Dabo Swinney took an interesting approach to address a so-called weakness with his team a season ago…
Morris is Clemson's harshest critic
The offensive line wasn't physical enough. The running game struggled. There were too many dropped passes. Too many yards left out on the field. You get the point. Morris sets lofty goals for himself and his offense, and woe be to those who don't meet his standards.
"That's where you want to be as a coach. You want to have high expectations," he said. "You want to have high expectations for your program. Here's the one thing I can say about expectations: there are two things you can do with expectations. We can meet them or exceed them. What are we going to do? That's our approach."
By any measure, Clemson's 2012 offensive stats were impressive. The Tigers averaged 512.7 yards of total offense and 41 points per game while running an average of 81.7 plays per game. In Billy Napier's final season as offensive coordinator, the Tigers were 88th nationally in total offense, 86th in scoring and 111th in red zone scoring. Last fall, they were ninth in total offense, sixth in scoring offense and second in red zone scoring.
Morris, naturally, wants more, saying a "hungry cat hunts best." He reminded reporters of Clemson's 6-7 mark in 2010, adding that his players' urgency must be just as high as it was when he arrived in January 2011.
"When I first got here we were 6-7 and those guys were hungry," he said. "They just came off a bad taste in their mouths. The thing I see, my challenge to these guys is: how many remember that 6-7 season? How many were a part of that 6-7 season? Well, we've got some guys who weren't a part of that.
"Our centers weren't. Our tight ends, outside of Darrell (Smith), weren't. They don't know the sense of hunger ad urgency you've got to have. They've showed up and this is great, running fast, they showed up on third base and never hit a triple to get there. Our job is to make sure they touch first and second before they stand at third. That's our biggest challenge."
He also has specific improvements in mind, saying the offense "will be faster than last season; that's who we are." Morris wants to run two more plays per game and be "more efficient" in the running game. He has targeted 226 rushing yards per game as a goal: a year ago, Clemson averaged 191.9.
"We've been balanced the first two years and we strive to be balanced, that's just something more we want," he said. "We can get better. We talked about being the most explosive offense in the country, and we have been. There's so many hidden yards we left out there. There's so much more we can do to get better. So much more."
Same goes for senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, the offense's linchpin. Boyd is the preseason favorite to win a second consecutive ACC Player of the Year award after a junior season that saw him pass for 3,896 yards with 36 touchdowns against 13 interceptions, adding 514 rushing yards and 10 ground scores.
"I think he can always improve his footwork," Morris said. "And if Tajh was coming back next year or the year after that, I'd say the same thing. He can always improve that. He can always improve his coverage recognition, his blitz recognition. You can't master the quarterback position. If you think you've mastered it, look out, because you're about to hit rock bottom. I think that's at any level. You could ask Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Tom Brady Drew Brees and they'd say the same thing. You're never mastered a position. He's got to try and gain his advantage with his footwork, recognition of coverage, and what he did at the LSU game. He was like, ‘Hey, I'm the guy. It's on me. I've got this.' I think he's definitely a guy you're going to see excel more than he has in the first two years."
Having Boyd back for a third season as the starter allows an even more expansive offense, as well.
"He understands it, he knows my personality, I know his personality," Morris said. "He and I think alike in certain situations. I think those are things you can't substitute. It's an earned relationship. So I think I fully expect us to be better, more aggressive, I expect us to expand more in our offense with a third-year starter back. I don't care, you look across the country at any level, any team that's been successful, it all stars with the quarterback. If you've got a good one, you've got a chance. If not you're behind the 8-ball in terms of having to battle." Morris says Boyd has mastered "about 80 percent" of his offense. And that's what matters – how much Boyd can execute at a master level.
"If I've got all this offense in, and he can only 60 percent of it, then we really only have 60 percent of our offense. We've got to do what he can master 100 percent," Morris said. "And I think that's going to make it easier as we expand the offense. Still going to challenge him. Don't get me wrong. I'm going to challenge him and coach him harder this year than he's ever been coached. And I'm going to put more on him this year, but I think he's ready for that.
"He has to be able to master 100 percent of what we do. He's aware of the coverages, the fronts, the blitzes, the pressures, the answers we have built in our offense. That's where the experience comes in."
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