CLEMSON — If you stumble across Chad Morris the night before a Clemson football game, chances are you’ll find him frantically scribbling on a notepad.
Morris, Clemson’s offensive coordinator, said he writes and rewrites his game plan 12 to 15 times every week once he finalizes the play selections.
“That’s just kind of the way I memorize things, the way I have memorized since growing up,” Morris said. “Maybe I got in trouble in grade school and had to write sentences over and over on the chalkboard. From the time I get on the bus (Friday) to the hotel, I just write it and rewrite it. (On game day) I just got it in my mind.”
Morris and Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson will each bring very different offensive schemes to Memorial Stadium on Saturday, but both are similar in their unorthodox approach to play calling. Perhaps their unique styles have something to do with the fact that neither played college football. During their respective offensive possessions Saturday, neither coach will have much use for a play-call sheet, the double-sided laminated forms that look like extensive restaurant menus. Rather, each coach will commit their plays to memory before a game so they have no need for a play-calling cheat sheet.
Johnson doesn’t even bother to carry a call sheet on the sidelines.
Morris carries one but uses it more often as a way to shield his mouth from opposing lip-readers than as a guide during offensive possessions.
Both strive to be completely fluent in their offensive plans: Morris to improve his game-day play-calling speed; Johnson to free his eyes to study the defense.
Speed is key to the Clemson up-tempo offense and the speed starts with how quickly Morris can relay plays to players on the field.
“On first-and-10 I’ll have a second-down thought ready regardless of the first-down call to try and hold the tempo,” Morris said. “I do look at the (call-sheet) between series to kind of cross-check things.”
Editing down the game plan is key for memorization.
Morris said he’ll have 15 first-down calls for each game and between 15 and 17 third-down calls.
“Of those, third-and-one and -twos (situations) are going to have four or five calls. It doesn’t make sense to put up 10 third-and-shorts, you better have your best four,” Morris said. “I’ll have the whole thing memorized, the landmarks, third-down plays, goal lines, all of it memorized.”
Johnson finds it a little easier to work without a call sheet because the Georgia Tech offense only has a handful of staple plays. Still, Johnson can make each play have a multitude of appearances through a variety blocking schemes.
Unlike Morris, Johnson doesn’t memorize his offense for up-tempo purposes. He declines the use of a cheat sheet so he can train his eyes on opposing defenses between plays, to see who is being substituted, to see who looks fatigued.
“They force you to be very precise,” said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “It’s not as much about power football as it is angles, getting you a little too high, a little bit out of your gap.”
Get a little out of place and Johnson will notice because, like Morris, his head is not buried in a cheat sheet.