By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- The week of the ACC Championship game has come and the Clemson Tigers have hit a bump in the road as they’ve lost 3 out of the last 4 games during the regular season, ending their regular season at 9-3. After losing to their arch nemesis South Carolina last weekend, Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris is doing his best to help the players put the South Carolina loss in the past and focus on the big picture, the ACC Championship game.
“Saturday was an emotional game, but we’ve got to put it behind us, it’s difficult to do but it’s got to be done,” Morris said. “We’ve got another game left, and not many teams out there can say that they’re playing for the Conference Championship this week. We have to pull it together, we’ve got four practices left before Bowl season and we’ve got to try and get it back, we’re going to get it back.”
One positive that Morris can take out of Saturday’s loss was Clemson’s success in running the football and Andre Ellington’s play.
“That was a positive,” Morris said. “Andre looks like the Andre of old, I thought he was ready and I thought he was in his zone without a doubt. We’ve got to build on that and the fact that we didn’t fumble the football. We’ve got to get our confidence back in that regard but the bottom line is that we’ve got to make plays. The plays that we made earlier this year aren’t being made now.”
One of the biggest problems Morris saw in Saturday’s contest were the dropped passes, something that Clemson’s receiving corps hasn’t been known for doing until recently.
“I think Sammy was three or four yards behind everyone when he dropped that ball,” Morris said. “And how many times has he made that catch this year? Dropped balls were a problem, you count the number of dropped passes we had Saturday and the number of ones we’ve had all season long, and we haven’t had many.”
It was evident on Saturday that taking starting left tackle Philip Price out of the game early with his knee injury hurt the Tigers’ offensively, as Tajh Boyd was hit several times on his blind side and remained jumpy and scared even when there was no pressure.
“Well I think what you’re seeing is Tajh being hurried, being hit,” Morris said. “And then you’re seeing hurrying throws when there is good protection. He was hit quite a bit the other night, and some of that was on him. Even when there is good protection he was very jumpy and trying to get out of the pocket. He’s feeling pressure when there is no pressure and feeling it when there is. We have to do a better job of protecting the quarterback, we may have to do something differently, simplify it even more than we have, he can’t continue to get hit like he’s being hit and us expect him to have the confidence to stand in the pocket when he has guys open down field.”
One thing that Morris hasn’t seen out of Boyd recently due to the amount of pressure he’s been getting is that he’s not seeing the whole field like he did earlier this season.
“He’s got to do a better job of seeing the whole field,” Morris said. “There was a play on Saturday where he tucked it and ran with it when Sammy was open down field, it’s like he’s having a hard time seeing the forest because of the trees. But we’ll build his confidence back up I can promise you that.”
What Morris sees is that the team is making mistakes that they didn’t make earlier in the season and not making the plays that the need to in order to win.
“Right now we have to go 12-14 plays in a drive to score a touchdown,” Morris said. “Earlier in the year, we were able to do those a couple of times in a game, but then you’ve got to be able to hit on a 4 or 5 play drive touchdown. When you’ve got to go 14 or 15 plays to go score, you’re forced to play perfectly and you can’t have too many mistakes. We’ve done that this year, but we’re having trouble now getting the 3 or 4 play drive touchdowns that we were able to have earlier this season. “
Many believe that Tajh has lost confidence in his offensive line due to the immense amount of pressure he’s been receiving. However Morris doesn’t believe that’s the case.
“Tajh hasn’t lost confidence in his line but he’s feeling a lot of pressure.” Morris said. “When you look back on it, just as quickly as we’ve lost our confidence in the past four weeks we’ve been able to get it back. If Sammy catches the ball down the middle of the field, we could have gotten our confidence back right then, we’ll never know. We’ve got to have that spark, that’s all we need. Someone to hit a big play for us, just when we think we get one though we kick ourselves in the foot or drop a ball. Something positive earlier in the game is what we need to get back on track.”
Morris believes that with Boyd, no one expected him to come out and play the way he did at the beginning of the season, leading the Tigers to an 8-0 start. However, he has seen some of the young quarterback mistakes in the past few games out of him that he never saw during the first 8 games, and has to continue to remind himself that Boyd along with the rest of the team are a work in progress.
“Well you’ve got to try and coach and improve upon everything,” Morris said. “We’ve got drills that we do over and over to try and avoid the rush, pressure in the pocket, keep your eyes down the field. Those are things you’ve got to grow into as a quarterback. But at some point you’ve just got to be able to do it and realize that you’re going to get pressured and hit. You’ve got to keep your eyes down field though and know when to get the ball out; those are some things we’ve got to continue to work with Tajh on.”
As for making a change at quarterback and opting for starting freshman quarterback Cole Stoudt in the ACC Championship game, Morris isn’t going that far.
“We’ve got to exhaust all possibilities in that regard,” Morris said. “We ran the wild cat with Andre and he did some good things. As far as do I think it’s time to pull the trigger on Tajh? No I don’t, he’s gotten us to this point, I believe in him. We’ve got to get a spark out of him, he knows that. We’ve got to get something from him that will bring us to life, like we had earlier in the year with him. He can do it, we’ve seen him do it, and he’s going to do it. It just comes down to getting something done early.”
As for starting left tackle Philip Price, who went out after the first play of the game Saturday against South Carolina due to the coaches feeling that he wasn’t playing up to his potential because of his knee injury he suffered against Wake Forest, Morris hopes he’ll be ready to go for the ACCCG.
“We didn’t do a good job on the left side of the line against South Carolina,” Morris said. “We did some good things; we were able to run the football. From the first play of the game though we realized Philip was having a hard time because the guy he was going against was a speed-power guy. He can get you with speed and then attack you with power and Price couldn’t hold up. As far as his status for this week, we hope he’ll be ready. He’s going to work out like he did last week and we’ll put him into some power and speed situations and see how he responds and reacts. I anticipate it to be like last week, he’s going to come out and play, every week and every day he’s going to get better.”
The team right now according to Morris has a bunker mentality, as they’re ready to dig in and prepare for what lies ahead of them.
“These guys know what they’re capable of doing, and so do us coaches,” Morris said. “We believe in these guys and they believe in each other. We just have to have something positive happen early to get us going, even in games we weren’t playing well offensively we had a confidence about ourselves and were able to get it done.”