Orange Bowl: Morris hire pays off for Clemson
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Clemson has its first ACC football championship in 20 years and its first major bowl berth in three decades because of its offense.
Chad Morris, take a bow.
Morris, hired away from Tulsa and named 51 weeks ago by Tigers Coach Dabo Swinney, is finishing only his second season in college football. He has engineered a Clemson attack that has climbed from 87th to 29th in total offense.
Two years ago, Morris was one of the top high school coaches in the state of Texas, winning back-to-back state championships at Lake Travis
Last month, with Ohio State's Urban Meyer seeking an offensive coordinator and home state Houston seeking a head coach, Clemson gave Morris a reported six-year, $7.8 million deal as offensive coordinator - making him the highest paid assistant coach in college football.
At the Orange Bowl - a first BCS appearance for 14th-ranked Clemson - Morris seems appreciative as well as matter-of-fact.
"As a coach, you set goals for yourself as you do for your team," Morris said at a press conference here. "My goal was to be a college coach by the time I turned 40, or to at least have an opportunity to coach college football.
"At 41 I had that opportunity. I actually had it before then, but it just was not the right situation or the right place. Taking an opportunity to go to Tulsa (that) year, no one envisioned that you'd be sitting in quite the stage that we're in right now this quick after coming to Clemson just a year ago."
With Morris running the Tulsa offense, the Golden Hurricane went from 5-7 to 10-3. After he took over the Tigers' offense, the ACC program went from 6-7 to 10-3 entering its 8:30 p.m. Wednesday kickoff at Sun Life Stadium with No. 23 West Virginia (9-3).
"It has been great," Morris said of his experience in the last two years. "I don't have time to kind of sit back and look and analyze things. We'll do that probably here in a few weeks.
"When we get a little bit of time off, we can sit back and think, 'Wow, we had a good season or, 'We had a great season.' But as a coach your mind always works. What do we have to improve on and what do we have to do to get better and what kind of recruits do we need to go get to get better?
"We have to fix some of the problems that we have. There will be time, and it is great. I've been very blessed, but we've got work to do. We're going to enjoy it, but we're going to go to work and get things done that need to get done."
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MORRIS SAID the Mountaineers present a different challenge to the Tigers' offense, which is averaging 33.6 points and 440.6 yards per game.
"They're a very good football team, No. 1," Morris said of WVU. "As you look at their defense and you look at their odd stack or their 3-3-5 defense - and coach (coordinator Jeff Casteel) has been there for quite some time - they run it extremely well. I think their linebackers are probably as aggressive a group as we've seen.
"They're one of the top teams in the country in pass defense. They like to drop quite a few back (into coverage). They're going to bring their fourth defender somewhere in a rush.
"They're going to try to put some pressure on you, and then they're going to drop eight and rush three and going to try to force your quarterback to make decisions at that point."
Morris has a historical reference point on the WVU defense. He saw it daily in practice in 2010 at Tulsa, working for Coach Todd Graham, a former West Virginia co-coordinator who since his Morgantown stay moved from Rice to Tulsa to Pitt to Arizona State.
"They have played a lot better defensively as of late," Morris said of WVU's defense. "I've got a lot of respect for those guys, coming out of the Big East. And my former head coach, Coach Graham, was at West Virginia with all those guys, and that's what we would go against, at Tulsa, was the odd stack.
"This may be something we don't see on a regular basis in the ACC, so to attack it is a little bit different. We see it on occasion on some long yardage downs. But I think they're definitely a well-coached football team, and they're going to be ready."
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THE ORANGE Bowl will be Clemson's sixth game this season against a nationally ranked club, in the No. 23 Mountaineers. The Tigers are 4-1 against ranked foes, losing only at No. 13 South Carolina in their regular-season rivalry finale.
Clemson's four wins against ranked teams - Nos. 21 Auburn, 11 Florida State and 11 and 5 Virginia Tech, rank second in the nation this season, at least until tonight.
No. 3 Oklahoma State, which faces No. 4 Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl tonight, also has four wins over poll-sitting teams (Texas A&M, Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma).
Unbeaten LSU (13-0) will play its ninth ranked opponent when it faces No. 2 Alabama in the BCS National Championship game next week. The Tigers' eight ranked victims include then-No. 16 WVU, 47-21, on Sept. 24 at Mountaineer Field.
Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at email@example.com or 304-348-7949.