CLEMSON, S.C. — Ball State’s offensive style has an admirer in Clemson coach Chad Morris.
While the hyper-drive Tigers got off 87 plays in their season-opening victory over Auburn, Ball State had 96 plays on offensive in its win against Eastern Michigan.
Morris may get to take a few notes Saturday when the 12th-ranked Tigers (1-0) face Ball State (1-0) at Death Valley.
The Cardinals are a team after Morris’ heart — a snap-and-go marvel that had a school record 36 first downs in their opener last week. Morris liked what his team did on offense, too, in the 26-19 win against Auburn. The group set school records for points and yards gained in 2011 and Morris said his players kept asking to go even faster in their opener.
“Nobody better get a drink,” Morris said. “The concessions stands are going to be empty.”
Clemson and Morris established an offensive flow last season where fans learned you had to stay glued to the attack so you didn’t miss anything. And, behind quarterback Tajh Boyd and All-America receiver Sammy Watkins that usually meant Tiger touchdowns.
But Watkins will be absent again, sitting out the second of his two-game suspension for an offseason drug arrest. DeAndre Hopkins made up for Watkins’ production with a school record 13 catches for 119 yards. Hopkins also had the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, a 4-yard grab in the corner from Boyd.
Tailback Andre Ellington finished with a career high 228 yards on 25 carries.
Morris said his players have embraced the fast pace so far this season, something that wasn’t always the case last year despite its record-setting showing.
Morris was particularly pleased with the offensive line, which featured three first-time starters in Gifford Timothy, David Beasley and Tyler Shatley.
“I didn’t want to go out there and disappoint anybody,” Beasley said. “So I played as hard as I could. We were pretty well conditioned.”
Freshman Shaq Anthony will start in Timothy’s place against Ball State. Timothy re-injured his knee near the end of the Auburn game and had not practice through Wednesday.
Clemson equipment staff has also been busy this week, fitting Boyd for a helmet that shouldn’t come off — something that happened three times against Auburn and made him sit out the following play per new NCAA rules. One instance without Boyd was a 4th-and-goal play from Auburn’s 1 where Clemson chose a field goal instead of trying for a clinching TD.
“It’s something you’ve never had to think about before,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of the helmet rule.
Ball State has plenty of weapons on offense, too.
Quarterback Keith Wenning has started the past 23 games for the Cardinals. He was 26 of 41 in the opener and threw for 267 of the team’s 596 yards of offense — the fourth best performance in team history.
Tailback Jawhan Edwards ran for a career-high 200 yards and matched his best with three touchdowns. Jamill Smith had seven catches for 119 yards.
The Cardinals, though, understand the challenge they face at Memorial Stadium against the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champs.
“Obviously, unbelievable athleticism, unbelievable talent” at Clemson, Ball State running backs coach Justin Lustig said. “But the thing we’re going to preach to our guys is that we’re going to win with the things we always win with, playing with more effort and playing with more detail.”
Neither Ball State nor Clemson was particularly sharp on defense.
The Cardinals allowed 366 yards to Eastern Michigan. Linebacker Travis Freeman, ninth nationally in tackles in the Football Bowl Subdivision last year, led the way with nine stops.
Clemson, in its first game with new coordinator Brent Venables, had several breakdowns early on and gradually found their stride down the stretch. Auburn managed just 40 yards on 18 plays on its three series in the fourth quarter.
“It was as a bad as it looked at times and good,” Swinney said. “Good way to describe it. We did some really good things but had critical mistakes.”
Tigers linebacker Stephone Anthony said the players had some issues to overcome, but all are fixable and can get done before the home opener. “First game is the first game, you’ve got your good and bad,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn from and we can grow from it.”
Both defenses, though, won’t be surprised going against a high-speed offense. “We’ll definitely be in shape for it,” Stephone Anthony said.