Two weeks ago, Chad Morris said he hoped the quarterback competition at Clemson would be cleared up by the end of spring, but certainly this isn’t what he had in mind.
Sophomore Chad Kelly was dismissed from the team Monday for what coach Dabo Swinney called, “conduct detrimental to the program,” after a sideline altercation between Kelly and coaches proved the last straw for the hot-headed QB.
“He has had a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program,” Swinney said.
The personality conflicts come as no surprise to Clemson coaches, who hoped Kelly would mature throughout the QB battle this offseason, but that didn’t happen -- at least not at a rate fast enough for Swinney.
But Kelly’s dismissal couldn’t have been an easy decision. While senior Cole Stoudt and early enrollee Deshaun Watson are both capable alternatives, Morris gave Kelly every chance to win the job this spring -- even making scrimmages live for QBs so Kelly could showcase his mobility -- because his skill set was a closer fit for what the Tigers want to do offensively.
Morris said prior to Clemson’s first scrimmage of the spring that: “We have to be able to adapt to the personnel we have. If it’s Cole, he’s not quite the runner that Chad and Deshaun are, and we have to adapt to him. … If it’s Chad or Deshaun, you might be more zone-read than you are anything.”
Under Morris, Clemson has used QB runs effectively, and Kelly offered the Tigers their best chance to continue to do that.
Last season, only Maryland and Wake Forest (two of the ACC’s worst rushing offenses) had a higher percentage of their rushing yards come from quarterbacks. Only Duke and Maryland had a higher percentage of rushing touchdowns come from their quarterbacks. Mobility was important for Clemson, and Stoudt -- the presumed starter now -- doesn’t have much of it.
So what does that mean for the Tigers’ offense going forward?
As Morris indicated, the personnel and the playbook will need to be tweaked some to fit Stoudt’s skill set, but that doesn’t necessarily mean massive overhaul. While Tajh Boyd was an effective runner, a closer look at Morris’ play-calling shows that, even with a mobile QB, Clemson’s reliance on Boyd’s legs wasn’t excessive.
In 2013, Clemson’s QBs accounted for just 30 percent of the team’s rush attempts (not counting sacks), good for seventh in the ACC and well within the median group. Overall, just 14.6 percent of the Tigers’ total plays last year were QB runs -- roughly the same rate as NC State, UNC, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Duke. And those zone-reads Morris figured could be a crucial part of the playbook with Kelly at QB? According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was hardly a factor with Boyd running the show a year ago.
Yes, Clemson would’ve loved to have a quarterback who could make plays with both his feet and his arm, and Kelly certainly fit the bill. But in the end, the potential didn’t outweigh his combustible personality. And there’s no reason to assume the Tigers can’t win with a less nimble runner. After all, the four ACC teams that ran their quarterbacks the least in 2013 all made bowl games, including national champion Florida State. And while Clemson’s stable of running backs was beleaguered by injuries a year ago, the depth chart at the position projects as a serious strength for the Tigers’ offense in 2014.
And Kelly’s departure also assures one other thing: Watson, the freshman early enrollee who missed the spring game with a minor injury, won’t be redshirted this year. While Morris has suggested Watson has an uphill battle to master the playbook in time to win the starting job, Kelly’s loss virtually guarantees Watson will get routine playing time, and he’s more than capable of being that same dual-threat weapon in Clemson’s backfield. And given Watson’s profile as a star of the future, getting him on the field in small doses behind Stoudt could prove a major bonus in the long run.