November 18, 2012

MORRIS: High scores highlight ACC

The fireworks following Clemson’s victory Saturday over N.C. State at Death Valley were timid compared to those that abounded during the Tigers’ 62-48 romp over the Wolfpack.


THE PACIFIC-10 Conference once cornered the market on these types of games. Then Conference USA began to produce weekly high-scoring track meets on the football field. Now, it appears the ACC has joined the parade of scoreboard-busting affairs.

The fireworks following Clemson’s victory Saturday over N.C. State at Death Valley were timid compared to those that abounded during the Tigers’ 62-48 romp over the Wolfpack.

More than 100 points scored. The teams combined for nearly one mile of offense — 1,351 yards, to be exact. They ran 190 plays, including a whopping 102 by Clemson. Each team had a quarterback pass for more than 400 yards, at least one runner top 100 yards and two receivers go past the century mark.

“It’s unbelievable isn’t it? It’s just kind of crazy,” said Chad Morris, the architect of Clemson’s fast-paced attack as its offensive coordinator. “It’s just the way things are happening. It’s hard to explain.”

The only explanation is that it appears to be a trend in the ACC.

A week ago, Georgia Tech defeated North Carolina, 68-50. Seven times this season in games involving ACC squads, the teams combined for at least 80 points. Florida State outscored Clemson earlier this season, 49-37, and Wake Forest went outside the league to hold off Army, 49-37.

Perhaps the spread offenses that have infiltrated the ACC represent the best way for the league to eventually catch up to the power conferences, such as the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten. Maybe running up and down the field is the ACC’s way of attempting to level that same playing field.

Entering this weekend’s games, Florida State, Clemson and North Carolina all ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams in scoring, all rolling up more than 40 points per game. Clemson and Florida State ranked among the top 11 in total offense with more than 500 yards per game.

It is a stark contrast to the SEC, where stout defenses have proven in recent seasons to produce top-10 teams and national champions. The SEC claims three of the nation’s top 10 defenses — Alabama, Florida and LSU — in both scoring and total yards.

The ACC’s offensive surge appears to have reached new heights this season, one in which the league’s games have looked more and more like those played in the Pac-10 and Conference USA.

Already this season, ACC teams have been involved in 15 games in which both teams scored 30 or more points. That compares to seven such games in 2002, three each in 1992 and 1982, one in 1972 and nary a one in 1962.

“I think, without a doubt, with the way the spread offenses are going nowadays, and the changing of structures from one-back to two-back, and two-back to one-back, and two-back to three-back, has really put the stress on defenses,” Morris said.

Clemson has led the ACC pack in applying that pressure to defenses, and Saturday’s showing was the culmination of those efforts. In addition to topping 50 points in a game for the third time this season, the Tigers rolled up 754 yards of offense, which is the seventh highest total in ACC history and 2 yards shy of the program record.

Most impressive was the way in which Clemson scored. When the Tigers had the ball, there was no chance for fans to make it to the concession stand and return to their seats without missing a score. Clemson’s scoring drives took 2:04, 2:21, 1:35, 1:21, :33, 1:23, :53, 1:02, 2:58 and 59 seconds.

As he has been throughout the season, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was spectacular. He completed 32 of 44 passes for 426 yards and five touchdowns. He also carried the ball 18 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns.

When a team scores 62 points, there is more than one star on offense. Clemson’s offensive line — going against an N.C. State defense that led the ACC in sacks — did not allow the Wolfpack to touch Boyd behind the line of scrimmage. The line also cleared enough area for Andre Ellington to rush for 124 yards and Roderick McDowell to gain 83 more on the ground.

It made for a delightful afternoon and early evening for fans of high-powered offenses, and Clemson’s supporters seem to like that brand of football even more with each passing victory. For the Clemson offense, the weekly output is earning smiles all around.

“I had a lot of fun out there,” Boyd said. “Anytime you have a game and see smiles throughout the game, it’s always fun. ... Overall, it was just a pretty fun game.”

Now we get to see on Saturday how that new “fun” style of ACC offense stacks up against the SEC’s old style of defensive play when Clemson meets South Carolina.

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