CLEMSON — As the Clemson offense enjoys its only open week of the 2012 season, there is little reason for major concern.
Chad Morris’ offense averages 525.8 yards per game, 10th nationally. The Tigers average 324.7 yards passing per game, 11th nationally. They average 41.3 points per game, 13th nationally. And they average 201.2 yards rushing per game, which works out to 31st nationally.
Junior quarterback Tajh Boyd is protected by an improving offensive line and surrounded by a bevy of offensive threats including wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, tailback Andre Ellington and tight end Brandon Ford.
Is there any sense of satisfaction, a feeling they’ve arrived? Not even close.
“It’s very exciting,” said junior right guard Tyler Shatley. “We’ve left a lot on the table. We have to keep working. I think that’s a good thing, we haven’t reached our full potential yet. We’re still climbing, we’ve got a lot to work for.”
This week, Clemson will practice three times – Monday, Wednesday and Thursday – with the focus on improving the little things that can make an already-potent offense even better.
“I don’t think it could have come at a better time, at the halfway point of a season,” Boyd said. “Sometimes I think an open date can come too early, sometimes I think it can come too late. But in this case it came right on time. It’s definitely great to have this time to get a lot of guys healthy, to make sure we finish the second half of this season strong, and just get us mentally prepared.”
Without an opponent on the schedule – Virginia Tech comes to Death Valley Oct. 20 – the little things are the big things this week.
“It’s a big emphasis of footwork, things of that nature,” Boyd said. “You mentally prepare every week. When you’ve got work weeks like this where you don’t have a game, it just makes it where you can work on the small things that much more. Because you don’t have to get ready for a game. It’s a big week for us.”
Boyd will use the week to refine his throwing motion and improve his footwork, which has already been one of the most improved parts of his game this fall.
Against Georgia Tech, he had several passes sail on him, especially in the first half.
“I might overstride a bit,” he said. “In this offense you make every throw. It comes at different times. I might have to throw a short pass or an intermediate deep ball. They all require a different style of mechanics. So we do a lot of footwork drills in practice. The more you practice, the easier and more natural it comes in a game. I’ve got to keep improving on it.”
Boyd’s problems are the kind most quarterbacks would kill to have: do you throw to Hopkins or Watkins?
Hopkins has 49 receptions, 777 yards and eight touchdowns through six games; his 129.5 yards per game rank fifth among FBS receivers.
“I don’t think there’s a receiver performing like him in college football right now,” Boyd said.
Meanwhile, Watkins is still trying to find his outstanding freshman form after spending the first two games of the season serving a suspension and missing the Boston College game with a frightening virus that attacked his kidneys and left him dehydrated and in the hospital.
He has passing and rushing touchdowns, but his 16 receptions for 118 yards both rank fifth on the Tigers’ roster.
“For him, it’s just keep playing,” Boyd said. “He’s been out for a little bit. I think it’s to the point where he’s just got to keep getting reps out there. He missed a couple of games. He might have to catch up to some things. He’s still the same Sammy as before. We’ve got to keep working him in there.”
Opposing defenses have double-covered Watkins or left a safety spying on him, which makes his job tougher.
“There are opportunities where (Watkins and Hopkins) both have one-on-one matchups. If that’s the case, we’ve got to take advantage of it,” Boyd said. “You might have a safety covering both of them which leaves Brandon wide open. Just one of those things where you’ve got to pick and choose and hopefully we find the right matchup.”
Watkins, Boyd says, “is probably one of the most humble people I know.”
Winning, he said, is what matters. Right now, Clemson’s offense is doing that while giving defenses plenty to think about.
“There might be days where it’s kind of lopsided but at the end of the day it has to be consistent, run-pass balance. I think we’re doing a great job of that,” Boyd said. “Coach is calling plays, setting up things for us to have a great balance and keep teams on edge. We’re doing a great job pass protecting and run blocking and we’ve just got to keep getting better.”