Wednesday, August 6, 2014
When offensive teams win with D ...
By Andrea Adelson
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris arrived on campus over three years ago with one goal -- transform the Tigers into a sleek, high-tempo scorin' machine.
Three years in, he has done that, raising the offensive bar higher than it has been in decades. You think Clemson, you think offense. Players like C.J. Spiller laid the groundwork, but Morris helped foster that identity through Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and all the rest.
So what happens now that the players who sent offensive expectations soaring are gone? How will outsiders react if Clemson starts winning with -- egad! defense?
"We can win 10-7, and I'd be just fine with that," Dabo Swinney said. "But I still think when it's all said and done, we'll be one of the better offenses out there."
Nobody inside Clemson expects to take a step back offensively, but the truth is, the defense is the strongest part of the team going into the season. Clemson will absolutely have to rely on that group more than it has in years past.
There is nothing wrong with that ... unless you are a program known for running 80-plus plays and scoring at will.
Then, winning with D is as fun as winter in the North Pole.
Just ask Boston College coach Steve Addazio. He knows all too well what happens when an offensive juggernaut fails to meet expectations. Rewind to 2010, when he was still offensive coordinator at Florida. Tim Tebow was gone, and the offense plummeted.
All of a sudden, a man praised for his offensive acumen turned the Florida offense into an “embarrassment.” The Florida fan base, spoiled first by Steve Spurrier’s Fun N Gun and then Urban Meyer’s version of the spread, wanted Addazio canned.
He left on his own accord to become Temple head coach, after Florida averaged 29.9 points per game. The defense fared better than the offense that season, but shoulders shrugged. Florida is not a program that scores fewer than 30 points a game, fans wailed!
Apparently it is, because the Gators have failed to average more than 29 points since Addazio left. Will Muschamp has tried to win with defense, but fans have a hard time grasping that notion. Even in 2012, when Florida won 11 games, the season felt like a disaster because the offense was so miserable to watch.
It makes you wonder what would happen if schools like Oregon and Baylor all of a sudden won with defense. Would that draw more praise or questions on the order of what is wrong with your offense? Flip the script. What if Michigan State all of a sudden started winning games with an offense that averaged 45 points per game?
Fans, and even commentators to an extent, expect teams to fit a certain script. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows this all too well. At the ACC Kickoff, he said he would love to not have to score 45 points per game because his defense was leading the way but acknowledged the double-edged sword there. Inevitably, folks would say the offense fell off The Hill.
“It wouldn't hurt my feelings at all to be known as a great, great defense and the best defense in all the land,” Swinney said. “We can win 10-7, and I'd be just fine with that. But I still think when it's all said and done, we'll be one of the better offenses out there. We've got good personnel, and I think it's going to come together just fine.”
Fine enough to continue to rank in the top 25 in scoring? Clemson averaged fewer than 25 points per game just once under Swinney -- back in 2010, his only losing record as Clemson coach. That season, Clemson had a much better defense, the only time in his tenure that has been the case.
Swinney ended up hiring Morris after that year ended, and the offense has dominated. But he also brought in one of the best defensive coordinators in the country in Brent Venables after the Orange Bowl disaster in 2012. Since then, the defense has made marked improvement.
This should be his best group yet, and the players know it. They are ready to lead this team.
The question, then is this: Is everybody else ready for that?