Clemson offense to be tested again

CLEMSON – When Dabo Swinney hired Chad Morris away from Tulsa as Clemson's new offensive coordinator in January 2011, he took a major chance – one which has paid off handsomely.

Over the past three seasons, Morris' hurry-up, no-huddle offense has put up impressive numbers, among the best in college football.

During Morris' tenure, Clemson has averaged 38.6 points per game, 487 yards per game, 310.5 passing yards per game, 175 rushing yards and run an average of 79.5 plays per game.

This season, the Tigers average 42.3 points per game (ninth nationally), 515.6 yards per game (10th nationally), 338.8 passing yards per game (eighth nationally) and 176.8 rushing yards per game (61st nationally).

But for all of the gaudy stats and success – three consecutive 10-win seasons, an ACC title and pieces of two ACC Atlantic Division titles, top-10 wins over Virginia Tech, LSU and Georgia – there's one thing that Morris hasn't done: beat South Carolina.

A quick look at Clemson's offensive stats against the Gamecocks the past two seasons suggests that's no coincidence.

In a 34-13 loss in 2011, Clemson ran just 60 plays, managed just 70 yards rushing, 83 yards passing and held the ball for 22:43.

Last November, the Tigers ran just 59 plays, had just 145 yards rushing and 183 yards passing, holding the ball for 20:02 in a 27-17 defeat. Over the two years, the Tigers average 133 yards passing and 107.5 yards rushing on 59.5 plays per game, holding the ball for an average of 21:22. It doesn't take a genius to say that if Morris' offense is even average Saturday night in Columbia, Clemson's hopes of escaping Williams-Brice Stadium with a prized victory rise exponentially.

Over the past three seasons, Clemson's top offensive weapons have been neutralized by the Gamecocks' defense.

Sammy Watkins has yet to score in two full games against South Carolina.

DeAndre Hopkins scored twice in three years, but failed to have a major impact.

And Tajh Boyd has spent most of his two starts running for his life with the Gamecocks' pass rush in hot pursuit.

Morris said this week he won't change his basic philosophy against South Carolina, calling it "the worst possible thing that you can do."

That makes sense: dance with the one that brought you, right?

With Watkins (78 receptions, 1,144 yards, 10 TD) and Martavis Bryant (38 receptions, 782 yards, 5 TD) leading a talented wide receiver corps and Rod McDowell (845 yards, 4 TD) serving as a solid every-down back, Clemson has plenty of explosive offensive options if Boyd has time to find them. The key, of course, is keeping Boyd upright with a relentless South Carolina defensive line led by Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles bringing significant pressure.

And perhaps the biggest key of all? Giving the offense opportunities to stay on the field. A year ago, South Carolina converted 11 of 21 third-down opportunities, or 52.3 percent. Clemson ran only 19 offensive snaps in the second half.

This fall, Clemson's defense is allowing opponents to convert only 29.6 percent of third down attempts – sixth-best nationally.

If the Tigers' offense can stay on the field – and Boyd can stay on his feet – its numbers will likely look a lot better at the end of the night.

Without significant improvement in those numbers, however, Morris' misery will extend another year.

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