CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson's Chad Morris isn't used to watching his high-flying offense grounded like it was last week against Virginia Tech. The second-year offensive coordinator said Monday he'll make sure it won't happen again.
The 14th-ranked Tigers (6-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) were held to 295 yards against Virginia Tech. Tajh Boyd was the ACC leader in passing yards per game, but managed only 160 yards — well below his average of 291 coming in. The offensive line gave up five sacks in a 38-17 win over the Hokies after allowing only 10 its first six games.
Everyone, Morris said, shares the blame.
"It was my fault as much as anybody else's," he said.
Morris was encouraged Sunday when the offense came to practice focused and motivated to fix the mistakes before facing Wake Forest (4-3, 2-3) on Thursday night.
"I'm glad it's a short week. Tajh is glad it's a short week. He's shared that with me several times," Morris said.
Boyd rushed for a pair of touchdowns and connected with DeAndre Hopkins for a 37-yard scoring pass. But Virginia Tech set the tone, Morris said, with two sacks of Boyd on Clemson's first series and the junior quarterback struggled to step up in the pocket most of the rest of the way.
Morris said the Hokies, who had lost twice to Clemson in 2011 including the ACC championship game, were highly motivated to short-circuit an offense that was averaging 525 yards coming into last week. But that's no excuse for the Tigers not to execute the way they had the first half of the season.
"That's totally unacceptable from our guys," he said. "Whether it was the open week and we had a lot of rust on us, our timing was off. All that's excuses. That's just bull-corn, in my opinion. We weren't on it."
Boyd had no problems at practice after falling hard to the turf on his shoulder late in last week's game. "You'd have to cut his legs off to keep him out the game," Morris said.
It was Boyd's legs, along with Clemson's defense, that bailed the Tigers out of this one.
The defense got three interceptions, including two by safety Jonathan Meeks, and twice stopped Virginia Tech on fourth down for its most complete effort of the season. Meeks' first interception led to Boyd's 1-yard TD run that put Clemson ahead for good. Meeks took his second interception 74 yards for a touchdown.
Wake Forest had a strong defensive showing, holding Virginia to 48 yards rushing in a 16-10 victory last Saturday. Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe said his team is getting healthier. "We haven't been full strength previous to this," he said. "This is what we hoped we would be able to do defensively at the beginning of the season."
Clemson defensive back Xavier Brewer, who had Clemson's final interception last week, said it was nice to leave the stadium knowing the defense did its job. And he's not that worried about the offense, either.
"It's crazy how they played a bad game and put up 31 points," Brewer said sarcastically. "We're thankful to have an offense that good."
Boyd thought the offense didn't come out as fired up as you'd expect, maybe because of the off week that preceded playing Virginia Tech. He was glad the defense gave his group some margin for error and picked up the slack.
"In that first half, we didn't do what we were supposed to do," Boyd said. "It just happens like that sometimes."
Morris earns $1.3 million a season, the highest-paid coordinator in college football, to make sure it never happens like that. The Tigers got off just 67 snaps against the Hokies, well off Morris' goal of 100 plays a game. He's talked with Boyd about staying true to his technique and properly managing the game even when the offensive line doesn't hold up as well as it had before.
Morris said there's little depth on the offensive line so the starters have to work much harder to improve since they're not being pushed by backups. That showed against Virginia Tech, he said.
"We didn't knock anybody off the ball," Morris said. "Holy cow."
Morris' offense set school records for points and yards gained in Clemson's ACC-title winning season last year. He's confident the team's quick-strike, big-play capabilities will return against the Demon Deacons.
"We haven't had many days like that since we've been here," Morris said. "Hey, great learning experience. Great opportunity for us to bounce back."