CLEMSON — Chad Morris knows life running one of college football’s fastest offenses isn’t perfect. There will be bumps in the road, as Clemson encountered in Saturday’s 49-37 loss at No.4 Florida State – like four three-and-outs and an interception in five second-half series.
“You’re going to get hit in the mouth,” Morris said. “You may get your nose bloodied, but you’ve got to get back up and here you go again.”
The Tigers’ loquacious offensive coordinator is ready to move on to the next challenge – Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game at Boston College. But first, he discussed the ins and outs of Florida State, including not-so-physical receivers, refocusing on the Eagles and what he does to keep sideline cool.
On accepting less than perfection: “You can’t go into a game thinking you’re going to be perfect because you’re not. I know this, we’re going to go into every ballgame intent with a great plan, and we’re going to put points on the board. We’re going to do that. I don’t care who we play. That’s what we do and that’s the confidence level that our guys have got to play at. I’m proud of the way we played, but when we had the opportunity to make something happen we didn’t get it done. It wasn’t all on our players. I’ll take some responsibility for that.”
On Sammy Watkins’ touches: “He had six catches for 25 yards and they were extremely disruptive on Sammy. They were very physical with Sammy. Sammy spent some time on the ground, whether it was slipping or getting rerouted. He had six catches. Six catches is usually a pretty good night for a receiver. We’d have like to gotten him more, we had several others called to him that he was disrupted and we had to go to our second or third read. So we probably in the end had 8-10 passes, 12 passes called to him. Six he actually got to. The others, the coverage got Tajh off of him. He got rerouted. Only way we were able to get him the ball (without being redirected) was to get him in the run game, which I thought he was very effective in.”
On refocusing: “Do I feel like we’ve got to sit and have a major focus on getting ready for Boston College, absolutely not. Our guys are going to be ready to play. You lose a game, the season’s not over with. Every goal we’ve set for this football team and offense is still attainable. Every one of them. There’s still a lot of football left to be played. So we just can’t, with a veteran group, you’ve got to be able to put this one behind you, you’ve got to learn from it, you’ve got to grow from it, and you’ve got to be able to go to the next one and perform. You can’t let one loss cost you another one.”
Overall impressions of FSU: “After watching the video, going back through the video several times yesterday, that was a tough one. That was a tough loss to basically lead most of the game, have the lead, not able to capitalize on the opportunities they had late in the third, early fourth was what stood out to me the most. My initial reaction after the game was pretty much on target after watching video. I thought we played extremely hard, I thought our offensive line, going against their defensive front and the depth, the quality depth those guys have, I thought they played well. I thought there were some areas in the interior where we had some breakdowns, but I thought Giff Timothy and Brandon Thomas played well. Dalton Freeman as well. I thought our guard play was OK, we’ve had better guard play, credit to guys rotating in. We lost some edge at critical times, three key series. played hard, fought hard, “Tajh Boyd, just as I initially thought, battled, scrapped, he was a warrior. It was true. Film didn’t lie. Our ability to convert third and short, fourth and short, again, has been a big positive for us this year. We were 3-of-4 on third to one and two. One we didn’t convert, Sammy throwing to Adam and overthrowing him, very well could have been a touchdown, third and shorts we converted, led to a touchdown. That was key going in. I felt we had to win that down, that specific part of it to keep drives alive with Tajh Boyd running the football, our O-line blocking.
“Darrell (Smith) and Sam Cooper did a good job coming in. Brandon Ford had probably his best game of the year, probably as physical as anyone we had. I was pleased to see that. Lot of positives out of this game we can build on. Go back to three series where we fumbled, dropped a ball on third down, and then we had a sack on one of them. That was a prime opportune time we could have taken the crowd back out of the game and we didn’t get it done.
On BC: “Boston College, they’re going to be where they’re supposed to be. They’re physical, they’re very well-coached, they’re big, and they’re coming in off an open week. They had two weeks to prepare for us, and I’m sure they’ll do some things they’ve been working on that we haven’t seen yet to this point or they didn’t show last year. Everybody tells me that Clemson hasn’t played very well up there. I’ve never been up there, I don’t know that. I really don’t care. That’s then, this is now. That was another team, this is a new team. It’s about what we do. That’s the mentality our players have to have when we go in there. It doesn’t matter where we go, who we play against. We go up there, we’re going to play. They’ll be ready, we can’t wait to get back on the field.”
On slowing tempo in high-scoring games; “That’s a great question. As you look at things like that, you go through the score and you’re up 28-14, and they’re reeling and trying to make some plays, make something happen, get a stop. I thought our tempo, because of us having to win some short-yardage downs, and I knew this going into the game, that we were going to have to do some personnel changing, probably more than I wanted to do, because of their defensive front. We had to try and create mismatches with motion or personnel grouping to win those short-yardage downs and I thought that slowed us down a little bit. But as far as going in, huddling, really trying to take the air out of the ball, that’s hard. When you’re an up-tempo team, to come in and huddle up that’s hard to do. What you find is you make more mistakes when you try and slow way down. That’s not who we are. There’s such a thing as letting the clock tick to 12 and snap the ball. We tried to do that with motion and personnel groupings.”
On a variety of Watkins touches: “That’s my job. My job is to get the ball in playmakers’ hands, and whichever way possible, be as creative as possible about it. If they’re being disruptive for him from the secondary part of it and rerouting him, then I’ve got to find other ways to get him the ball and utilize his talent. I think with Sammy having two games under his belt, this being his third game, you’re going to see him more getting into playing shape and being ready. I thought their quality depth, it allowed them to stay fresh late in the game, those three, four series when they needed it the most. They had the crowd back in the game and they’d just hit the kick return score, it was bang-bang, a lot of momentum, they definitely had uncle Mo on their sidelines at the moment. We were trying to do some things to get them reeling at that point. They were able to rotate some fresh legs in.”
On running between the tackles, or lack thereof: “We knew that going in. With the size they had, those guys were big up front, that was a strength of their football team. The defensive ends, the secondary, there wasn’t many weaknesses that those guys have. We knew we’d have to be creative and do a lot of misdirection to try and slow the linebacker play down, keep them, stick their cleats in the ground, freeze their eyes and get the ball out on the edge. Same sense, get them flowing and back in the middle. I think you saw us do that, Sammy had several 12-13 yard runs inside the red zone. That’s unheard of. You don’t gash people inside the red zone between the tackles. We were able to do that because of a lot of misdirection.”
On the offensive line: “I was extremely proud of our offensive line. Did we play effective at the guard position as we wanted to? No. Did Tyler Shatley, was he 100 percent healthy? No. But he’s a battler, he was playing, may not quite have been 100 percent. (David) Beasley same way. Kalon Davis came in and had to spell him some. Those guys fought and never gave up. We knew we were going to have to be effective running in and out.”
On Clemson's struggles with press coverage, and will others pick up on it? “Those guys were pressing us up. They were in our face. Call it like it is. It was all of them, wasn’t just Sammy. They were very disruptive. That was their plan. They’re going to play two high safeties behind you, you’re not going to get behind us, and those guys you’re going to put out there, we’re going to get in their face. We’re not scared of them. That was their plan going in, and we’ll stop the run with the guys in the box. We’ve got confidence in the guys up front. Had to do a lot of drags, over routes and we had to try and win some battles. And we won a few, we did. But they were very disruptive. They had hands on a lot of balls, a lot of receivers, and it was a challenge for our guys.
“You better have the guys to be able to do it. You can line up and get in their face, we love that all day long. But you better have the guys that can match them in the back end. And you better be able to stop the run.”
On keeping up with FSU’s offense: “We kept matching them. We would score, and they’d score then we’d go get a touchdown or field goal. You were really proud to see that. That tells you a lot when you’re on the road and you’re able to go down and match scoring opportunities. Our guys, we’ve got a very good football team but we learned a valuable lesson. You’re going to learn out of this, you’re going to grow and keep moving forward. I’m proud of our guys and it proved we’re not there yet. But this season’s not a wash. We’re going to load up and go to Boston College and we’ve got to perform. You can’t let one loss lead to another.”
Did FSU’s physical nature surprise the receivers?: “I think it surprised them that they pressed most of the night. I do. I just think they did play more physical than we did. And that’s something we take great pride in. We’re not going to kick them off the team, but they saw it, we saw it, they’re going to prepare for it and be ready to go.”
On Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake, who saw limited action Saturday: “They didn’t, they probably could have played a little more. But a game of that magnitude, maybe that would have kept some of our legs fresh late in the game. It’s hard to say. When you’re in a game like that and you’re reeling and you’re scrambling and you’re trying to look at the opportunities when you had it… maybe they could have played a little earlier in the game and it might have given them some fresher legs late in the game. But those last three, four series in there, I wanted my starters out there. I was very proud of the fact that our guys could have gave in and we go back and have an 11-play drive and score a touchdown (late). If we get the two points and recover an onside kick, who knows, we may score again with it.”
Is your ability to maintain your cool tested in games like these: “As long as I’ve got plenty of chewing gum and peppermints, I’m in good shape over there. We’re going to go put (our players) in position to be successful. You’ve just got to go execute and operate the system and work the game plan. When you’ve got two really good football teams going at each other, you’re going to get hit in the mouth. You may get your nose bloodied, but you’ve got to get back up and here you go again.”