Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris held a press conference Saturday morning to preview the Discover Orange Bowl
COACH MORRIS: Well, it’s going really well. We came in a couple of days early. You’ll have to excuse me, my voice is a little bit hoarse, taking a few days off for Christmas and trying to get these guys going again kind of strained my vocal cords a little bit. But got in a couple days early. Coach Swinney wanted to get us in and get these guys dialed in before all the Bowl functions took place, and it’s gone really well.
Q. With Sammy Watkins, did you feel like you could really throw a lot at him early when he started fall practices, or did you want to feel like you had to gradually bring him along, and how did that process change as you saw what he did on the field?
COACH MORRIS: Well, you know, one thing that we did, when Coach Swinney hired me and got here in January, that was the first plane that I was on is to Fort Myers to make sure that we were able to keep Sammy and at least let Sammy understand what we were going to be about, what kind of offense we were going to run.
You know, I remember sitting in his living room and talking to him and sharing with him, hey, look, we’re going to throw the football deep, and we’re going to get the ball in your hands. How fast you grasp this offense will be determined by you and how well you come in prepared.
Being in this offense and having done this since 2002, I knew it wasn’t going to take a whole lot to get him involved, it was just slowly grow him into it. As we started off fall camp, I just remember the players telling me, Tajh and those guys telling me, Coach, coming out of summer workouts, Sammy is going to be pretty special. But it took about five minutes in the first day of practice to realize I needed to figure out how to keep it simple and get him the football.
And I think we’ve done a great job of that and growing him into this offense. It took a little bit, but we still are a work in progress. We’ve got about 65 percent of our offense in, and that’s about all we’re going to do this year because we’re just not there yet. We don’t have all the puzzle pieces in place.
Q. I’m wondering if you could speak about Tajh Boyd and what makes him special and how hard he is to defend and how has he grown into his role.
COACH MORRIS: Well, Tajh, he’s a pleaser. Tajh is very conscientious about if he thinks I’m upset with him, if he thinks that he had a bad day, if there’s a concern that, hey, Coach Morris, something isn’t right with Coach Morris. He’s real conscientious about that. So he’s always trying to do something to please, which is great. You know, and that’s what you want out of your quarterback.
Coming out of spring ball, I knew Tajh had the potential. Tajh was trying to memorize the offense, and so he and I had a long talk. When I say a long talk, it didn’t take too long to tell him what I had to tell him, but it was to the point, and if he valued his playing career, he’d better take his summer workouts pretty serious because if not there would be a young man going to be pushing him pretty hard and heavy. So Tajh dedicated his summer ?? I mean, he was there constantly. I think he took one day off this summer to go to the lake with his friends. And he basically focused in on learning the offense instead of memorizing it, learning the protections, learning his reads, and I think, again, kind of like back with Sammy, after the first couple of days, there was definitely a different Tajh Boyd than what there was in spring ball.
Granted, he had to adjust to a new offensive coordinator, so what Tajh did at that point is he came in during fall camp grasping this offense, taking on the leadership roles. And to see him grow and mature in this offense has been amazing. I wasn’t expecting it to happen as quick as it did. I kind of thought we’d have some road bumps or road blocks along the way. Well, we did, but it was late in the season. I was expecting some of the blunders that we might have had late in the season to happen early. But Tajh was a lot of it had to do with we were simple with our offense. We were trying to keep it simple for him.
He did a great job growing into this offense, growing into his leadership role. Some of Tajh’s best friends are defensive players, and that’s kind of uncommon with a quarterback. I mean, that tells you about his leadership. I’ve been really pleased with Tajh. Tajh has done a great job, is still being pushed, still got to coach him hard. He’s got so much potential, and we’ve got still a long way to go to get to where we want to be.
Our goal for him and for us is to win a National Championship and for him to be the best is the country. And we know what we’ve got to do, and we know what we’ve got to improve on during the off season for Tajh. But I’ve been really pleased with him and his maturity through this whole process, even during the down times.
Q. West Virginia has given up a lot of points this season, seems like their defense has played better lately. What’s your take on how they’ve evolved defensively and the challenges and the opportunities facing them might present?
COACH MORRIS: Well, they’re a very good football team, number one. As you look at their defense and you look at their odd stack or their three?three?five defense, and Coach has been there for quite some time, they run extremely well. I think their linebackers are probably as aggressive a group as we’ve seen. They do they like to put they’re one of the top teams in the country in pass defense.
They like to drop quite a few back. They’re going to bring their fourth defender somewhere in a rush. They’re going to try to put some pressure on you, and then they’re going to drop eight and rush three and going to try to force your quarterback to make decisions at that point.
You know, they have played a lot better defensively as of late. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys, coming out of the Big East. And my former head coach, Coach Graham, was at West Virginia with all those guys, and that’s what we would go against, and Tulsa was the odd stack. This may be something we don’t see on a regular basis in the ACC, something that we ran at Tulsa. So to attack it is a little bit different. We see it on occasion on some long yardage downs, but I think they’re definitely a well coached football team, and they’re going to be ready.
This is a great stage for both teams, and I know they’re excited to be here, as we are. We’ve got to do a good job of protecting the football.
Q. I wonder if or how well you knew Dana Holgorson when you were in Texas.
COACH MORRIS: I had met Dana at a couple clinics down in College Station at the Lone Star Clinic. I met him there and listened to him speak. Obviously his time at the University of Houston they’d recruit in our areas. And then when he moved on to Oklahoma State, we played against him when I was at Tulsa. So as far as just meeting him knowing him, and I’ve met him a couple times, I know he’s a very sharp?minded football coach on the cutting edge, and that’s always great to see, how he grows his offense. They definitely have those guys going. As a high school coach in state of Texas, that is one of the guys that you always looked at, and again, always on the cutting edge of things.
Q. Secondly, the tempo you use on offense, West Virginia tries, they’ve had to scale it back this year, and you from start to finish have done that and play with it frequently. How has that worked and what do you have to be good at to continue to play that way?
COACH MORRIS: Well, it’s worked well. When we achieve our goal of running 80 plays a game, which is what we try to do, that is our goal. When we set pace for that, we seem to be operating on all cylinders when we’ve got high tempo going. You know, so it’s gone well. We’ve still got a lot of things we’ve got to improve on over the course of the offseason, things we’ve been working on during this Bowl game or Bowl month stretch trying to improve our tempo even more. So I feel like that’s what we are; we are a two?back run?oriented football team ? that’s what we are ? that wants to do it at a high tempo. And that’s what we do when we’re functioning and operating at our best, a lot has to do with our tempo.
Q. Can you talk about that run?pass mix a little bit, just elaborate on what you ended up with there because you had some issues at the running back position and Bellamy is not here and there were some injuries and stuff. With the kind of defense you’re going to be seeing, are you in good shape physically to attack that?
COACH MORRIS: Well, I hope we are. I know we’ve been running quite a bit. Coach has done a great job with our conditioning over the last several weeks and trying to get these guys, and of course our tempo in practice has been really well. We’ve got to be able to run the football. That’s kind of every week. You’ve seen us all year long. Again, when we’re putting points on the board, it’s because we do a great job of mixing up our run pass. We do a great job of our tempo. And this is no different. It’s the games that we have to be lopsided one way or the other is when we’re not at our best. So there’s no question we’ve got to be able to run the football, we’ve got to be able to throw the ball effectively, and Tajh has got to make good decisions. But with our running back right now, with Mike not being here, and we’ve got Andre and DJ and Hot Rod behind them, that’s what we’ve got. That’s what we had going into the championship game. Again, those guys have got to do a good job protecting the football, and we’ve got to be physical up front.
Q. Is Ellington physically okay, better than he has been, about the same?
COACH MORRIS: Well, I think he’s better, better than obviously before the championship game. I didn’t know if he was quite 100 percent, but obviously he played that championship game like he was. With a little bit of time off, I think you’re going to see Andre back to where he would be at the first of fall camp.
Q. A couple years ago when you were back in Texas and thinking about getting into the college game, could you have dreamed that in just a couple years you’d be coaching in a BCS game?
COACH MORRIS: No. No. As a coach, you try to put goals for yourself, as you do for your team. Everybody likes to set goals for themselves. My goal was by the time I turned 40 I wanted to have an opportunity at least ?? have an opportunity just to coach college football. At 41 I had that opportunity. Actually had it beforehand, but it just wasn’t the right situation at the right place. Taking an opportunity to go to Tulsa last year, no one envisioned that you’d be sitting in quite the stage that we’re in right now this quick after coming to Clemson just a year ago. It is, it’s been great. I don’t have time to kind of sit back and look and analyze things. We’ll do that probably here in a few weeks, get a little bit of time off, we can sit back and think, wow, we had a good season or we had a great season. But as a coach your mind always works, what do we have to improve on and what do we have to do to get better and what kind of recruits do we need to go get to get better and fix some of the problems that we have. There will be time, and it is great. I’ve been very blessed, but we’ve got work to do. But it is a ?? we’re going to enjoy it, but we’re going to go to work and get things done that need to get done.
Q. Number one, how is Sammy’s shoulder, and then number two, the players all seem to be saying that there’s a different feel about this team after the ACC Championship game; more confidence, the practices are more intense. What do you think winning that game in the style that you did did for this team, and what did they learn about themselves?
COACH MORRIS: Well, I think we were at a stage coming into that game that confidence was an issue. I think that we had played with great confidence for nine weeks, approached fall camp with an unbelievable confidence. And then all of a sudden we hit a tailspin, we get some injuries and our quarterback wasn’t playing as good as he had been playing the first nine weeks of the season. And confidence became an issue. And I think coming out of the championship game, if it did anything to us, it improved our confidence. I know in the first half of the championship game, it was by design that I had to be more conservative than I would ever envision being in a game for the simple reason, I had to get Tajh his confidence right. So we come in 10?10 at half and we make a play or two to start the second half, and you just saw everybody’s confidence level just start soaring. So I think that’s one of the things that we got out of it. We got our confidence back, kind of got ?? guys kind of got their swagger back a little bit with them. As quickly as we lost our confidence, we got it back that quick. But I think one of the things that we’ve done, and I think Coach has done a great job during this Bowl preparation, is we’ve been extremely physical, you know, very aggressive against each other, lots of good on good, O versus D, tackling, taking them to the ground, the whole bit, especially early on in Bowl practice, and just setting the tempo. Even the first two days down here, first three days down here, it’s a no?bull kind of approach. I mean, we’re going after it. I think you saw some guys. Sammy’s shoulder is good. I know he took a pretty good hit in practice the other day on a pass and hopped right up and away he went. If his shoulder was bothering him, he would have definitely been limited from that point. But I think you’ve got him back healthy, and that’s always good to have.
Q. Will you be even more aggressive, kind of working off that answer, heading into this Bowl, with your play calling, knowing, too, that West Virginia is hurting a little bit at one of the safety spots? Will that change your thinking at all?
COACH MORRIS: Will it change our thinking? We’re going to do what we do. We’ve got to be able to be who we are, what got us to this point in the season. You know, we try to do a good job of mixing up the run and the pass. So are we going to change our thought process? No. And if we were, I couldn’t tell you. So it’s one of those type of deals. We feel like we’ve got to make sure that we do the things that got us here, protecting the football, being physical, playing physical and being aggressive. That’s who we are, that’s who I’ve been since 2002, and it’s not going to change. You know, it’s unfortunate. I heard the injury report, and that’s unbelievable. I hate that for that young man. What a great football player. But again, we’ve got to do what’s got us here to this point.