New coach, no problem: No. 1 Clemson’s offense still humming
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) There were plenty of worried Clemson fans when offensive coordinator Chad Morris left for SMU after last season.
But so far, they had nothing to fret about.
Co-coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott have calmed most doubters and kept the offense for the top-ranked Tigers humming at a fast, successful pace.
Clemson (9-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) looks to keep that going Saturday against struggling Syracuse (3-6, 1-4).
Morris saw the untapped talent and ability of both Elliott and Scott up close the past four seasons as Elliott coached Clemson running backs and Scott its receivers.
''Never had a question about those guys,'' said Morris, the one-time highest paid college coordinator who helped Clemson go 42-11 from 2011-14.
Morris knew the duo were capable of bigger things. This year, the results speak for themselves.
Clemson is 15th in FBS scoring (38 points per game) and 20th in overall offense (488 yards per game). Quarterback Deshaun Watson leads the ACC and is 20th nationally in total offense at 302 yards a contest.
''I think Tony and I have been out front (that) this is Clemson's offense. This isn't about me. This isn't about Tony,'' Scott said. ''This isn't about one person that's calling the show and kind of has the puppets on the string. This is about our guys and our execution.''
The Tigers have continued the offense's explosive, high-tempo nature that started under Morris – and have even found another gear on the way to No. 1 in College Football Playoff rankings.
After being held to 296 yards in a 24-22 victory over Notre Dame on Oct. 3, the Tigers have gained over 500 yards their past five games, capped by amassing 512 yards against Florida State's typically stout defense.
It helps to have Watson in charge, who says the change in offensive leadership has gone smoothly. Along with Elliott and Scott, Watson is taught by former Clemson passer Brandon Streeter, the team's first-year quarterbacks coach.
“They all know what they're doing and it makes it easy on us,'' Watson said.
Elliott and Scott were Clemson receivers and teammates under coach Tommy Bowden in the early 2000s. While Elliott became an industrial engineer who worked for tire giant Michelin in South Carolina, Scott followed father Brad's path – Brad Scott coached South Carolina from 1994-98 and was a Clemson assistant from 1999-2010.
Elliott and Jeff Scott reconnected on Clemson's staff when head coach Dabo Swinney offered Elliott a position on staff. Elliott, who missed football, had since gotten back into coaching at South Carolina State and Furman.
''We've always had a great relationship. It was easy working with him,'' Elliott said of Scott.
Scott soaked up everything Morris had to offer while Elliott brought an engineer's precise analysis to the schemes.
The two poured over the playbook this past offseason, simplifying schemes to make them accessible to Clemson's young offensive players (the Tigers start seven freshmen or sophomores on offense).
Scott stays on the sidelines during games to drill home points one-on-one while Elliott sits upstairs calling plays.
Elliott said any kinks that may have cropped up in play calling early on have been ironed out. ''We've definitely become more efficient,'' he says.
Syracuse Scott Shafer said the Tigers remain creative on offense, taking full advantage of their array of five-star offensive threats. ''It's easier to be creative when you have that kind of talent to throw to and block for,'' Shafer said.
Clemson is trying for its first 10-0 start since its 1981 national championship season and its 13th consecutive victory, also something it has not accomplished in 34 years.
Elliott's not concerned about history, only about accomplishing the goals the Tigers set this season.
''We've still got a state championship'' against rival South Carolina, Elliott said. ''We've got an ACC Championship and a bowl (playoff) championship that we're trying to get.''