They worked statisticians to a frazzle a year ago, piling up yards and points in wholesale lots while rewriting the school record book.
That, says the architect of the Clemson Tigers’ high-powered offensive machine, is just the start.
“We want to be the No. 1 offense in the country,” said Chad Morris, who is beginning his second season as offensive coordinator as the Tigers report to camp this week. “We can do that. The sky’s the limit for this group.”
The 2011 Tigers reached some lofty heights: the first ACC title in 20 years, 10 wins for the first time in 21 seasons, three wins over clubs ranked in the nation’s top 11 and the school’s first BCS bowl.
After an 8-0 start that included success with both teams scoring almost at will, the Tigers played only one complete game — the ACC title game against Virginia Tech — and staggered to the finish line with four one-sided losses to haunt their winter dreams.
“There’s got to be a sense of hunger,” Morris said. “How hungry are these guys? We will find out Friday, but from all indications — the way they looked in the spring, the way they have been lifting (weights), the way they have worked this summer — they’re on a mission.
“That’s what (coaches) ask, what we want from leaders and veteran players. We have veteran players who have been there, they have tasted (success) and now they have a bad taste in the mouths. They want to finish what they started.”
The skill positions feature quality performers everywhere, starting with quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins and running back Andre Ellington. But only all-star center Dalton Freeman and guard/tackle Brandon Thomas return to the interior offensive line.
The Tigers are one of three schools to return a quarterback with more than 3,000 yards passing (Boyd), a receiver with more than 1,000 yards in receptions (Watkins) and a running back with more than 1,000 yards rushing (Ellington).
“We had a decent year (offensively), but we left too many yards and points out there,” Morris said.
Those will not be a problem this fall, he said, and he expects Boyd, a junior, to develop into one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. Or, he said, “maybe the best.”
“Tajh is no longer a rookie, and it seemed like last year that he sometimes got disrupted when he didn’t have Sammy or DeAndre on the field,” the offensive coordinator said. “Now, we expect him to make the reads no matter who is on the field. We expect him to make the other 10 players better.”
After their flying start in 2011, the Tigers regressed, and the nose dive left Morris scratching his head.
“The five games we sputtered toward the end ... that’s what you would have expected early in the year” with so many new starters and a totally revamped offense, he said.
By the time Clemson opens Sept. 1 against Auburn in Atlanta, Morris expects to have no more than three-quarters of his offense installed. “And that’s OK,” he said. “What we have got to do is get good at what we do.”
To foes that spent the offseason studying tape to counter the prolific offense, Morris sends a word of warning. He and his staff spent time at Nevada checking out the “pistol formation” and Oklahoma State picking up some ideas on its “air-raid attack.”
“You have to stay on the cutting edge,” Morris said.