Who: No. 9 Clemson (6-1, 4-1 ACC) at Maryland (5-2, 1-2)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: College Park, Md.
Line: Clemson by 14
CLEMSON — For an offensive coordinator, Chad Morris has been forced to speak defensively a couple of times this season.
When Clemson (6-1, 4-1 ACC) slogged its way to victories despite slow scoring starts in the past month, the scrutiny was muted. However, defeat is the ultimate microscope, and Morris is aggravated with what he sees on the field.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat anything. I’m not going to lie to anybody. We didn’t get it done. Period. Didn’t get it done,” Morris said. “We’ve got to find a way to go get it done. And we will.”
Tough starts at North Carolina State and vs. Boston College didn’t deter the Tigers’ march to No. 3 in the country. But when Clemson got hammered, 51-14, Saturday night by Florida State, the ranking plummeted to No. 9, the national championship dreams (and likely conference hopes as well) vanished, and the floodgates opened for Morris to unleash his most biting criticism of the year Monday morning.
“Just simple mistakes that we’re making. We’re about as simple as we can be offensively right now,” Morris said. “We’re unable to really push the envelope forward right now. It’s just a base offense, to be honest with you.”
Morris said senior left tackle Brandon Thomas “is playing really well. Extremely well. Dominating well.”
Other than Thomas, Morris has a bone to pick with the entire offense, which has scored a total of 10 points in its last two first halves.
“There’s 10 other positions out there that are not playing well at all,” Morris said. “We’re very much an equal opportunity employer around here. It is very much equally spread that we got one guy playing well and 10 guys not. It’s hard to get in any consistent flow. We’re, what, seven games into it? That’s what’s disheartening right now. We’ve got to get it together.”
Tigers tight end Stanton Seckinger fumbled after the catch on the first play from scrimmage, and quarterback Tajh Boyd also coughed up the ball on a rollout that resulted in FSU defensive end Mario Edwards’ return for a touchdown, giving the Seminoles a quick 17-0 lead.
“I don’t think we gave ourselves a chance. We didn’t give our fans a chance outside the first quarter to really be involved to help us out,” Morris said. “You spot anybody a free gimme on the first play of the game, or a free walk-in touchdown, I don’t care who you’re playing, and definitely a team of that caliber, it’s tough to overcome those kinds of things.”
Boyd played his worst game in two years, completing just 17 of 37 passes for 156 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
“It all starts and ends with the quarterback,” Morris said. “We wouldn’t be in the position we’re in today, or where this program has been over the last two years without what Tajh Boyd has done for us. We all have seen that. We’ve seen him play at his best, we’ve seen him struggle at times, and be able to find his way and get back on track, and that’s what you’re going to see with him.
“He hurts as much as anybody, if not more than everybody. He knows it wasn’t his best performance; unfortunately, it was a big stage. He just didn’t play well.”
The reigning ACC player of the year has a 7-5 record against ranked opponents, but four of those losses have been against Florida State and South Carolina. In those four games, Boyd has completed 46.8 percent of his passes for 164.8 yards per game, with six touchdowns and six interceptions.
“He understands being the quarterback for Clemson is a big deal,” Morris said. “There’s a lot of good things that come along with it. He gets a lot of credit, a lot of undue credit, maybe credit he shouldn’t have gotten. It comes with the territory of being a quarterback. This is going to make him stronger.”
Asked multiple questions about Boyd’s rough night, Morris cut off the QB talk during an inquiry of whether he considered inserting backup Cole Stoudt earlier than he did — midway through the fourth quarter with the outcome decided.
“He wasn’t the only one; let’s not pin this thing all (on him,)” Morris said. “I could’ve called a lot better plays, OK? Right now, we’re operating with our base offense. So it’s not just on Tajh. We’ve got to block better up front, we could’ve ran harder, we could’ve blocked better on the edge, we had six drops in critical situations. Putting a lot of pressure on him by dropping balls.”
The Tigers can lick their wounds the next two weeks on the road; they play Maryland, a top 25 defense, Saturday at 3:30 p.m., followed by another 3:30 p.m. affair on Nov. 2 at Virginia.
“The great thing about this is we can respond, come together and do something about it,” Morris said. “Have they been challenged? Absolutely. They saw the film this morning, they can see it.
“We’re consistently inconsistent right now. That’s the biggest thing I see over the last two weeks. We’ve got to get it fixed. We’ve got to get it right. And we will.”
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