“I wanted to be a little different in our conference,” he said this week. “That’s why I made the decision that I did.”
Swinney chose Chad Morris, who was just one year removed from being a high school coach in Texas. He brought with him a no-huddle spread attack that averages more than 80 plays per game, but also an approach that starts with the running game.
All of sudden, Clemson had committed itself to the offensive revolution that has taken over college football in recent years. The rest of the ACC — including Saturday’s opponent, Virginia Tech — has been playing catch-up ever since.
“I’m sure when the forward pass came out, there were a lot of people back then going, ‘Man, is this really what you want college football to be?’ I’m sure you had some similar reactions,” said Swinney, who led Clemson to its first ACC title in 20 years last season.
On Saturday, Virginia Tech will get its third shot at slowing down Morris’s offense after losing to Clemson twice a year ago, including a 38-10 defeat in the ACC championship game. It will also be a study in contrasting philosophies.
While Swinney and the Tigers have embraced their version of the spread, the Hokies have only begun dipping their toes in the water of this craze, which is basically the only way to describe what is occurring to scoreboards around the country.
In 2009, just two teams in the country averaged more than 40 points per game. Through seven weeks this season, that figure has risen to 20, with Oregon and Louisiana Tech both topping 50 points per game. More than 45 percent of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country are averaging at least 30 points, nearly three times the amount from just six years ago.
Led by quarterback Tajh Boyd and playmaking wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, Clemson is averaging 41 points and close to 526 yards per game this year. That success, especially because the Tigers are running the ball more than they throw it this year, may have also provided Virginia Tech with the impetus to alter its offense.
This offseason, the Hokies went in search of some new spread elements that would better take advantage of the dual-threat capabilities of quarterback Logan Thomas. An offseason visit with Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin yielded more of an emphasis on tempo and added layers of pre-snap misdirection that resemble what Morris and Clemson use to disguise plays.
Virginia Tech play-caller Mike O’Cain insisted this week the changes had been in the works for a few years, but it’s clear Coach Frank Beamer admires how the Tigers have been able to maintain a power-running identity and embrace the spread at the same time.