By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — The thing Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris remembers the most about last year’s loss to South Carolina was how ugly it was.
“There was not a whole lot that was pretty about it. I can tell you that,” he said Monday from Clemson’s WestZone. “I try not to remember a whole lot of it.”
There is a good reason why. To start off, Sammy Watkins, who rarely drops anything thrown his way, dropped what would have been a sure touchdown on the Tigers’ second offensive play of the night. It went downhill from there.
The Gamecocks sacked quarterback Tajh Boyd five times and held Clemson’s potent offense to 153 total yards – it’s still the lowest output by the Tigers in the 25 games Morris has been the offensive coordinator.
“We had an opportunity early in the game where we had a dropped touchdown, which would have given us a lot more momentum,” Morris said. “We knew going in last year, they were extremely physical up front and had veterans in the secondary, especially at corner.”
Not much has changed this year. South Carolina (9-2) again is very physical up front and is considered to have one of the best defenses in the country. The Gamecocks rank 13thin the nation in yards allowed (310.8), 13th in points (17.5), 16th in run defense (116.6) and eighth in sacks (3.1) per game.
But this isn’t last year’s Clemson team. The Tigers (10-1) for one are a whole lot healthier and two are playing as well as any team in the country offensively.
Last year, Watkins was coming back from an ankle injury and played at less than 100 percent, while starting left tackle Philip Price played just one play before giving way to a knee injury that caused him to miss the previous two games.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is also a lot thinner and more productive in the running game than he was at this time a year ago.
“You had a quarterback that was not running the ball very effective,” Morris said. “He was standing back there like a concrete deer statue. I mean really, that’s what he was. He was hit early and he was hit in the later part of the year where he was not playing his best ball.
“He lost his fundamentals. He had lost his technique and was not moving as well, and therefore he was just a sitting target.”
Boyd isn’t a sitting target this year. In last week’s 62-48 victory over NC State, he rushed for a career-high 103 yards. He now has 466 yards on the year, and is tied for the team-lead with eight rushing touchdowns. To get a better idea, Boyd has 127 more yards than his counterpart this week, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who is considered to be a running quarterback.
“We went back and looked at last year and looked at things they did that may cause us problems, but again, this is two different teams,” Morris said. “If you are talking about last year’s team and this year’s team, these are two different teams. And next year, it will be different than this year’s team.
“It is very unfair to compare this team to last year’s team.”
Especially when you look at the numbers the Tigers are putting up. Clemson has already shattered the ACC record for consecutive weeks of scoring more than 35 points a game. The Tigers have now gone 10 straight weeks of scoring at least 37 points.
Clemson ranks sixth nationally in total offense (535.6), fourth in scoring offense (44.6), ninth in passing offense (332.0) and fourth in passing efficiency (169.02).
The Tigers have already broken the single-season record for points as a team and touchdowns, both of which were set last year in 14 games. Boyd has already tied the record for touchdown passes in a season and can set an ACC record for touchdown passes with two more.
He already holds the ACC record for touchdown responsibilities with 41, breaking his own record of 38 a year ago.
“It’s not necessarily who we play, it’s how we play,” Morris said. “That’s our focus. It has been all year long. It’s not going to change this week. It’s about the Tigers and how we play and how we prepare. That’s our biggest challenge to our guys.
“We want to remain on that standard that we as coaches have set for this team. We are excited about this opportunity. This is why you get in the business, for environments and games like this.”