By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
The major story line during the four-game losing streak to South Carolina has been the inability of Clemson’s offense to be average.
In Chad Morris’ two previous games, No. 9 Carolina limited fourth-ranked Clemson to its lowest production of each season, in broad strokes the worst performances in his tenure as offensive coordinator.
Entering last season’s game, Clemson averaged 45 points and 536 yards, but Carolina allowed 17 and 328.
In its last visit to Columbia, Clemson managed 13 points and 153 yards after averaging 34 points and 459 yards coming in.
Much of last season’s carnage was attributed to Jadeveon Clowney’s performance. The 4.5 sacks tell only a portion of the story. His mere presence becomes a distraction, a pre-snap preoccupation, but Clowney hasn’t been as productive as he was last season when he was knighted The Greatest Gamecock Player Ever – At Least Since George Rogers.
“Everybody worries about where No. 7 – and they should,” Morris said, “but these other guys over here are taking advantage of one-on-one opportunities, too.”
And that’s where scheme becomes precociously necessary.
Tackle Brandon Thomas protects quarterback Tajh Boyd’s butt, his blind side. A senior and Clemson’s most experienced offensive lineman, he may collide with Clowney as much as anyone. Right tackle Isaiah Battle, a freshman, is rangier than Thomas with a wealth of potential and could be a better match physically despite his inexperience.
Both may need help from a back or tight end. Last season, Morris said, “there were three, four, five six times (Thomas) had some help over there.”
Clemson has allowed 28 sacks this season: four each to Georgia Tech, Maryland, Florida State, Syracuse and S.C. State, but the onus isn’t totally on the line. Boyd tends to hold the ball too long, which Morris said was attributable to the glacial development the options at receiver beyond Sammy Watkins.
A potential first-round NFL Draft pick, Watkins hasn’t been a factor in either game against Carolina. The emergence of Martavis Bryant and Mike Williams could help free him. Nearly half of Bryant’s production has come in the four games since the loss to Florida State – 18 receptions for 420 yards and two touchdowns. Williams, a freshman, has nine receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
“It wasn’t something we had early in the year,” Morris said. “Tajh didn’t have the confidence in those guys as he’s gained through the
course of the year.
“We really needed someone to come on, and we’ve seen that in Martavis, we’ve seen it with Mike Williams.”
Besides his reluctance to turn the ball loose under siege, Boyd tends to lock on receivers early. Of course, that isn’t a problem if they
Morris needs more balance, which means running effectively. Clemson’s numbers are down markedly from a year ago, further than what Morris anticipated in preseason. And Carolina’s ability to control the clock during the second half last season places even further pressure on the offense to score with every possession.
Finding ways to simulate a run game, with screens and short inside pitches to receivers in motion can be efficient though it’s not like
pounding between the tackles. Plus freshman tight end Jay Jay McCullough, another huge target, has worked out of the backfield in
practice for several weeks and may be either a run or block option.
“We haven’t been able to run the football as much as we want to, we feel like over the last four weeks we’ve gotten better,” Morris said.
Any evidence of change in solving Carolina’s defense would seem to be by-products of the development of those young players. More than a tweak, “would be the absolute worst thing we could do,” Morris said.
“You’re going to be who you are. It comes down to we’ve got to go make the plays.”
Clemson averages 43 points and 516 yards a game. That should be plenty.