CLEMSON – Monday morning, Chad Morris said there was “still room for improvement” from Clemson’s offense. Coming two days after a 56-point, 718-yard effort at Duke, that’s quite a statement.
“There’s definitely room for improvement and to be able to get those guys to put four solid quarters together,” Morris said. “They’re waiting for that night. They’re excited about it. They’re playing to a standard this program is set, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Entering this week’s matchup with a stout Maryland defense, Clemson ranks in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense, total offense and passing offense. The Tigers’ offensive coordinator had plenty of room for positives as well as a critical eye Monday. He discussed Tajh Boyd, the Terrapins’ defense, excellent play from backups and more with reporters.
On Maryland LB Demetrius Hartsfield, who is out for the season with a torn ACL: “That’s incredible. He’s a great football player. It’s very sad for him and obviously for their program. They’ve been hit blow after blow (with four quarterbacks lost for the season, three with ACL tears. You’ve got to really respect the fact those guys have fought hard and how resilient they are each and every week. My hat goes off to those guys up there. Coach has gone through a lot of adversity with them.”
On if he’s ever heard of a run of injuries like that: “I have not. Heard of having one or two but as many as they’ve had and the injuries they’ve had at the quarterback position, and now this with one of the best defensive players. One of the best defensive players in the conference, no question. I hate that for him.”
Could you imagine using (senior) linebacker Tig Willard at quarterback: “I don’t even want to go there. That’s definitely something you don’t wish on anyone.”
On the play of backup offensive linemen: “I thought they did very well. I was very pleased about some of those guys we’ve really tried to push, some of those guys that have been battling, second-team, Isaiah Battle, for example. Isaiah, I thought he played exceptionally well. Very athletic, very physical. That was good to see. Our challenge to him is that he’s got to remain consistent. From that maturity level, he’s got to mature and grow up and mature and take this as a step in the right direction for him. He’s got to remain consistent.
“Kalon Davis was the next one in that line of being a pleasant surprise Ryan Norton’s gotten in, played quite a bit, Dalton Freeman played exceptionally well. Brandon Thomas probably had his best game. You see that as a collective group, we need that right now for this final push.”
On playing a lot of players Saturday: “That’s something coach Swinney talks about to us as a staff, being able to get those guys in at any opportune time that we can, it’s only going to benefit us down the road. As a coordinator and a position coach, those things are hard. You get so caught up in the game, the scheme, the chess matches going on in the game. To have an opportunity to get guys in, to get them playing time, it’s huge. Even Cole Stoudt, to get Cole in, he hadn’t been in a while, Zac Brooks is another one that’s going to help us down the road. Again, we had a lot of guys play and have over the last couple weeks. It helps in morale too.”
On converted tight end and now offensive tackle Eric Mac Lain: “He did play some, did a good job. He’s got a lot of fundamentals, a lot of technique he needs to continue to work on and he knows it. He’s getting a lot of reps in practice, and I think he’s definitely going to be a very good ballplayer for us.”
On battling complacency: “Before we talk about anything with Maryland, this is a defense that’s the second-best defense that we’ve played to this point, obviously Florida State was the best defense. We’ll gauge all that after. This is one of the top defenses in the country, they’re ranked No.11 in the country. Their scheme is very sound, we’ve got our hands full.
“They’ve got some very good players. Their defensive front is as sound as I’ve seen in quite some time. We’ve got our hands full. As for the previous two weeks, the experience that those guys learned from last year is taking care of any complacency. We’ve got so long to go, we’ve got a lot of stuff we can work on. It may not look like it from y’all’s angle, but from inside the doors there’s a lot to work on.”
On Tajh Boyd’s improvement: “I think you see Tajh Boyd having fun. He’s extremely accurate on his deep ball and we work on that a lot. He’s confident in what he’s doing. He’s running confident. I said he really looks fast. He said he was fast. I said I don’t know about that, but you look fast at times. I think it’s confidence.”
On backup QB Cole Stoudt, questionable with a sternum injury: “He was in meetings today and we’re going to re-evaluate him this afternoon. He could obviously get out there and hand the ball off. I haven’t seen him throw the ball yet. He was in a lot of pain after the game. We’ll see.”
On Andre Ellington, who left the Duke game with a hamstring tweak: “One thing with Andre, as the game went, that’s one thing we kept talking about, could he get in and play if we had to have him. He felt like he could. But there was no sense in pressing the issue. Proud of the guys who got in behind him, D.J. Howard and Rod McDowell. For those guys to step in and absorb the role. It was a running back by committee. They were coming in and out, rotating so that was good to see. Zac Brooks, a pleasant surprise to see him. He’s only going to get bigger and stronger as the year goes. We’re looking forward to his future.”
Are Tajh Boyd’s interceptions a concern or a backslide: “I think it’s totally different (from 2011). His three interceptions (at Duke), the first one, right before the half he was trying to make a play. Six seconds on the clock, don’t end the half with the ball in your hands. The other two, he had (receivers) open and maybe could have pulled the trigger a little quicker. Could have fit them in there. I think that’s something he’ll take and learn from. It wasn’t as if he was throwing off his back foot and making an impulse decision. Those are things we saw last year. It was just, hey, he needs to get the ball out a little quicker.
“The thing I did see and was impressed with the most with Tajh was his footwork. He did a really good job of setting his rush point and being able to step up in the pocket, letting his routes open up and putting a lot of velocity on the ball. The 35-yard pass to Sammy (Watkins), it was about head high and had some smoke coming off it. That was a pass as a quarterback, if you’ve ever played or coached it, those guys that make those throws are confident with it. I think you see that with him. He’s the leader of this football team and he’s playing like it, he’s demonstrating it. As I told him today, these final 19 days, this team will go as we go as a quarterback room.”
On Boyd’s footwork: “It’s something we’ve really worked on and that he’s tried hard to work on, both under center and in the gun. Being able to be accurate with his footwork. There’s always room for improvement. I think it carries over to his running ability.”
Do you feel like you’ve had superior talent in every game: “I don’t really look at it that way. It’s hard to say. We’ve played some teams with a lot of talent. I don’t sit and look at it from that angle. I’ll look and see if we can create a mismatch, but overall, ‘Oh, we’ve got more talent, we don’t have to work as hard this week?’ Absolutely not. No way. You guys flip the TV on Saturdays. Anybody can beat anybody on any given Saturday, Sunday or Friday night. I don’t get caught up with that. I wish I could. But I have to worry about keeping my own place from going up in flames. Our group is our main focus.”
On confidence: “My job as a play caller is to try and make sure he can execute what we’re trying to do. (Boyd) has got to feel confident with it. Through the course of the week. There’s things we’ll put on the board today, as we go through the week, by the end of the week we’ll take it off because it’s something he doesn’t feel confident with. As a play caller you have to make sure he’s confident and you’ve got to stay in great communication with him.
“That’s why we have to think so much alike. He and I have to spend a lot of time together to feel each other out, what he’s thinking, what I’m thinking, and his ability to be able to communicate with me. He’s got to be able to be comfortable enough to come over to me and say exactly what he’s thinking. And then we’ve got to be able to work it out and go, OK, what’s our next step? Sometimes the best thing to do is not say anything at all. He may have a series where he’s struggling and one of the things I’ve found, he doesn’t want anyone saying anything to him. Just get away from him. The players try and come up and talk to him, you’re like, hey, leave him alone. He’s all right, he’ll figure it out. It’s a feel for it. He’s done a good job of nurturing that and knowing how to fix things.”
Did you think Boyd could be this good of a runner: “I did, I really did. As long as Tajh can keep his weight down, he’s got to. We talk about it every day. As long as he’s monitoring his body and staying in great condition, he was a great runner in high school. I think he’s seen himself when he was unable to move around. He’s seen it as his best and he’s seen where he can’t move or escape trouble, elude any type of rush. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to go back there. I think he sees his footwork is as good as it’s been, he’s as strong as he’s been, and all that combined with the confidence level he has I think it’s showing on the field.”