Tajh, Tigers answer the call

CLEMSON – For nine days, the questions swirled: Was something wrong with Clemson's offense? Why was Tajh Boyd pressing?

Was there reason for Chad Morris, Dabo Swinney and Tiger fans to be concerned?

By halftime Saturday afternoon, those questions were answered with serious authority.

Clemson held a 28-point lead. Wake Forest was all but finished.

And any doubts about the Tigers' offense were filed away, mercifully, for the foreseeable future.

On a day when Clemson alumni come back to campus to reminisce about the past, the offense looked like one of a very recent vintage.

Say, 2012.

As Simpsons mainstay Troy McClure might say, you might remember this offense from such games as "Wake Forest 2012. Duke 2012. And Maryland 2012."

Lots of people touched the ball. Lots of people did great things with the ball. And a solid defense was left utterly defeated, shaking its collective head following the No.3 Tigers' 56-7 rout before 80,607 fans.

Following a sluggish 26-14 win at N.C. State, Morris admitted that he felt Boyd – the fifth-year senior Heisman candidate and unquestioned team leader – was "pressing," a notion Boyd didn't deny. Boyd said his footwork was poor and he was whipping the ball around like it was a weight attached to his arm.

Three plays into the game, that weight was lifted. Boyd went deep down the right sideline for Sammy Watkins, who shook off an obvious pass interference for a 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

It was the Tigers' first touchdown of longer than 36 yards since Watkins went 77 yards in the opener against Georgia.

Swinney said the play was scripted, designed to play off the Demon Deacons' aggressive cornerbacks and send a message, even if it missed. Well, it hit – and sparked a powder keg of offense.

"My challenge to those guys was to pick up where they left off (from a solid finish at N.C. State)," Morris said. "I think we saw that tonight. That was pretty good. All we needed was a spark. That's all we needed.

"That was the spark we needed, the rhythm, the click, whatever you want to call it, to get us in sync. That was our game plan coming in. We were going to take some shots, and whether they hit or not, we didn't care. We were going to take some shots, let our guys go make some plays and get back to being loose and having fun with it."

Boyd agreed.

"We had the opportunity to hit about three of those last week and we didn't. We didn't put enough air underneath them," he said. "You've got to go out there and make those plays. There are going to be plenty of times when you miss a throw, but we wanted to start off this game with a bang. The crowd barely had a chance to sit down. It was great."

Two series later, tailback D.J. Howard took a screen pass, juked a pair of defenders and raced 75 yards down the left sideline.

Just like that, Clemson led 21-0, and most fans' thoughts shifted from worries of an upset to what they'd feast on at their tailgates sometime in the middle of the third quarter.

They had balance. Multiple options. And bruising precision.

And while much of the talk over the past two weeks centered on the offense's lack of continuity and missing pieces, that didn't seem to matter much on this day.

No.1 tailback Rod McDowell left after three carries and 13 yards and spent the rest of the day shuffling around the sideline with a large bag of ice taped to his right ankle. He could've returned with a rolled ankle, but it wasn't necessary.

Starting left guard David Beasley sat with an ankle injury, replaced by junior Kalon Davis. Starting right tackle Gifford Timothy sat with a concussion sustained at N.C. State, replaced by sophomore Shaq Anthony. Normal backup tackle Isaiah Battle sat, serving a suspension for upper-cutting a Wolfpack defensive back in the waning moments in Raleigh.

And junior wideout Martavis Bryant, he of the breakout two-touchdown night in Raleigh, sat for the first half while suspended for a throat-slash gesture he made after one of the scores.

Did it matter? Not in the slightest.

Boyd was as sharp as he has been since taking over as a starter in 2011. In just under three quarters, he completed 17 of 24 passes for 311 yards and three passing scores. And he was also the team's leading rusher, showing no abandon in carrying 17 times for 69 yards and a touchdown (and another four-yard score overturned by replay).

In fact, the most effective short-yardage play was just giving it to Boyd and letting him bull forward for three or four yards. He converted a pair of fourth-downs that way deep in Wake territory, extending drives.

By the fourth quarter, Boyd was out of the game, smiling for TV cameras and joking about future toothpaste endorsements.

"(I told him), just relax, go have fun," Morris said. "That was the biggest thing I could tell him. Just quit pressing, go have fun. He didn't look like he was having fun last week. He wasn't. He missed some deep ball shots and if he had hit, it'd have been a different ballgame. But it wasn't. Just go have fun. Go play. Play this game as a kid because you had fun. We weren't going to change who we are, we weren't going to change what we did. Just go have fun and let loose. That's what he did tonight."

The last time Wake Forest was here, Chandler Catanzaro was the hero, kicking a game-ending field goal that lifted the Tigers to a wild, 31-28, ACC Atlantic Division-clinching victory. Saturday, the Cat-man's services were only needed for eight perfunctory extra points.

Three players – freshman receiver Mike Williams, freshman tight end Jordan Leggett and sophomore tailback C.J. Davidson – scored their first career touchdowns.

"We try to make sure everyone eats a piece of the pie," Boyd said. "Those guys are the future of the program, we need to make sure we build their confidence. The best thing we can have about this team is depth, and I feel we have it right now."

Heck, Davidson hit paydirt twice as the No.3 tailback, making it clear that true freshmen Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye will be redshirting. When the offense is rolling like this, who needs them right now?

Wake is not a shallow, weak defense: the Demon Deacons have some intriguing pieces, led by All-ACC defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock. Wake entered Saturday allowing 15.8 points per game, and had allowed seven touchdowns – total – in four games.

Saturday? They allowed eight. Six times Clemson entered the red zone. Six times it left with a touchdown.

Saturday, that offense looked confident. Excited. And in a groove.

And – here's the scary part – far from what it can be.

"It shows how explosive we can be," Boyd said. "We're not where we need to be right now. We're not really close right now. But that's the beauty of it. Because you do peak at some point or another. It can be too early, too late, but hopefully we're right in that middle range. We've got to keep improving every day."


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