CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said the 24th-ranked Tigers won't dial things back with stellar freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson out for the next month.
Watson had surgery Monday to set a broken bone in a finger on his right hand with four screws.
Despite the setback, Morris expects backup Cole Stoudt to lead the same fast-paced offensive attack when Clemson (4-2, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) plays at Boston College (4-2, 1-1) on Saturday.
"Our expectations aren't going to fall because of this," Morris said Monday. "Cole Stoudt was our starter at the beginning of the year and he's the guy right now."
It was a choppy showing last weekend against Louisville by Stoudt and the offense after Watson broke a small bone in a finger of his right, throwing hand in the opening quarter. Clemson beat the Cardinals 23-17, but the Tigers — who entered the game as the ACC leader in total offense and scoring — managed only 229 yards and did not score an offensive touchdown.
Stoudt was recuperating from a left shoulder injury sustained a week earlier with Clemson in control against North Carolina State. He did not practice much during the week. He acknowledged he was not far from fully healthy against Louisville's top-rated defense.
Stoudt finished 20 of 33 passing for 162 yards. But he was sacked three times, threw an interception and was twice stopped short on crucial runs that ended drives and cost the Tigers.
The first came at the Louisville 1 in the final seconds of the opening half when Stoudt was stopped for no gain and Clemson could not regroup to get another snap off before the clock ran out. Midway through the third quarter, Stoudt was tackled for a loss on fourth-and-1 in Clemson territory. Five plays later, Louisville turned that miscue into a touchdown.
The Tigers needed a fourth-down stop of their own with 21 seconds left to seal the victory.
"It wasn't pretty, but a win's and win and we found a way to do it," Stoudt said.
That hasn't been Clemson's path to success since Morris arrived in 2011 and quickly made waves with a high-tempo offense that put most games out of reach by halftime. In Morris' first three seasons, the Tigers went 32-8, won an ACC championship in 2011 and a BCS game at the Orange Bowl last January. Those teams, though, featured record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, the No. 4 overall NFL draft pick last spring.
"We're limited in some areas. We're thin in some areas," Morris said. "But these guys aren't going to complain and we're not going to make excuses for them."
Watson will be missed.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Watson will have a splint rather than a cast, meaning it can be removed each time he undergoes rehabilitation exercises and perhaps quicken his recovery.
Swinney said the freshman will miss both games before Clemson's bye week on Nov. 1. It would be a longshot to expect him back before a Nov. 15 contest at Georgia Tech.
Morris said Stoudt's solid play in early defeats at Georgia and Florida State will help the team. Watson, Morris said, took the starting job rather than Stoudt giving it up through mistakes and ineffective play.
The offensive coordinator believes Stoudt's acceptance of the switch at Florida State and his continuing support of Watson showed strong leadership that endeared him to his teammates.
"Cole's been a champion throughout this," Morris said.
Offensive lineman David Beasley said there's no offensive split or head-hanging with Watson on the sidelines.
"It was just two talented quarterbacks on one team, that's all it was," Beasley said. "Cole's going to lead us in the right direction."
The Tigers' offense will face another top-10 defense in Boston College, coming off a 30-14 win at North Carolina State. Eagles coach Steve Addazio said Clemson has shown an ability to win on all sides of the ball.
"This is a top, top caliber team coming in here," he said. "They're one of the elite teams in the country."
Stoudt believes the Tigers will remain that way with him in the lineup.
"We do it every single day out in practice," he said. "I don't think anything's going to change. We're just going to go out and be the offense that we are."