Orange Bowl offers similar offensive minds

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Did Clemson’s Chad Morris nearly become Ohio State’s offensive coordinator when Urban Meyer first got to Columbus? Depends on whom you ask.

It was reported at the time that Meyer tried to lure Morris to the Buckeyes in December 2011. Morris said on Monday that he and Meyer had a conversation about the job right before the 2011 ACC title game. Clemson must have thought those communications were serious because the school gave Morris a big raise -- to $1.3 million a year -- the Sunday morning after the Tigers won the ACC championship.

But Meyer said later on Monday that “there was no truth” to the rumors he’d offered Morris the job and claimed to not have any idea where those reports came from.

“I’m going to have to ask Chad: ‘Did you start that?’” Meyer joked.

Whatever the case, this much is true: Meyer and the third-year Clemson play-caller share a mutual admiration. And when their teams face one another in Friday’s Discover Orange Bowl, you’ll see a lot of similarities in the two offenses.

Morris was still a high school coach in Texas when he got to know Meyer. The relationship started when Meyer recruited some of Morris’ players while at Utah. When Meyer went to Florida, Morris took his high school coaching staff to Gainesville one offseason to gather information about the spread offense.

During Meyer’s year off from coaching in 2011, he called a handful of Clemson games as an ESPN analyst. Meyer wisely used his time off to learn from other coaches, including Morris.

“You know Coach Meyer,” Morris said. “He’s definitely always looking to try to find something that separates him offensively. He’s an offensive mind. So he would come out and watch our practice. After practice, we’d sit and talk for a while.”

Morris said he and Meyer struck up a conversation once about how Clemson was using tight end Dwayne Allen. That led to near-weekly talks on the phone about a tight end’s role in the offense.

“I remember watching the transformation from the previous offense to his [at Clemson],” Meyer said. “It was almost overnight. They were doing a great job.”

This past spring, two members of Ohio State offensive staff -- including the coordinator Meyer did hire, Tom Herman -- spent about three days visiting Clemson to exchange ideas. Herman, who spent several years coaching in Texas earlier in his career, knows Morris well.

“I wouldn't say we're best buddies,” Herman said. “We don't go on vacation together or anything like that, but we do spend a lot of time talking football over the phone. It has been a very good, productive working relationship.”

Both Herman and Morris have frequently been mentioned as future head coaches, and with the success of other former offensive coordinators like Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, it’s easy to see why. Of course, neither needs to settle for just any job. Morris is already being paid like a head coach. When a reporter started a question to Herman about both coordinators being on “the cutting edge” of offense, Herman cracked: “Him more than me, if you look at his paycheck.” (Herman makes $550,000 at Ohio State).

Morris said when he and Herman went to dinner in the offseason, they joked about potentially meeting up in a bowl game. And so it came to pass, as two teams that share a lot of offensive principles are about to find out which one works better.

Clemson averaged 40.2 points per game this season, while Ohio State scored 46.3 points per contest. The Buckeyes are a run-heavy team, while the Tigers tilt far more toward the passing game. That’s mostly because that’s where each team’s true strengths lie, as Clemson has Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, while Ohio State has Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde.

But as far as formations, shifting, motions and tempo go, they’re a lot alike.

“We have a lot of common ground,” said Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warriner. “Especially in the spread things we do in the passing and running games.”

Morris said he didn’t give away all his secrets when Herman visited. In college football, many offenses use the same basic concepts.

“It's funny,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We say it all the time in our meeting. It's not just them. It's a lot of these offenses that you're seeing. You watch the 49ers with [Colin] Kaepernick. It's like all these boys went to the same retreat, the same clinic and they’re stealing ball plays from each other."

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And whether Meyer and Morris came close to working together or not, their offenses flatter each other.