Clemson's offense struggling to move forward
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris' high-speed attack has stalled this fall as he has spent more time penciling in new starters on depth chart then scheming up complex ways to keep the Tigers moving.
The fourth-year coordinator has only started the same lineup in consecutive games just once this season with No. 21 Clemson's attack beset with injuries, inconsistencies and defections. The results are an offense that finished in the top 10 the previous two years but is now wallowing in 45th nationally.
Clemson's 440 yards a game this season is about 70 yards fewer than its averages from 2012 and 2013. The Tigers have even tailed off from just a few weeks back, putting up fewer than 400 yards in wins over Louisville and Boston College the past two contest.
''Are we where we were early in the year? No. Are we where we were a year ago? Absolutely not. Two years ago? Absolutely not,'' Morris said. ''We haven't had this type of talk in three prior years.''
Morris and the Tigers (5-2, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) try and break out Saturday night against Syracuse (3-4, 1-2).
It could be tough with Clemson's depleted unit. The Tigers have lost their starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, their leading rusher Adam Choice and top tight end Jordan Leggett to injury in the past two weeks. Starting right guard Reid Webster is listed as backup at two other line spots for a unit that leans heavily on only five players.
There's a growing sense of worry for Morris, whose $1.3 million salary makes him one of the game's highest paid assistants, that he won't generate the offensive power Clemson fans have loudly cheered the past three years.
''Obviously we want to put up points,'' Morris said. ''When we're not doing that, then yeah, there is frustration and a sense of urgency about ourselves. These guys and our coaches take a lot of pride in what they do.''
Quarterback Cole Stoudt, the one-time starter given a second chance to play with Watson's injury, said the Tigers faced the country's No. 1 defense in Louisville and No. 11 defense in Boston College.
''It's huge going against teams like that and actually winning,'' Stoudt said. ''Sometimes, it's not pretty every now and then, but we find a way to win, and we do what it takes.''
Clemson's offense began taking hits before the first game.
Projected running back starter Zac Brooks injured his foot during summer workouts and was lost for the year. Veteran offensive lineman Shaq Anthony chose to transfer about a week or so before the season's first game.
Experienced receiver Charone Peake, expected to bring leadership after All-American Sammy Watkins jumped to the NFL, needed work done on his surgically repaired knee in early August and has missed Clemson's past four games.
Choice was Clemson's top rusher with just 218 yards and had grabbed the position the past few weeks until tearing his ACL against Boston College.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Tyshon Dye, a highly regarded runner who missed all last season with an injury, was turned loose at practice this week with the intention of playing.
''We've been cautious and patient with him,'' Swinney said. ''I think he's in a good spot right now.''
Syracuse coach Scott Shafer believes Clemson has more than enough firepower to put up points, particularly backed up by a defense that ranks No. 5 nationally in fewest yards allowed per game.
Shafer said his offensive linemen must take it one snap at a time to succeed.
''Understanding that winning one battle at a time for five or six seconds will stack up for you to finish the game feeling good about the way you played,'' he said.
Morris is hopeful his offense will flourish again.
This summer, Morris poked fun at his full-out style in a promotional video, the wide-eyed, fast-talking coach downing energy drinks and filling a dry erase board with different-colored markings, slogans and formulas as his quarterbacks watched in amazement.
These days, Morris knows there's plenty left on Clemson's drawing board.
''We're only one marker into it right now,'' he said. ''We haven't burned up the markers yet.''