ATLANTA — Chad Morris was excited. He was also realistic. After watching his Clemson offense roll up 528 yards, including 330 on the ground, in the No.14 Tigers’ 26-19 season-opening Georgia Dome win over Auburn Saturday, the second-year offensive coordinator took a pragmatic approach.
“What a great way to start, and that’s all this is, is just a start,” Morris said. “It’s a great start. But it’s just a start. There’s a lot of big football games ahead. There’s a lot of things we can get better at.”
Morris discussed a number of topics with reporters, including Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, Nuk Hopkins and a quickly-improving offensive line.
On Boyd moving well with his feet. “That’s the thing I’ve been challenging him from day 1, when we started this thing, to be able to manage this thing with your feet and your ability and be able to make those decisions. I was very pleased with Tajh.”
On playing without Sammy Watkins: “We knew without Sammy in, other guys were going to have to step up. We knew with Tajh Boyd, he’d take the load off some of those guys running the football. I thought he did that. I thought Nuk Hopkins had a big game, I thought he would, especially when they gave a lot of man coverage on his side. We felt like he had to have a good game for us to take the pressure off Charone Peake and Adam Humphries.”
On mistakes: “Too many dropped balls. Straight-up. We dropped entirely too many footballs. That’s something we’ve got to get better at and we’re going to get better at.”
On the offensive line’s improvement: “ I’m going to be the first to tell you I’m extremely proud of our offensive line. That’s a group that we have challenged and have been challenging from day 1 about playing physical. I felt like we were too soft at some points during camp, and it’s challenging those guys. Getting nasty with those guys. Creating an identity. It was their turn. It was their time to step up and get some respect. Their turn to step up and get an identity for this football team. If we’re going to win and win at the level we expect to win at, we’re going to have to run the football. I’m extremely proud of them.”
On the line taking control late: “The last 2 drives to be exact. They felt it. Give them credit. They catch a tipped-ball interception, should have been caught, we were stopping ourselves and doing it all game long. The only person that was stopping ourselves was us. With dropped balls, jumping offsides, having a big play down the sidelines and we’ve got a receiver lined up and he’s not set. That had to do with the change of our tempo this year. We’re going such a faster pace, snapped the ball 91 times tonight. Those are things we’ve got to get better at, but we’ve got experience too.
When you’ve got a veteran quarterback out there, veteran tailback, an offensive line that’s growing up, you put the ball in those guys’ hands.”
On Andre Ellington, who had a career-high 231 rushing yards: “This is the first time you’ve seen Andre healthy. Andre’s healthy for the first time in two years. There’s no doubt who the best player under this roof was tonight, no doubt. It was Andre Ellington. He was on a mission. He was relentless. That’s something we talked about – you had to be relentless in everything you did. And I was proud to see that.
Andre was talking to me on the sidelines, saying, ‘Coach, keep giving it to me. Keep giving it to me.’ There was no doubt in my mind, with the game on the line the last two drives, who we wanted to touch the football. That was 10 and 23 (Boyd and Ellington). And get the ball to (Nuk Hopkins). Those guys had to step up and make plays and I was really proud of them.”
Did you see the offensive line grow up: “I think that’s exactly right. Yeah, I think so. Without a doubt. Those guys take a lot of pride in what they do. We challenge them a lot, and again, that’s part of being who they are.”