Monday with Morris

CLEMSON – Chad Morris loves to say how he wants every Clemson drive to "end with a kick."

If the Tigers' third-year offensive coordinator had his way, they'd all be points after touchdown. It hasn't always been that way lately, which has raised some concerns about the Tigers' offense. Clemson's red zone offense has taken a significant turn downward this fall.

A year ago, Clemson had the nation's top red zone offense, converting 95 percent of their red zone trips into scores. 43 of the 56 scores were touchdowns, a 76.7 percent clip.

This year, scoring inside the 20 has turned into an issue. The Tigers are 58th nationally in red zone scoring, converting at an 83 percent clip. Touchdowns are lower as well. 24 of the 37 scores have been touchdowns, 64.8 percent.

Saturday, Clemson's first four trips to the Maryland red zone resulted in three field goals and a punt (the result after quarterback Tajh Boyd took an intentional grounding penalty that pushed the offense out of field goal range).

"If every drive starts and ends with a kick, you're going to win a lot of games – be that a punt, point-after touchdown or field goal," Morris said Monday. "We want more PATs than anything else. We've been really good in red zone offense around here. Really good. For whatever reason, we've come away with some field goals. We've got to go back and make sure we're not having any breakdowns in that area."

After watching tape, Morris didn't have a common thread to Saturday's red-zone struggles. It was more a variety of problems.

"We had some guys that were open and underneath cutters coming that we didn't hit," he said. "We had a ball down there that we flipped to Hot Rod (McDowell) on one occasion, a man look, he came up a little short of third down. On first and second downs, we knew exactly what was going on. On third down they did a little more zero blitzing.

"Anytime you get into the red zone, you want to come away with points. Last year, we did so all but two times. That's what you do. It's an area we've got to continue to emphasize, get better at."

The early struggles, Morris said, kept the Terrapins in the game: Clemson led 16-13 midway through the third quarter before going on a 24-7 run to put the game away.

"If we score the first drive, second drive, third drive, it's a different game," he said. "And you're not seeing Tajh and Sammy (Watkins), those guys late in the game."

That could be for the best, he said.

"It happened that way, and there's a good reason for that," he said. "It shows guys adversity and it'll help them. We can coach as hard as want, get on them as hard as want, but until we get in a true adverse situation, we'll never find out what guys are about. We've been able to see some adversity, find out a lot about ourselves. I can't help but think it'll only help us as we go through the next four weeks."

The final result, Morris said, is what matters most.

"Bottom line: did you score? You can cut it like you want to, dissect it like you want to, did you score?" he said. "All the yards don't mean anything. Did you put points on the board?" More thoughts from Morris' Monday conversation with reporters.

On what winning at Maryland meant: "It's tough to win anywhere, but to go win on the road, win at Maryland, know the history Clemson has at Maryland… two years ago, we had to battle from 18 points down twice. To see our guys go with the mindset of playing well on the road, winning on the road, it's a great accomplishment for those guys. It's a huge task there. That's what we do. Really impressive coming off the loss we had before."

On simplifying the offense: "It didn't have anything to do with protecting the ball. It was more so trying to take pressure off Tajh. So, that was the majority of it, help him out. Let him feel a little more comfortable. It's been pretty simple, take some of the window dressing off it so to speak.

"You all know Tajh. I think no one puts more pressure than Tajh than Tajh. He wants to be perfect. My big emphasis to Tajh, when he came back, made the choice to come back, is that you need to have fun. It'll work itself out: go have fun, smile, play, let's be Tajh Boyd. Our big emphasis this past week was to go relax and go play. I thought he played well. He'll be first to tell you that he missed a few here and there, and then went out, executed, got us going. Ran when he had to run it. I was very pleased with his performance. He's going to continue to get better."

On Boyd's knee and will it be an issue this week: "Not really. He's been with the trainers. Like a lot of guys at this point in the season, everyone's bruised up a little bit. He's going to play, he'll practice this week. Going back to his home state, he's excited about that. He'll be fine."

Will he be able to be involved in the run game: "It's on. We're running Tajh. Tajh is a part of this thing."

On the season-high 238 rushing yards at Maryland: "I think our guys up front did a good job of taking pressure off Tajh. Our game plan was a process to get them outflanked, take what they give you and that's basically what we did. Hot Rod made some really good runs and if something wasn't there, he was able to run out front, out the back door, pick up some positive yards. It was good to see."

On Virginia's defense: "Very active. Good in the pass defense, very active with that…. Active in batting balls down, that's one of the main things that stands out, the number of passes they bat down. Very big up front, rangy, 6-7, 6-8 up front. Quick off the edge. One of their linebackers is as good a player as we've seen this year Very impressive with the way he plays. He's definitely, you better know where that guy is at all times."

On Boyd's interception: "We had them in cover 2, had the back rolling up the sidelines. In a situation like that, you have your outlet, you hot throw underneath. They brought pressure. Underneath, Sammy was there. (Boyd) felt the pressure, threw off his back foot. He had Sammy coming right underneath."

On the back-to-back fumbles by Watkins and McDowell: "Those type of turnovers, back to back turnovers by your best players, the guys you're trying to get the ball to, back to back, it's thankful our defense was playing well, has been playing well enough to hold them to a field goal, put in bad situations. You're not going to win many games doing that.

"We were lucky. You have to put the ball away, keep it tucked away. They were trying to strip it, did really good job trying to strip the ball. They had two more out by stripping them. We talk about it every day, chart it every day, something we've got to keep emphasizing. Hopefully it runs its course."

On being challenged: "I think they all have to be challenged. It's one of the things we talked about to our guys, they have to be mentally tough. You have to be a tough person to play this game. I say tough. It's one thing being out there, lined up, knock them off the ball for a yard, that's tough. Tough is guys walking to cars after the game last Saturday night and not too many people are out there. That's tough. One thing I stress with the players, tough times don't last, tough people do. We really challenged all our guys. They all stepped up, and I'm proud of each and every one of them to come away with a win.

"Are there things we can do better? Absolutely. Things we can coach better? Absolutely. Sammy Watkins elevated his game this past week, along with other guys. We all know what Sammy's bought to this program, playmaking ability, and I'm extremely excited to see that."

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