Up-tempo Clemson seeking another gear

Clemson players including safety Travis Blanks (11) celebrate the Tigers’ 26-19 win over Auburn at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Saturday night. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

CLEMSON — Clemson finished second in the nation in offensive snaps last season but, ever the perfectionist, Chad Morris wanted more. The Clemson offensive coordinator wants his offense to be the fastest operating unit in the country.

The No. 14 Tigers got off to a good start Saturing, running 87 plays in their 26-19 win over Auburn. Clemson averaged 75 snaps per game last season and only once ran more than 87 plays, snapping the ball 92 times last September against Auburn.

In college football’s opening week, only two teams ran more plays than Clemson. One of those teams, Ball State, posted a nation-leading 96 plays in a victory over Eastern Michigan, and it is Ball State (1-0) which visits Memorial Stadium at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Like Clemson (1-0), Ball State installed a no-huddle offense last season under offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky.

To get faster, Clemson had to get in better shape. One benefit of Clemson having another offseason in the Morris system was another spring and summer to improve endurance. The benefits were apparent early in the first half against Auburn. Tigers players felt their tempo challenged the Auburn defense’s energy level.

“I went and talked to my offensive line and they felt like they were pushing (Auburn) around,” Clemson running back Andre Ellington said. “Our stamina from working so hard in the offseason really showed when we felt like they were wearing down and I was able to keep going.”

Clemson’s starting five on the offensive line played nearly the entire game. The only substitute occurred when Gifford Timothy left the game late after tweaking his knee. (Coach Dabo Swinney said Timothy’s knee “checked out OK” Sunday.)

Despite little time for rest Saturday night, Clemson center Dalton Freeman said the Tigers could operate faster than they did versus Auburn.

“It was pretty good tempo,” Freeman said. “The sky is the limit and we can go a lot faster.”

Improving tempo wasn’t the only offensive objective for the Morris-led offense.

Morris also changed blocking schemes this offseason, saying he prefers North-South power blocking.

To further enhance the run game, which accounted for 320 yards Saturday, Clemson also ran many running plays out of the pistol formation, in which the running back lines up directly behind the quarterback, rather than to the side as backs are typically aligned in shotgun, spread offenses. The alignment aids the power running game as the back is able to create more momentum and has a more direct path to running lanes.

If Saturday’s 528 yards of total offense without Sammy Watkins was a preview of things to come Clemson’s up-tempo offense might just find another gear in 2012.