead of starting running back Andre Ellington?
“It was a trust thing; you have to trust the guys that you’re putting on the field.” Morris said. “Mike last week had the best week of practice he had, that was promising and intriguing how he stepped to the forefront. He’s still not where we want him, but he’s improving. Coach Elliot came to me and said that it was the right thing to do, putting a fresh pair of legs in there. I he’s earned our trust and we need to continue to bring him a long even more this week. He understands that when he’s in there, you can’t just run the ball to him every time, he’s picking up his pass protections much better. Is he Andre Ellington yet, no but he’s growing and developing into such a weapon for us.”
As for Andre Ellington, who hasn’t been the same explosive Andre that Clemson fans saw last season, when he led the ACC in yards per carry before he was injured, although Morris admits that Ellington is not 100% yet after injuring his hamstring earlier this season, he has confidence that he will get back on track by the end of the season.
“I thought Andre would be 100%, but you go out there on that slick field, you’re seeing flashes of Andre, but you haven’t seen him turn it loose yet. I’ve been meeting with him and again Andre is a big part of our success and once we get him healthy you’ll see a different Andre. We keep waiting on him to break out and he’s waiting on it too. He’s at that point now where he’s trying so hard and I just have to tell him to relax and go play, it will happen when it’s supposed to happen.”
One thing Morris preached to his offense before traveling to Blacksburg by writing it in every meeting room was that we will be the most physical offense. He continued to remind them about Clemson’s last visit to Blacksburg, and how they would have to win the game in the trenches against a team like Virginia Tech.
And his offensive line did just that.
“The offensive line played had their best performance, this was the best whole game they’ve played so far,” Morris said. “We still had some busts up front, but not nearly what we’ve had. They’re showing improvement, it was evident late in the game. After challenging them a few weeks ago, they’ve responded and have improved. Dalton Freeman had an exceptional game, with having to handle a silent count, a wet ball, and to be able to id the front, this was one of his best games.”
Boston College, the Tiger’s next ACC opponent, is well coached, big, and physical up front. Clemson has not scored an offensive touchdown on BC in two years, a stat that Morris hopes to change on Saturday.
“When I was told that I thought it was a pretty alarming statistic,” Morris said. “We’ve got to figure out how to score a touchdown against them Saturday. They’re going to be physical and we have to match it.”
So far this season, the idea of achieving something that many thought they couldn’t has motivated the Tigers to their 5-0 record. However, now as they set into a stretch of their schedule where they play teams that they are expected to beat; will there be a lack of motivation going into games? Not if Morris can help it.
“Everybody around from our university and community to ESPN, these guys are getting publicity and recognition, but I don’t care about that stuff because we haven’t done anything yet,” Morris said. “We’re going to stress to these guys that although we’ve made some strides, that’s all we’ve done. It’s not the first 5 games that you’ll be remembered by, that goes back to us as coaches, don’t get me wrong we praise these guys when they need it but right now they don’t need that. I’ll put a 10 and ½ up their tail if need be. That’s something I have no tolerance for, is to come out and feel like you’ve earned the right to say you’ve arrived. They’ve done well to this point, but that’s all they’ve done.”
Dwayne Allen is one guy that’s emerged this season because of Morris’s offense, going from one touchdown last season to already having four this year.
“If you go back to when I first got hired, when they introduced me to the team Dwayne asked me if I use a tight end in my offense. My response to him was that if he trusts me and believes in me, this offense will make you one of the most versatile players in the country and you’re seeing that in him now. He’s running routes that he hasn’t run in the past. I refer to Charles Clay, who I coached in Tulsa who is now starting for the Miami Dolphins. He’s not just a tight end, he creates mismatched problems and I didn’t realize that he was a hurdler too. He was more proud of that hurdle than he was of any catch he’s ever made.”
Allen’s leadership skills however are what impress Morris the most.
“The thing that brings you back to Dwayne more than anything, yes he’s a great football player but his leadership in that locker room,” Morris said. “Both offensively and defensively when he talks people listen, even me.”
There have been a lot of comparisons this season of Clemson to last year’s Auburn Tigers who made their undefeated stretch last all season long, eventually winning the national championship.
“I haven’t heard it,” Morris said. “I can only imagine what’s being said out there but when you look at it, I hope we are this year’s Auburn team in January. There are a lot of 5-0 teams out there, and that’s all we are 5-0, getting ready for our third ACC opponent.”
Although this is has been a great experience for Morris so far, going from coaching high school football to coaching an undefeated Clemson team, he has no time to stop and think about it.
“I came here to win football games,” Morris said. “It’s remarkable what we’ve done but it’s my job to win football games. We can all sit down and watch a highlight film together later on after the season eating cookies and drinking milk and say that was a great year, but right now we’ve got to worry about winning games, and Boston College is going to be a challenge this weekend.”