Why Saturday is monumental for Chad Morris' brand ... whatever that is these days
There doesn’t really seem to be a middle ground with Auburn offensive coordinator Chad Morris anymore.
Either you’re of the impression that whatever offensive juice he had when he got to Arkansas vanished by not winning an SEC game and getting fired in Year 2, or you’re of the impression that the former Clemson offensive coordinator going to turn Bo Nix into Tajh Boyd.
If there’s someone who falls somewhere in the middle on Morris, I’d love to meet them. They certainly seem to be in the minority.
That’s not to be confused with the undecided. Those are future recruits and perhaps casual fans who haven’t had much of a reason to ever have an opinion on Morris.
Come Saturday, though, the Morris conversation could get even more black and white. A reunion with his former team, Arkansas, is the ultimate “can’t lose game.” Well, if Auburn does lose, Morris’ offense better put up 45 points.
Then again, even that would be an indictment of just how awful he was in Fayetteville. Watching the program that went 0-14 in SEC play under Morris improve to 2-1 would continue this narrative that his teams always improve right after he leaves them.
In his brief time in Fayetteville, Morris’ offense never:
- A) Hit 34 points in SEC play
- B) Had a QB pass for 250 yards vs. an SEC team
- C) Had a 100-yard receiver in SEC play
- D) Cracked the top 105 in scoring in FBS
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
I promise I’m not going to sit here and bore you with stats about how disastrous it was at Arkansas. By now, you know that while he was there, his teams only had 2 4th-quarter leads in the 14 SEC games that he coached, and that he started 3 different quarterbacks in each of those 2 seasons.
Whoops. My bad. I did exactly what I said I wouldn’t do.
Speaking of not living up to promises, has Morris lived up to Gus Malzahn’s offseason declaration that he hired the best offensive coordinator in America? I’d say no, though obviously the sample size is small. And to be fair, half of that sample size came against a Georgia defense that looks historically good.
Still, though. The “best offensive coordinator in America” should never dial up an offense with 3.5 yards per play in a key SEC game. An offense that doesn’t have a single rush longer than 10 yards isn’t fooling anyone with its scheme. And while Kentucky’s defense was expected to be good — Ole Miss did just torch the Cats in Lexington — an Auburn offense with 15 points in the game’s first 49 minutes surely benefitted from 3 Kentucky turnovers. Auburn’s 2 late scoring drives were 23 and 27 yards, respectively.
Through 2 games, 11 SEC quarterbacks completed at least 60% of their passes. Among SEC quarterbacks with at least 20 pass attempts, Nix ranks dead last at 55.2%, and he’s No. 13 out of 15 SEC quarterbacks with 6.1 yards per attempt. Will that turn around this weekend?
Now, Morris’ offense will go against Barry Odom’s defense, who most recently stymied an MSU offense that was a week removed from the best passing performance in SEC history. Nix had one of his best games his up-and-down freshman season against Arkansas last year. That, though, was John Chavis’ defense, not Odom’s.
Besides the MSU performance, Odom’s defense chased Georgia starting quarterback D’Wan Mathis in the 2nd quarter and it held the Dawgs without a touchdown in the first half. Bumper Pool and Grant Morgan lead the SEC in tackles while Joe Foucha is tied for the conference lead with 2 interceptions. Surely Nix could take some pointers from KJ Costello, who went from throwing for 623 yards to throwing right into the mitts of Foucha and that Arkansas defense.
— KÏŁŁÄ ČÄM (@FTBeard1) October 4, 2020
What would it say about Morris if Arkansas, as a 15.5-point underdog, went out and hung with Auburn for 60 minutes? It’s already bad enough that Sam Pittman accomplished something in 2 games that Morris couldn’t do in 2 seasons. Even worse would be if the defensive coordinator on the coaching staff that just replaced Morris turned around won that battle. The optics of that wouldn’t be ideal for Morris, just like they weren’t ideal when his team got thumped by Ty Storey’s Western Kentucky squad.
If Auburn really is going to sell Morris as this innovative offensive mind for whom recruits should want to play, this is the type of matchup that he can’t afford to falter in. Anything remotely close to the disaster we saw against Georgia would be a tough look for Morris, especially after how much Malzahn talked him up after hiring him.
It’s all easy in the offseason. The headlines about a former coach who once had success are typical. You’ll see stuff like “he hit it off with the new quarterback” or you’ll see him talking about wanting the offense to be “explosive.” That’s to be expected. But in an all-SEC schedule like the one we have in 2020, those lofty expectations meet reality in a hurry.
What’s to be expected of Morris on Saturday? That’s an interesting question. After what we’ve seen from Odom’s defense, any sort of preseason prediction of this game has to have shifted in favor of the Hogs putting up more of a fight.
If you’re in the pro-Morris camp, Saturday could confirm what you’ve said all offseason. That is, with more talent to work with, Morris’ offense is in much better position to succeed.
Or if you’re in the anti-Morris camp, Saturday could confirm what you’ve said the last year-plus. That is, Morris’ time as an elite offensive mind in this sport came and went.
Either way, a telling day on The Plains is in store.