CLEMSON – When Chad Morris arrived at the WestZone for the last week, he had an extra reminder that Clemson-Georgia is approaching.
Camped outside Memorial Stadium have been Clemson students in line for their ticket to Saturday’s matchup – and Monday they got in the door after countless hours of waiting.
Hot Rod ready for Tiger fans to 'turn up'
“Just to be able to see them – says a lot about our university and just the excitement that the student body has and brings,” Morris said. “They’re passionate and we love it and we’re going to need them rocking it Saturday night…It means a lot for our guys to see them.”
Game week is indeed here (finally), and while the attention has turned to gameplanning, the focus remains the same as Morris’ first day in TigerTown.
“It’s the same way it is every week,” he said. “We have to take care of the Clemson Tigers. Obviously we have a great opponent coming from up the road that will be here Saturday – and I’ve said it since I’ve got here – we have to worry about ourselves.
“We’ve got to be able to execute and play fast and go out and play with a passion. Play with a relentless effort.”
Focusing on the knowns of the prolific No. 8 Tigers attack is probably the best course of action – with so many unknowns on the other side of the ball.
Georgia’s defense features only two starters officially and four with starting experience, and through their fall camp and offseason, a rash of injuries has thrown the projected starters mix in flux.
Morris says personnel doesn’t necessarily tell the tale though.
“They play with such a great passion. They’re very well coached,” he said. “They’re going to disguise their coverages. They’re going to bring pressure like everybody else does. They’ve got some young guys that are ready to earn their stripes.
“They’re trying to get in there and make a point and prove that’s where they need to be. We’ve seen that and seen it on film from guys that they had last year.”
But again, the main focus on the Tigers.
“We have to make sure we don’t give them any freebies,” Morris said. “That’s one of the biggest things going in this week, next week and the week after is it’s about the Clemson Tigers. We know what kind of opponent we‘re going to get, but we don’t want to give them anything.”
Slow starts and an opener are often synonymous, but overall, they haven’t plagued offensive production under the third-year Clemson coordinator.
In Morris’ first season opening against Troy, the Tigers were above their season average in total yards (+17.4) but more markedly down in first downs (-4.7).
Against Auburn, Clemson had similar results - above in total yards (+15.3) and slightly down in moving the chains (-3).
The win/loss result was the same as well in the Tigers’ favor, and with four returners back on the offensive line, that task is a little easier come Saturday.
Those four are all in the double-digit career start category (LT Brandon Thomas, 23; LG David Beasley, 12; RG Tyler Shatley, 13; RT Gifford Timothy, 11) and then there’s a sophomore center without one to his name (Ryan Norton). Waiting in the wings much like last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl is sophomore tackle Isaiah Battle, who would step in on the left side and push Thomas over if need be, per Morris.
Georgia 'D' plays with passion, o-line continuity
“The one thing you can’t coach is experience,” Morris said. “You have to earn the experience. When that happens, what you see is guys that are maybe tipping a blitz one way or the other. A veteran guy may see it a little quicker than a rookie. To have those four guys upfront that have been through the battle – live situation – is huge.
“And now they have to go play like it. It’s one thing to have the experience, but you have to play like it.”
Everywhere else is pretty settled from QB (Tajh Boyd, obviously) to the rotation of backs unveiled last week of senior Rod McDowell, sophomores Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson to the solid junior-led receiver corps. Now, it’s all about putting the pieces in motion.
“We’ve had a good camp – a really good camp – and we’re tired of hitting each other,” Morris said. “Got some good work in and now it’s time to start the gameplan. There’s a lot of excitement in the air.”