CLEMSON — For Chad Morris and the Clemson offense, it was a humbling bus ride home from Raleigh Saturday night. Thanks to a raft of upsets – some before, some after a 37-13 loss to N.C. State – the Tigers wasted a chance to get back into the BCS national title game picture.
It was the lowest scoring output by a Morris offense during his two years as a college offensive coordinator, and a rash of turnovers (11 in three games) continued with four giveaways.
Still, Morris remains confident his unit will bounce back form that ugly night. It faces a difficult challenge in South Carolina, the nation’s No.5 defense.
“I guarantee this will be one of the most attentive weeks,” he said Monday. “Our players know what happened last week. And it was a very humbling bus ride, a somber bus ride. It was an opportunity – there it was, and North Carolina State wanted it more than we did. Will this bunch be ready? Absolutely they’ll be ready to go. Will they play better? Dadgum right. I can promise you they’ll play better.”
Morris shared his thoughts on motivation, if his young team is wearing down, the offensive line’s shuffles and issues, and more during his weekly session with reporters Monday.
Opening thoughts: “I’ve sat here there in front of you for the last few weeks and we talked about turnovers, and we talked about the inability to secure the ball.
It’s kind of definitely evident that you turn the football over, especially, and give a team a short field to work off, your chances are limited. Every fumble is going to come back and cut your reps 8-10 reps a game from an offensive standpoint. That’s what we did last week. We played very poorly. Going back to day 1, Jan. 11 when I got here, the base offense we started putting in, we didn’t execute it.
“We’ve got guys who are not operating within the base system and framework of our offense, whether it’s… I don’t think they’re purposely thinking we can go freelance and do some things on our own, but when you can’t line up and execute the short yardage game we’ve got to be able to execute to keep the chains moving. That and turnovers are not a good mixture. We’re not adding anything. Is it because you’re continuing to add variations to the offense? No. we’re adding. We may not add anything else. Some of the youthfulness is showing. What we’ve got to try and pin (down), put pen and paper together, four weeks ago, you were playing at this high level. What’s happening now and then. You look at turnovers, turnovers were a big part of it.
“It’s hard to say we had anyone that played exceptionally well. David Smith played well in the O-line, thought he played one of his better games. (Wide receiver) Nuke Hopkins made some unbelievable catches that kept us at least moving the football. But it’s hard to say that anyone played above their head, outside a couple guys that were battling. It was unacceptable, the way we came out, the way we performed, the base offense is the biggest concern. If we’d have played well and gotten beat and I’d have been able to sit in front of you and say, “We played well, it wasn’t good enough.” That wasn’t the case. The furthest thing from the case.
“I’m proud of the players. They hurt. No doubt they hurt. They’re going to want to get this fixed. We’re going to fix it. There’s nobody slamming the panic button. But we’ve got to play in the system and execute the system.”
On short yardage plays, and a youthful team wearing down: “What you like to do on those short yardage downs ... that’s an offensive down. Offensive coordinators, offensive coaches, we want short yardage like that. That’s been something that’s been a challenge for us.
You snap the ball 777 times in 10 games. All of last year, they played 13 games, snapped it 779 times. In 10 games, you’ve played a whole season in relation to last year. At that point you want your leadership to step up.
“I think we’re all sitting here thinking the same thing, some of the mistake that we’re making right now, you’d have thought would have been made week 1, 2 and 3. And it wasn’t. I’m asking myself that, ‘What do we got to do to get it back to the way it was?’ As far as the youth of the team, you’ve got guys that have got to step up and make plays at this point. You’ve got to have a spark. Someone’s got to give you a spark. We’ve had that spark for the first eight games. Someone gave us that spark. So we’ve got to try and get that confidence level back and get the swagger back that we had as we stepped on the field that first eight games.”
Has your personality changed through the course of the season?: “My personality hasn’t changed any in practice. At some point you can’t continue to browbeat. You have to find this is what we are, this is what we’ve got, let’s keep going, keep building each other up, keep moving with this thing. It doesn’t change on the sidelines, doesn’t change in the locker room. Not that they’re trying to go out there and not play good. We’ve got to get that edge back.”
On getting the edge back: “You look at the importance of this game. After the Wofford game, we sat out here and talked about how disappointed we were, how we were not playing well and how we just hoped that coming into the Auburn week, they would find a little bit more inside themselves – this is Auburn coming in, we need to get it going. We did and we hit a roll there. I think you’re looking at the same thing right now.
“You’ve got to give credit to N.C. State, they were playing for their bowl life. For whatever reason, we came up there and it didn’t work out. They definitely got us. You hope now these guys have learned and see an in-state game, this is one of the goals coaches set, to be a state champion. The goals that are on our goal board, every one of them are still attainable. That’s what you’re going to stress to your players; we can still do something about this right now. But it’s going to take a refocus, a rededication, pull yourself up and ready to go.”
On South Carolina’s defense: “Extremely talented. The best defense we’ve seen to this point at this time of the year. They’re ranked fifth in the country, they’re extremely fast, they’re physical up front. They’re very well-coached and they’ve created a lot of turnovers. I think they’ve scored four or five defensive touchdowns this year. We better be ready. This is definitely a talented bunch.”
Which of South Carolina’s positions worry you: “All of them. All of the defensive positions up front, those front four are as good as we’ve seen. The defensive ends are talented. They run well in the secondary. Great thing about it is, our guys are going to be ready. They’ll be ready to play. They watch film. They know, we’ve got to bring our game. We better be on it.”
On Tajh Boyd’s performance: “I think as you look at it, he was hit more last week than he’s been hit all year in a game. But again, I think you have to look at a few different things. Tajh, from where he started in spring ball, he’s grown a lot, he’s matured, but he’s not playing as well as he was four weeks ago. He’s not. He knows it. That’s the challenge that he and I have and are going to work together with, to get back that edge he had when he was trying to prove to everyone that he was a starter here. That’s what we’ll work to do to get him right. He’s gotta play as if he was when he started in fall camp.”
Is Tajh suffering from diminishing confidence after six interceptions in three games: “I think there’s a frustration level there. I think he’s getting frustrated because he wants to be at that high level and he’s trying to figure out how to get back to that high level. I think some of that is his youthfulness. The course of a football season is long, it’s tiring, it’s grinding on you mentally. It’s trying to figure out how to get back to the level he was at, and sustaining it. There’s a frustration level with him in that regard, but he is a competitor. That’s the one thing I appreciate about Tajh. But he’ll be back, there’s no doubt. We’ve got to get him back into that mindset he was in earlier in the year.”
On issues with pass protection at N.C. State: “We had some misses up there, and not having (Phillip) Price in didn’t help from a communication standpoint. There were some missed assignments on a couple. We had guys in place, we just didn’t get the block. We had two guys, in fact, on the defensive end that hit (Boyd) from behind and caused the fumble. We had one-on-one coverage, which was exactly what we were trying to get. It’s those things, that sense of urgency. Our players don’t step on the field and think, ‘Ho-hum, I’m going out to play. It’s a mindset.”
Any thought of starting David Smith at left guard, if Price returns: “David will get to play. I don’t know that this early in the week, it’s hard to say. I don’t know how Phillip is going to be.”\
Any thought to leaving Brandon Thomas at guard: “In practice, that’s some of the rotation we’ll have. We’ll slide Brandon out to tackle, because of his athleticism. We feel he’s probably the most athletic of all of the linemen. With athleticism at defensive end, you want to get his athleticism on the edge. That was the reason (he moved to tackle).”