CLEMSON — Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is not about to let the Tigers’ attack take a step backward, despite missing two record-setting playmakers from a year ago in receiver Sammy Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Morris has been bothered much of the offseason by what he sees as a lack of respect for an offense that averaged more than 40 points and 500 yards a game the past two seasons.
“Nobody knows who they are,” Morris said. “Nobody cares to know who they are right now, except for their parents and grandparents and all their relatives.”
And that’s just fine with Morris and coach Dabo Swinney, who’ve shared their frustrations with the team to fuel summer workouts.
Morris believes quarterback Cole Stoudt, the son of NFL passer Cliff who was backup the past three seasons, has worked to earn his shot and can run the offense as effectively as Boyd, who set the Atlantic Coast Conference mark with 107 touchdown passes.
Those receivers capable of stepping in for Watkins, the fourth pick overall in last May’s NFL Draft, include Mike Williams, Charone Peake and Adam Humphries.
Morris understands there’s only one way for his group to gain attention and that’s by showing their skills on the field.
“You’ve got to play with a hard edge about yourself. You’ve got to have that ticked-off approach,” Morris said. “We’re ready to fight anybody and everybody. That’s got to be these guys’ approach.”
That starts Aug. 30th at Georgia.
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Deshaun Watson is Clemson’s most talked-about freshman since Watkins arrived in 2011. The dual-threat quarterback set Georgia state high school records with 17,134 yards and 218 touchdowns passing and rushing. Swinney has said Watson will play in the opener, and you can bet fans will be looking for any reason to call for Watson over Stoudt.
“I understand that’s part of it,” Stoudt says. “I have to go out there and do my job for the team.”
The Tigers’ offense was fortunate to have sure-handed pass catchers like tight end Dwayne Allen and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Watkins the past three seasons for Boyd. Clemson enters this year with more questions than answers about its pass catchers: Peake’s health after missing most of last year with a knee injury; sophomore Williams’ ability to stretch the field like Watkins; sophomore tight end Jordan Leggett becoming an effective safety valve like Allen was.
Clemson’s front seven appears to be the team’s strength heading into the fall, led by defensive end Vic Beasley who topped the ACC with 13 sacks last season. Beasley chose to return for his senior season instead of leaving for the NFL Draft. Along with veterans like end Corey Crawford, tackles Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson, the line could bring the defense the attention Clemson’s offense has enjoyed the past few seasons. Behind them are experienced linebackers in Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward.
Tough tests early
Clemson’s chance for championships will be known early. The Tigers open at Georgia and play at defending national champion Florida State three weeks later. The Tigers-Seminoles winner has gone to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game as Atlantic Division champions each of the past five seasons and this one figures to be no different. Swinney said people ask him what he’ll do if the Tigers are 1-2 after that stretch. He usually responds, “What if we’re 3-0 and ranked No. 1?”
Clemson’s seventh-year coach has had an interesting offseason. He received a raise and an eight-year contract extension through 2021, came under fire from the Freedom From Religion Foundation for tying his program to Christianity and took regular shots from South Carolina rival coach Steve Spurrier, whose Gamecocks have won five straight in the series. Spurrier’s best line came after Swinney said the Gamecocks coach was from Pluto in describing their differences.
“Dabo still thinks there are nine planets out there,” Spurrier responded.