CLEMSON — Earlier this month, Brandon Ford made his way onto the midseason watch list for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end.
The honor was deserved: Clemson’s senior tight end was in the middle of a three-game stretch that saw him snag four touchdowns with 10 receptions for 137 yards.
Since then, Ford’s production has slipped.
Duke defense 'presents a lot of challenges'
He had a touchdown against Wake Forest, but has just four receptions for 38 yards over his last three games, including a catchless day against Virginia Tech.
“We’ve got to get Brandon playing faster,” Morris said. “He’s not playing with that sudden burst that he was earlier in the year. He’s kind of been banged up but we’ve got to get Brandon going a little bit. I think the competition with Sam behind him is going to push him.”
Ford says his hot start made him a focal point for defenses, particularly Virginia Tech. The key, he says, is sharing the ball as Tajh Boyd did at Wake Forest, with five touchdowns thrown to five different receivers and eight receivers catching passes.
“We’ve got to keep pushing on and spreading the ball around to everyone else,” he said. “ It takes the whole team, in this offense to do their job for us to execute plays. That’s what we’ve been doing well. It’s been sharing the ball to everyone like we did last year. It’s one of those things and nothing to be mad about. As long as our team’s getting the job and winning, everybody’s proud.”
When Ford moved from wide receiver to tight end two years ago, one of his biggest hurdles was blocking. Now, he has embraced that role, which is even more important when the ball isn’t coming his way.
“Blocking is key at my position,” he said. “I enjoy doing that and getting guys free, getting (Andre) Ellington around the corner or making a key block for Sammy (Watkins) or one of those guys. That’s a part of production at that position. Everyone thinks it’s catching the ball but you have to be able to block. If you can’t do both, you’re a one-mentality team. That’s one thing I kept harping on, and when my time comes for opportunities like earlier in the Wake Forest game, that’s what I’ve done.”
Hopkins and Watkins on record spree: How prolific have Clemson receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins been this season? Consider this: three of the program’s six best single-game receiving marks have been set by the pair this season. Hopkins set the mark with 11 receptions for 197 yards at Boston College, and Watkins topped it last week with eight receptions for 202 yards at Wake Forest. In addition, Hopkins’ seven-catch, 173-yard effort against Georgia Tech was the program’s sixth-best receiving effort ever, a yard behind Aaron Kelly’s 174-yard day against Virginia Tech in 2007 and two behind Derrick Hamilton’s 175-yard day against Maryland in 2003.
Renfree cleared: Duke announced Thursday that starting quarterback Sean Renfree has been cleared to play Saturday against Clemson and is listed as probable. Renfree left last week’s 48-7 loss to Florida State with a head injury, and physical illness compounded his problems.
He averages 235.6 passing yards per game, with 11 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Backup Anthony Boone also has plenty of experience; he has thrown 91 passes this season, with five touchdowns against two interceptions.