Offense Breakdown: USC puts brakes on Tiger 'O'
CLEMSON — One weekend officially remains in college football’s regular season, but an even more intriguing and unpredictable season has already begun – Silly Season.
Kentucky and Tennessee got the ball rolling by firing Joker Phillips and Derek Dooley, and it has been apparent since September that Arkansas wouldn’t retain interim coach John L. Smith.
Sunday pushed the season into full gear. Boston College, N.C. State, Colorado, Auburn, Cal and Purdue all fired their coaches, a Sunday, bloody Sunday that U2 would have been proud of.
That’s nine BCS-level openings, four in the SEC and two in the ACC.
It’s probably well past time for Clemson fans to get used to Chad Morris as a regular presence on these lists. In two years, Morris has revived a dormant Tiger offense: . The Tigers are sixth nationally in scoring offense at 42.3 ppg, eighth in total offense at 518.3 ypg, and 13th in passing offense at 319.5 ypg.
Along with Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease, he is one of college football’s “it” assistants right now.
CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman ranked him as the fifth-most intriguing coaching candidate in the 2012-13 carousel Tuesday, and Morris’ name has already popped up in connection with the N.C. State job, which opened after Tom O’Brien and his 22-26 ACC record over six seasons wasn’t good enough.
Morris appears to be happy at Clemson – a year ago, he turned down interest from Urban Meyer to become Ohio State’s new offensive coordinator and signed a six-year contract that pays him $1.3 million annually. He’s the highest-paid assistant coach in college football, making about $300,000 less than the average BCS head coach.
A prohibitive buyout prevents him from leaving for another coordinator position, and he can afford to be choosy about which head coaching job he takes. Either way, who could have imagined this three years ago, when he was making just over $100,000 as a high school head coach in the suburbs of Austin, Tex.?
His relative inexperience as a college coach is a question – this is Morris’ third season above the high school level – but his stats and player development speak for themselves.
Under Morris’ watch, Clemson junior quarterback Tajh Boyd has become one of college football’s top quarterbacks, a two-time first-team All-ACC selection who accounted for an ACC-record 41 touchdowns this season while throwing for 3,550 yards and averaging 336.8 yards of total offense, eighth nationally.
Two years ago under Billy Napier, the Tigers were 88th nationally in total offense. 86th in scoring offense. Every trip into the red zone was an adventure. Now, they’re a thrill-a-minute, largely polished product; Saturday’s loss to South Carolina ended an ACC-record string of 10 consecutive games scoring at least 37 points.
With an offense that is guaranteed to lose only one starting lineman (center Dalton Freeman), standout tailback Andre Ellington and senior tight end Brandon Ford, Clemson won’t take a step back in 2013. Junior wideout DeAndre Hopkins is the only serious threat to leave for the NFL draft; Boyd is expected to return, and Sammy Watkins, Adam Humphries, Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake will all be juniors.
Morris won’t be in Clemson forever – sooner or later, he’ll find the right fit and take another step upward.
Will it be at N.C. State? Maybe.
The domino effect could also send Dabo Swinney looking for a new offensive coordinator.
Perhaps someone hires TCU’s Gary Patterson. Or Baylor’s Art Briles. Or Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy.
All three openings would fit Morris’ Texas background, giving him a chance to bring his family back home, or at least close to it.
Morris might be satisfied sitting next to Swinney, but until the Tigers’ offense sputters or he leaves, his name will be a fixture on the coaching carousel. Just hop on and take the ride with him.