Dabo Swinney praises offensive line for Tigers' huge night

Clemson center Ryan Norton pass block against Duke.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Clemson center Ryan Norton pass block against Duke.

Morris on record-setting Clemson offensive night

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When Clemson’s coaches handed out their player of the week awards for Saturday’s 56-20 rout of Duke, they made an interesting choice for the offense – the entire offensive line.

It was an honor well-earned. The Tigers piled up 718 yards of total offense, the second-best single-game total in program history, behind only the 756 in 1981’s 82-24 win over Wake Forest. They also rushed and passed for 300 yards in the same game for the second time in program history; the other was a 2007 win over Central Michigan.

“They only control what they can control,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “They do their job. They can’t make reads, they can’t throw the ball, they don’t make checks where the ball is going in the run game. Their joy is getting 10 more yards when the chain moves.

“Their confidence is huge that we have a special player leading the team (in junior quarterback Tajh Boyd). He’s the leader, the captain, the guy making it all go. No doubt about it. They know if we protect the skill guys on the team, we’ve got the opportunity to make big plays and have a great chance of picking up yardage. That’s where they get their joy.”

Clemson took 13 linemen to Duke and played all 13, getting valuable experience for reserves like Kalon Davis, Eric MacLain, Ryan Norton and others. He highlighted the play of junior left tackle Brandon Thomas, who “played as good as he’s played in a while.” Thomas graded out at 95 percent, the highest grade by a Clemson offensive lineman this season.

The Tigers converted seven of 10 third downs and punted only once.

“Offensively, we had explosive plays and played with a lot of confidence and were very good on third down,” Swinney said. “Last year we were very poor, especially in short yardage. It’s been a strength of ours this year. The offensive line was outstanding, and we ran the ball effectively.”

Defensively, Clemson held Duke to 342 total yards and only a field goal after halftime. Despite four offensive turnovers, the Blue Devils didn’t turn any into points.

“Our defense is playing physical, playing intense, tackling better, getting pressure,” Swinney said. “They did a great job on third down. I was really impressed with our defense. There were a couple of plays early that hurt us (including a 77-yard touchdown pass) but we recovered from that and overall it was a really positive night for our defense.”

Senior tailback Andre Ellington and senior tight end Brandon Ford left Saturday’s game with injuries; Ellington tweaked his hamstring and Ford suffered a bruised side (X-rays were negative).

Both are expected to be available Saturday against Maryland, which is a 27.5-point underdog. Backup quarterback Cole Stoudt, who suffered a sternum injury, is the only major injury concern.

Backups D.J. Howard and Rod McDowell combined for 148 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, reinforcing Swinney’s confidence in both players.

“Andre went down and I walked over to (them) and said, ‘Hey, let’s go,” Swinney said. “They said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got it. I have a lot of confidence in those guys. They believe in themselves. That’s why we recruited them. It’s fun to see them have success. We talk about all the time about how we have a standard. It doesn’t change when someone else goes in the game. Everyone has an opportunity to prepare in practice because you never know when you’re going to get the call.”

Freshman Zac Brooks added a career-best 67 yards on 13 carries.

“Zac Brooks showed what he’s capable of doing,” he said. “We’re really excited about him. He hasn’t had as many opportunities, but if we can get him in the weight room another year, he has a chance to be a very powerful runner for us.”

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