9 at 9: Slow offense finds success, the Coastal Division race, and more Clemson notes

Clemson running back Wayne Gallman (9) breaks free for the touchdown. The Clemson Tigers played host to the Florida State Seminoles at Memorial Stadium in Clemson Saturday, November 7, 2015.GWINN DAVIS / FOR POST AND COURIER

CLEMSON – Since it’s the 9th of November, and Clemson is 9-0, and I had 9 notes and quotes I wanted to pass along, and it’s 9 a.m. ...

1) Former offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ influence will be, as they say, a thing for at least a couple years. That’s important to remember when Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott expand their horizons as bosses of a high-powered offense.

Morris always used to say “we play worst when we go slow.” Elliott in particular has insisted on maintaining a breakneck speed.

So it was something to see the top-ranked Tigers throttle back a few gears when they took over possession with 6:17 remaining and a 16-13 lead over Florida State.

“We understand there’s going to be times we’ve got to help our defense, and so we are going to slow it down just a little bit,” Elliott said Saturday night after the win. “Every week, we have a 4-minute plan, meaning that we’re up with 4 minutes left in the game, so we’ve got to run some plays that will run some clock. You saw us get in the huddle, don’t break the huddle ‘til 12 (seconds left on the play clock), snap it with 3 left on the clock.”

Old Clemson might have run itself into a three-and-out. New Clemson patiently and calmly went 60 yards in 7 plays in – get this – 3 minutes, 48 seconds, a relative eternity for a Clemson offense that could easily run seven plays in less than a minute if it wanted. (Case in point: the final drive of the first half was eight plays, 75 yards, 61 seconds.)

“When we have to go slow, we will, especially at the end of the game milking the clock,” sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “We had 85 plays, so we met the goal of 80 plays.”

2) This might have been a different conversation if not for Charone Peake, the fifth-year senior, the old man, making two clutch catches on third-and-6 and third-on-7 to prolong that game-sealing drive. The latter catch saw Peake weaving through traffic to barely pick up the first; on the next play, Wayne Gallman galloped into the end zone for the insurance touchdown.

“He’s a playmaker. That’s what he does,” said Watson of Peake. “I have trust in him, that’s why I go to him. I know you get the ball in his hands, he’s going to make something happen.”

3) Jordan Leggett never produced a five-reception game or a 50-yard game in his first two seasons on campus. He didn’t score – a rarity this year – but he opened the field up with a career-high six catches for 101 yards.

“Feels great,” Leggett said, who grew up near Tallahassee and whose late friend’s family was in the crowd to watch Leggett play at Memorial Stadium for the first time. “Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I’m ready to go out there and make plays.”

4) Florida State tailback Dalvin Cook’s first quarter: six carries, 128 yards, a 75-yard touchdown.

“Just guys not fitting right. We had bad eyes and weren’t fitting our gaps,” junior linebacker Ben Boulware explained. “The first quarter, we kept making stupid plays. It’s easy for us, but we had bad eyes and weren’t fitting right.”

Florida State tailback Dalvin Cook’s second, third and fourth quarters: 15 carries, 66 yards.

“We just made plays when we needed to,” junior defensive end Shaq Lawson said. “That 75-yard run was on us. It wasn’t anything special he did – I take nothing from him, he’s a good player – but we messed up.”

Cook was stopped twice in a row on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 on the decisive drive before Gallman’s lead-extending touchdown.

“They kept doing that fastball stuff. Kept doing the hurry-up offense,” Boulware said. “We made a good adjustment on the sidelines, I saw a hole and shot it.”

5) Remember when kickers on the road made Clemson sweat? No longer. Freshman walk-on Greg Huegel made two clutch kicks at Louisville on Sept. 17, and made three clutch kicks vs. FSU on Nov. 7. He is 13-for-13 in ACC play, but said the two extra points he missed at N.C. State last week offered a bounceback opportunity.

“I’ve progressed a lot mentally, because that’s something you have to get past,” Huegel said, “and I feel like I’ve grown a lot because of that.”

6) Yeah, yeah, Clemson is finally No. 1 in most the polls. The College Football Playoff, the FWAA Super 16, and now the Associated Press.

The Tigers are still No. 2 in the coaches’ poll, though, as Ohio State remains atop those rankings. The Buckeyes hold a slim 1526-1511 points advantage, and are receiving 34 first-place votes, while the Tigers have 21 first-place votes.

Although the individual votes are kept secret until the final poll, we know the identity of at least one of those 21 voters.

“I’ve been voting our team No. 1 for three weeks,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Y’all are just catching up.”

7) Curious who might be on the opposite sideline at Bank of America Stadium in 26 days? It’ll probably be baby blue, though it is possible Clemson gets a rematch against the team it beat 58-0.

No. 17 North Carolina (8-1) is in the driver’s seat, at 5-0 in league play. The Tar Heels close at home vs. Miami, at Virginia Tech and at N.C. State.

Pittsburgh is in second place at 4-1, but lost at home to UNC, giving the Heels a two-game edge over them. Duke, which lost 66-31 to UNC on Saturday, has two conference losses and therefore also trails by two games.

Then there is Miami, which is barely alive in the race thanks to that crazy ending in Durham on Halloween Night. Miami gets its shot at UNC Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU, and with a win, the Hurricanes would be one game back of the Tar Heels with a tiebreaker. Miami closes at home vs. Georgia Tech and at Pitt.

So, UNC would clinch the division Saturday by a) beating Miami and b) if Pitt loses to Duke. However, the Canes can win it by a) beating UNC, b) winning out and c) having UNC lose at either Virginia Tech or N.C. State.

8) Keeping in theme with the “9” angle today: Syracuse is 1-9 all-time in games against No. 1-ranked opponents. More on that later this week.

9) And finally: Clemson’s final three regular season opponents have a combined nine wins. In fact, all of them are 3-6 a piece.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easy. Every team is going to give their best shot,” Watson said. “Any team can be beaten on any given day. We have to stay focused, stay the course and keep doing what we’re doing.”

Reminder: Clemson has won 36 consecutive games against unranked opponents, and Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina will all be unranked by the team they meet the Tigers.

“We’ve got a little mojo, but we’ve got to take it game by game. I know that’s a coaches’ answer, but I’m serious,” junior center Jay Guillermo said. “We’ve got Syracuse next week, so we can’t let one win define our season.”

- AB

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