CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has had a wild run of success the past four seasons – except against rival South Carolina.
The 23rd-ranked Tigers (8-3) have set scoring records in two of the previous three seasons since Morris arrived in January 2011 and averaged almost 38 points a game.
But Morris’ offense has scored just 13, 17 and 17 points in the past three losses, part of South Carolina’s unprecedented run of five straight wins in the rivalry.
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Clemson’s three highest yardage seasons – all surpassing 6,000 yards of offense – have come in Morris’ first three years. And again, that success has not shown up in the rivalry game.
The Tigers have managed only 277 yards a game in their past three South Carolina defeats, more than 200 yards fewer than the 503 they average against every other opponent in that span.
Morris believes his group’s struggles come from a combination of things, most notably turnovers at the absolute worst moments.
”I thought we played really well offensively,” Morris said Monday. ”I thought we ran the ball efficiently, but when you look at the history of this game the last five years, it boils down to turnovers. When you put yourself behind against a quality opponent, it doesn’t matter who you play it’s tough to catch up.”
That was certainly the case last year in South Carolina’s 31-17 victory when the Tigers had six turnovers, including two muffed punts and an interception from All-American receiver Sammy Watkins on a trick play with Clemson in the red zone on its first possession.
”Yeah, it definitely had a little effect on the momentum,” Morris said.
The Tigers’ offense has not been the typical juggernaut of the past three seasons, largely because of injuries at quarterback. Starter Deshaun Watson missed his fourth game this season after spraining a ligament in his left knee two weeks back in a loss at No. 16 Georgia Tech. Backup Cole Stoudt played in a 28-0 win over struggling Georgia State last Saturday, but Watson was listed as probable on Friday as coach Dabo Swinney said he was encouraged by the freshman’s progress.
Under Stoudt, Clemson has been far less dynamic, although the team surpassed 350 yards of offense for the fourth time in five games – four of those with Stoudt as the starter.
Even if he doesn’t start, Stoudt will be ready to break the streak if called upon.
”It’s one of those things that’s constantly itching at the back of your head,” Stoudt said of the losing streak. ”It motivates you to do a little more, watch more film, prepare a little bit harder.”
Stoudt came unglued two weeks back, throwing three interceptions – two returned for touchdowns – after stepping in for the injured Watson in the 28-6 loss at Georgia Tech. He was much more poised and confident against Georgia State, completing 19 of 29 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he wouldn’t spend much time discussing the winning streak with his players, letting what’s at stake speak for itself.
”Obviously, this is our big game of the year now,” he said. ”We’re not in contention for any divisional or SEC stuff, so this is the state championship game. We’ve got to get ready to go up there and play our best game of the year.”
What’s bailed out Clemson’s offense for much of the year is a Tiger defense that ascended to No. 1 nationally this week. Clemson defensive tackle DeShawn Williams said it’s up to his group to slow down the Gamecocks, something it hasn’t done the past five years.
”They’re doing something right, so much respect to them,” Williams said.