CLEMSON — As Saturday’s 56-20 rout of Duke wound down, Clemson players approached Chad Morris on the sideline of Wallace Wade Stadium with updates on the chase for the program’s all-time total yardage record.
50 yards away. 40. 30. The quest for 756 – the mark set in 1981’s 82-24 rout of Wake Forest – was present and meaningful. When the Tigers wound up with 719, second-best in CU history, junior quarterback Tajh Boyd admitted to being “disappointed.”
With three regular-season games left in Morris’ second season running the Tigers’ offense, that comment alone is a testament to how far they’ve come under his watch.
Saturday marked the eighth consecutive game No.10 Clemson has scored at least 37 points, an ACC record. In 2010, Billy Napier’s offense topped 35 points just once and scored more than 27 points just four times.
“Those guys, a short period of time ago, everyone was excited when you’d get a couple of first downs and put 21 on the board,” Morris said. “Those things. You know you’re making progress when that happens, that’s the expectations. We expect to go out and this is what we expect to do.”
Clemson is seventh nationally in scoring offense (averaging 42.6 ppg), 9th in total offense (522.4 ypg) and 10th in passing offense (324.4 ypg).
The Tigers are on pace to break records in plays, points, total offense, touchdowns, third-down conversion, first downs, completion percentage, pass efficiency, passing yards and touchdown passes per game. Saturday, they rushed and passed for 300 yards in a game for the second time in program history.
“We’ve got a program, we’ve got a system in place,” Morris said. “It has answers, it doesn’t matter what the defense does. It has answers. We’ve got to go execute now. And I think it’s a confidence level with all of them. We’ve got a lot of stuff we can improve on and we need to improve on. But again, I’m pleased with the way they expect to be successful.”
Over the last two weeks, the Tigers have scored 98 points in wins over Duke and Wake Forest. By comparison, they scored 104 points in their final five ACC games of 2010.
Morris says a young offense is showing it has learned from a year ago, when an 8-0 start turned into a 2-4 finish.
“A year ago we all tried to wrap our mind around why we went into a tailspin, why were we starting to turn the ball over, why were we not playing our best football at this time,” he said. “I kept coming back to saying that we were very young. Most of those players a year ago were looking forward to the end of their high school seasons, one year early.
“The fact that Clemson hadn’t been in that situation in a long time. One thing that really comes to mind is that we’re a veteran team, we have been in this situation before and we have to learn from it. I think that’s been one of the things I can say has been as much of what’s going on right now as anything, the learning experience we had from a year ago.”
Their collective attitude, he said, has completely changed.
“Last year 8-1 was a good attitude, it was different. You could tell our players were mentally grinding, mentally exhausted and trying to push him through that a year ago,” he said. “Now it’s totally different. It’s our job as coaches, our job as offensive coordinator. I’ve got to continue to strain them and push them hard, but we’ve got to get out there and work and I’ve got to create some excitement. That’s the way these guys are playing, they’re going to feed off the energy I bring on.”
The centerpiece is Boyd, who won his second consecutive ACC offensive back of the week honor after throwing for 344 yards and five touchdowns against Duke. Boyd threw three interceptions, but one came on a end-of-half Hail Mary and another was ripped away from tight end Sam Cooper.
“Tajh is a guy you see is having fun,” Morris said. “I’ve said since I got here, it’s a big deal to be quarterback for the Clemson Tigers and we want it to be a big deal. With that comes pressure. He and I had a long talk early in the year, we were riding to practice together, and talked about, do you feel like you have to be perfect. Sometimes we all feel like we have to be perfect and we don’t.
“I said I feel that way, sometimes you have to call the perfect game, be perfect and it’s not going to happen. Sometimes you’ve got to go have fun. I really talked to him about that. I think you see Tajh Boyd having fun.”
Still, in Morris’ world, there’s always more to do.
“We were lucky to still have the yards that we did with four turnovers,” said junior right guard Tyler Shatley. “Who knows, if we hadn’t had four turnovers we could have had a lot more. There’s still a few little things we have to work on, a few little details, but we’re still working.”