Toughness. Effort. Discipline. Pride. Those are the four words preached by Florida State's football coaching staff.
And after watching the Florida State film, Clemson offensive coordinator might want to add another to the list: physicality.
Clemson's offensive coordinator is one of the best in the business. And he called a tremendous game, scoring 31 points before the game was out of reach. Morris pulled out all the stops. Tons of formations, misdirection, trick plays, etc. And it wasn't enough. Up until a meaningless TD drive when the game was over, his elite offense managed only 5.4 yards/play. Florida State put up 9.
For much of the night, Florida State played "2-man" defense, in which the corners and linebackers lock up in man-to-man coverage, and the two deep safeties each take a deep half of the field. It's a defense that is designed to stop star receivers (like Clemson, which has two likely first round draft choices) by being physical at the line of scrimmage.
The corners can aggressively jam and knock receivers off their timing routes, knowing safety help is available for deep coverage. It's vulnerable to quarterback runs, crossing routes, etc, of which Clemson did a lot Saturday night.
It also works much better if the defense has monsters in the middle who can control the interior run game without much safety help, which is exactly what the Seminoles have in tackles Anthony McCloud, Timmy Jernigan, Everett Dawkins, Demonte McAllister and some active linebackers like Christian Jones, Vince Williams, Nick Moody and Telvin Smith.
Clemson did hit some big plays due to some coverage busts and some very creative playcalling, but FSU gradually fixed the errors while maintaining its physicality.
"I thought they were extremely physical in the secondary," Morris said. "I thought they out-physicaled our wide receivers. They beat us up."
It wasn't just a physical beating. The effort also fouled up Clemson's timing.
"They disrupted us. I thought that was glaring. It didn't mean our guys didn't play hard, but they were just more physical than we were. And that's something we take great pride in."
It was quite noticeable with All-American Sammy Watkins.
"He had six catches for 25 yards," an annoyed Morris snapped when asked if Sammy Watkins, probably the best receiver in the country, was used enough in the passing game. "They were extremely disruptive on Sammy. They were very physical with Sammy. Sammy spent a lot of time on the ground. Whether it was slipping, or getting re-routed. Uhh... he had six catches, and usually six catches is a pretty good night for a receiver. We'd like to have got him several more, and had others called to him, but he was disrupted and we had to go to our second or third read. In the end, we had probably 12 passes called to him, and we got it to him six times. In the others, he got re-routed (by Florida State's physical coverage)."
"The only way we were able to give him the ball was to try to get it to him in the run game," Morris said.
But it wasn't just Watkins. Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, Nick Waisome, Ronald Darby and especially slot/nickel corner Tyler Hunter were aggressive and physical with all of Clemson's impressive skill. Clemson's No. 3 and 4 receivers were silenced.
"Those guys were pressing us up. They were in our face. Let's call it like it is. It was all of 'em, not just Sammy. They were very disruptive. And that was their plan. Their plan was to play 2 behind you [editor's note: see explanation above], you're not going to get behind us [though Clemson did, twice], and those guys you put out there, we're going to get in their face, we're not scared of them. That was their plan. We're going to stop the run with the guys we've got in the box. We've got confidence in our guys we've got enough depth up front," Morris said from the hypothetical perspective of Florida State's defense.
In the video, you can watch Morris explain how many different things Clemson tried to do to get around FSU's freakish defenders. "They were very disruptive," he said.
"We got off the ball late and now the pressure is being put on [Clemson QB] Tajh (Boyd)." Earlier, Morris discussed how Florida State's incredible depth, particularly at defensive tackle, gave the Seminoles the advantage in the second half.
"If you're going to play [that defense] you obviously have to have athletes to do it and match receivers. And I feel like our receiving corps is one of the best in the country," Morris said, answering a question about whether other teams would attempt to play Clemson in a similar fashion. Clearly, the implication is that no team on Clemson's remaining schedule has the personnel to pull it off.
Were Clemson's receivers surprised by the physicality of Florida State's defensive backs?
"I think it surprised them that they pressed 'em most of the night," Morris said. "I think it did, that they were as physical like that up front. They were more physical than us, and that's something we take great pride in. [The receivers] spent too much time on the ground."
Here is the full video.