Clemson offense looking to get back on track
Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd didn't even have to leave home to know what was ahead in film study this week.
Boyd watched seventh-ranked Clemson's last-second 31-28 victory with his parents, Tim and Carla, and younger brother T.J., on Sunday morning. He felt his father's frustration level rise with every bad pass or poor decision.
And things got even worse when his teammates and offensive coordinator Chad Morris reviewed Boyd's shakiest performance this season.
''I went out to eat with some of the guys last night and they said, `You know how many picks you should've had?''' Boyd recalled.
Imagine the reaction if Clemson had lost.
Boyd threw two interceptions - he'd thrown just five all year coming in - and put the ball in jeopardy much of the opening three quarters against the Demon Deacons. Yet, Boyd rallied to complete 17 of his final 20 passes, including TD throws to Brandon Ford and Jaron Brown, in Clemson's rally.
The late effort masked an offense that has struggled to find the explosive nature in the past two games it did in the Tigers (9-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) 8-0 start.
Four of Boyd's seven picks this season have come the last two games against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, both defenses that limited Clemson's running attack and challenged the first-time starter to make plays through the air - something Boyd did just enough in Clemson's division-clinching victory last Saturday.
Before the final surge, though, came a lot of nervous stomachs as Wake defenders got their hands on several of Boyd's passes.
''I think there were about eight'' potential interceptions, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said with a smile this week.
Then again, it's easy to joke when you're still winning. The Tigers try for a 10th victory when they close the ACC regular season at North Carolina State (5-5, 2-4) on Saturday.
Tight end Dwayne Allen said everyone on offense needs to pick up their play after the past two weeks of frustration.
Clemson scored more than 40 points a game during its perfect start, but just 45 combined against the Yellow Jackets and Demon Deacons. ''I haven't put my finger on why,'' Allen said. ''But that's something I hope we will figure out before this week.''
North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien says Clemson has talented skill players like receiver Sammy Watkins and runner Andre Ellington along with Boyd and Allen.
''I think that's what sets them apart from any other offense. Another offense may have a guy or two, but not four different positions or more that if they touch the ball, they can go all the way,'' O'Brien said.
Clemson's Allen said the players have been focused and attentive throughout the season. They may, he thinks, have let themselves believe they were unbeatable and didn't give the necessary respect to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. There was complacency evident the last two weeks that can't re-emerge if the Tigers hope to achieve even more this season, Allen said.
''We've been missing the spark. If we get one play then it's, `OK, now we're rolling,''' he said.
Much of that starts with Boyd, the 6-foot-1 sophomore starting for the first time this season. As the Tigers kept winning, Boyd's natural confidence skyrocketed and he began to think he could make any play, Swinney said.
''This is open for Tajh,'' said the coach, his hands spaced about a foot apart.
Boyd said Morris, the offensive coordinator, is working to make sure the quarterback sees the correct play instead of the potentially game-breaking one. Swinney recalled a third-and-14 play that went incomplete where if Boyd had gone through his progressions and checked down, ''our guy would've run for about 20.''
Not that Swinney nor Morris want Boyd to lose that swagger. It's part of his personality and a quality that has driven Clemson into the top 10 this season with the potential for even bigger things.
For all the occassions Boyd put the ball in danger last week, he threw for 343 yards, the sixth highest total in Clemson history. Three other of Boyd's passing performances from this season are in the school's all-time top five.
Boyd knows he must do a better job of keeping the ball safe if Clemson wants to continue its stellar season - and is willing to endure the criticism he might hear at home and in the office.
''I don't want to get no Brett Favre syndrome where I'm trying to squeeze everything in there,'' he said. ''But I definitely do have confidence in my arm. It can get me into trouble sometimes. I just have to take control over a game and recognize what's going on out there.''