CLEMSON — Clemson coordinator Chad Morris sees his team’s offensive confidence growing with every milestone it reaches this season.
The 10th-ranked Tigers had their biggest offensive explosion since their national championship season 1981, piling up 720 yards in a 56-20 victory over Duke last Saturday. It was the team’s sixth game with 500 yards or more this season, a program record.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd established school bests with six touchdowns and 388 yards of offense in the first half against the Blue Devils.
The Tigers (8-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) don’t figure to have many problems keeping the attack flowing this week either, facing an injury-depleted Maryland (4-5, 2-3) squad. The Terrapins announced Monday that leading tackler linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
No matter who’s out there on defense, second-year coordinator Morris sees a more mature attitude from his guys than a year ago. The team was 8-1 in 2011, too.
“But it was different,” Morris said. “You could see the players were mentally grinding and trying to push through that.”
This time, Morris has a focused, eager group of players looking for the next step. That happened at the end against Duke as the Tigers crept closer to their all-time yardage mark of 756, set in an 84-24 win over Wake Forest during Clemson’s 12-0 national title season in 1981.
Even though Clemson’s starters had long been on the sidelines, the players kept Morris updated and pushed for bigger plays so the backups could surpass the record.
“I was like, ‘OK, if it happens, it happens,”’ Morris said. “It was just a short period of time ago everybody was just excited when you got a couple of first downs.”
There’s a higher standard for Clemson’s offense these days.
Boyd was named the ACC’s offensive back of the week after finishing with 16 of 23 for 343 yards. Offensive lineman Brandon Thomas earned the league honor in his category.
They were far from the only playmakers who’ve stepped up their games for the Tigers. DeAndre Hopkins had three touchdown catches in less than 8 minutes in the first quarter and 128 yards of receptions. Sammy Watkins had six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown for a second straight game.
Clemson passed and rushed for more than 300 yards against the Blue Devils, only the second time that happened in program history.
Offensive lineman Kalon Davis was a redshirt freshman in 2010 when the Tigers struggled to put up points or yards. Now, he marvels at the offense’s productivity.
“It’s amazing to see the guys go up and down the field and you know there’s really nothing that the other team can do because once they stop the run, we can pass the ball,” Davis said. “If they go for the pass, we can run the ball. It’s just a really good thing to see.”
Morris won’t let up now.
He’s talked with Boyd about making sure the final 19 days of the season – Clemson follows Maryland with home games against North Carolina State and rival South Carolina – ones to remember.
That wasn’t the case a year ago after Clemson lost three of its last four in the regular season after its 8-0 opening. Morris chalked that up to inexperience. Right now, the Tigers are locked into the details they let slip a year ago.
Boyd was a first-time starter last year who threw 24 touchdowns against three interceptions in Clemson’s perfect start. Those numbers flipped to four touchdowns and seven interceptions in the Tigers final four regular-season games.
Boyd threw three interceptions against Duke last week. But none of them gave Morris flashbacks to his quarterback’s slide last year. “I think he’s having fun,” Morris said, grinning.
That could be bad news for Maryland, coming off a 33-13 loss to Georgia Tech last Saturday. Still, the Terps defense won’t just roll over, linebacker Cole Farrand said.
“We probably could have been a little better prepared” against Georgia Tech, Farrand said. “But the whole defense was giving 100 percent the entire day and you can’t ask for anything more.”
Morris wants that from the Tigers, too. Clemson needs a Florida State loss down the stretch to reach the ACC title game and go for a second-straight league crown. Three more wins, though, might mean an at-large spot in the Bowl Championship Series in back-to-back years, which would also be a first for the Tigers.
It starts, Morris said, by the offense working just as hard as it has all season.
“We need that,” he said. “We need that for the final push.