By Will Vandervort
When his offensive players walked out of the locker room following their loss to Florida State two weeks ago, they walked out to a mostly empty parking lot. Usually, Clemson players are greeted with pats on the back and congratulations for a job well done by the thousands of fans that stay back and tailgate. But there was no such fan fair following the 37-point loss in which the offense gained 326 yards and turned the football over four times.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris made sure to remind his players of that feeling when they got together the following Monday.
“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do,” he said.
Morris, who met with the media Monday for his weekly press conference, challenged his offense last week to get over their performance against the Seminoles and focus on getting back to the basics and doing the little things better.
For the most part that’s what the eighth-ranked Tigers (7-1, 5-1 ACC) did in their 40-27 victory over Maryland this past Saturday. Clemson totaled 551 yards, including a season-high 247 on the ground. Though there were still some mistakes and issues with the execution of the red zone offense, Morris liked the way his unit responded.
“You have to be mentally tough,” Morris said. “You have to be a tough person to play this game. When you say tough, it is one thing being out there and being able to knock them off for a yard. Yeah, that’s tough.
“But tough is when those guys are walking to their car (after the FSU game) and there are not too many people out there. That’s tough.”
The Tigers toughened up against Maryland on Saturday and got the job done even when it wasn’t pretty at times.
“They all stepped up and I was very proud of each and every one of them for being able to go up there and come away with a win,” Morris continued. “Are there things we can do better? Absolutely! Are there things we can coach better? Absolutely!”
One thing the Tigers have to continue to do better is run the football. Their game plan against the Terps was to run the football and to do it without using quarterback Tajh Boyd. For most of the day they were successful at doing that, but they struggled on short yardage and goal line situations which led to the Tigers inability to score touchdowns.
Instead, they had to settle for four Chandler Catanzaro field goals once they got into the red zone.
“We are going to have to run the football in these four games in order for us to effective,” Morris said. “We cannot put it all on Tajh and Sammy Watkins and Adam (Humphries). Our backs have to do a good job of taking what they give us and being able to pick up positive yards, even when there is nobody there.”
Morris says he measures improvement in his offense on scoring.
“That’s the bottom line. Did you score? You can cut it like you want to and you can dissect it like you want to, but did you score? All of those yards, they don’t mean anything to me,” Morris said. “Did we score? Are we putting points on the board when we have opportunities to put points on the board? That’s the No. 1 thing.
“Yes we want every drive to end with a kick and we preach that. If every drive you have starts and ends with a kick this year, then you are going to win a lot of games. That’s either going to be a punt, a field goal or a PAT. Obviously, you want more PATs than you do anything else. We have been really good in the red zone offense since I have been here, but for whatever reason this year we have come away with field goals so we have to go back and make sure we are not having any breakdowns in that area.”
And they have to make sure they are being tough.