By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- After a loss to South Florida that topped off a disappointing 2010 season for the Tigers, Head Coach Dabo Swinney’s message to the team following the loss was short and to the point, “I’ll fix it”. Up until the Tigers’ first loss against Georgia Tech in Week 9, Swinney stayed true to his word, as the Tigers’ started the season off 8-0. Since then, although they’ve clinched the Atlantic Division Title, securing their spot in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte, the Tigers haven’t played their best football, something Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris will be the first to tell you.
“We couldn’t execute the base offense against NC State bottom line,” Morris said Monday. “I’ve sat here in front of you for the past few weeks and have talked about turnovers and we’ve talked about our inability to secure the ball and it’s definitely evident that when you turn the football over your chances are limited. We played very poorly, the base offense that I started putting in back in January, we didn’t execute it. We’ve got guys that are not operating within the system and within the framework of the base offense, I don’t think they’re purposely thinking that they can freelance something on their own, but when you can’t go out there and execute the short yardage game that we need to be able to execute to keep the chains moving, that and turnovers are just not a good mixture.”
Morris assured the media however that the Tigers have yet to hit the panic button.
“Some people may think that we’re in a panic mode but it’s the furthest thing from it,” Morris said. “We’re not in panic mode at all, we’ve got to fix it and get our confidence level back to where it was four weeks ago when we were executing the base system at a high level.”
According to Morris, not one person on the offensive side of the ball played exceptionally well against the Wolf Pack.
“It’s hard to say that we had anyone play exceptionally well,” Morris said. “David Smith played well, thought he played one of his better games. Obviously Nuk Hopkins made some unbelievable catches that kept us moving the football. But outside a couple of guys that were battling, it’s hard to say anyone played well enough to keep our heads above water.”
A lot of excuses have been made about Clemson’s youth and how that may pose as a factor for the Tigers’ struggles, however Morris doesn’t buy that.
“As far as the youth of the team, we’ve got to have guys step up and make plays at this point, that’s what you’ve got to have,” Morris said. “Someone has to give you a spark, we’ve had that spark for the first 8 games, and someone gave us that spark. We’ve got to try and get that confidence level back, that swagger back that we had as we stepped on the field during those first 8 games.”
Morris has his own explanation for the Tigers’ play as of late.
“I think the fact that they started the season, some of our players included with the intent that they were battling for their jobs and their playing careers, to prove to people that they could do this,” Morris said. “We can be a top team in the country and I think it was an Us against the World mentality. I think through the 8 games you saw their confidence level grow so big with everyone in the country telling them how good they were, patting them on the back, etc. We as coaches have to do everything we can to keep them grounded and I think through that we may have lost some of that edge. We’ve lost some of the edge because some may think that they’ve already arrived, we’ve got to get back to the grit and edge that got us here.”
According to Morris, it’s not too late in the season to say that every spot on this offense is open to competition.
“Coach Swinney and I will do whatever it takes to win,” Morris said. “Any position is open, without a doubt. We’re trying to find the best combinations throughout the course of the year, and we’ll put the best 11 out on the field Saturday.”
Instead of worrying about the opposing teams, in this week’s case the South Carolina Gamecocks, which according to Morris is the most important game of the year for the Tigers, Morris continues to tell his offensive players to solely worry about the Tigers and what they can control.
Morris reminded the media today of what he said after the Tigers’ close call against the Wofford Terriers earlier this season, and how he hoped coming into Auburn they’d find more inside themselves to get everything back going.
“After the Wofford game we took a look inside ourselves, realized that Auburn was coming in here and we needed to get going and we did,” Morris said. “I think you’re looking at the same thing right now, you’ve got to give NC State credit they’re playing for their bowl life. But you hope now that these guys have learned that this is an instate game and it’s one of our goals, every goal is still attainable. We can still do something about this but it will take a refocus and rededication and pull yourselves back up.”
“I’d love to say that we had an awful week of practice last week which led to that game, but we had a great week and at some point you’ve got to go out and play,” Morris said. “On any given Saturday, anyone could beat anyone which was proven on Saturday. With confidence, people believe that they could operate outside of the system and be successful but that’s impossible. When you start operating outside of the system, you’ve got problems. We’re going to have a great week of practice this week, come out and be one of the top teams in the country. We can’t play for them and at some point we have to learn from this and we will. They know and understand what happened last weekend; it was a very humbling bus ride home. Will this bunch be ready for South Carolina? Absolutely, I can promise you they’ll be ready and will play better.