Morris pleased with Tajh's progress

CLEMSON – Just one play. That's all Tajh Boyd really needed Saturday. Chad Morris knew it. Everyone did.

Through three games, Clemson's All-American senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate hadn't quite been himself. Sure, he had 683 yards passing and six touchdowns with no interceptions, but Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris both admitted he'd been pressing.

All that changed when Boyd found Sammy Watkins for a 64-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage.

Everything clicked.

"When he even hit the first pass, that was the right read, we've been talking about it all week long, you've got to hit it, and when he hit that third play –all he needed was a spark," Morris said Monday. "That's it. He needed a play and he needed to play with some confidence, have someone make a play that sparked us. Once he hit that play, you knew it. You knew he was going to have a great day."

Now, the biggest key for Morris and Clemson entering Saturday's 3:30 p.m. road test at Syracuse? Keep it up. A 56-7 blowout of Wake Forest – highlighted by Boyd throwing for 311 yards, rushing for 69 more and accounting for four touchdowns – was nice, but that's what Morris wants to see every week.

"We were far from perfect," Morris said. "I can promise you that. … There's plenty of stuff to get better at. We had three drops. . You look at it, Tajh should have been 20 of 24 (passing). So there's plenty (to talk about). We did some good things, we pinpointed those, we're not going to spend the days patting them on their back."

One of the biggest focuses this week will be an offensive line that remains in flux. Boyd was sacked twice and ran far more than normal – he had 17 rush attempts, while Morris said only "four or five" were designed runs, with the rest Boyd pulling the ball down and creating when he had to.

At left guard, junior Kalon Davis was listed as a co-starter with fellow junior David Beasley, and at right tackle, junior Gifford Timothy (who missed last week with a concussion) was listed as a co-starter with sophomore Shaq Anthony.

"We still continue to make a few simple mistakes we've got to get cleared up in our run game, and we had some snap issues," Morris said. "We gave up two sacks, just by being soft, entirely too soft and not playing with technique. Our technique's got to get better. They've got to get better in the offensive line. It's going to be a challenge to our guys this week, and really keep pressing those guys. We did get better.

"Kalon Davis is playing much better. I'm very proud of Kalon. (Left tackle) Brandon Thomas is playing well. (Right guard) Tyler Shatley, we know what we're getting with Tyler. Tyler is playing well, extremely well right now. (Center) Ryan Norton had a 102-degree fever, had to come in and get two bags of IV after the first quarter, came out for three series, and we got him back in there and picked up where he left off. Jay Guillermo came in, Jay had been struggling with being sick as well, he didn't play to his capability but we're giving some guys an opportunity to play."

The guy working behind the line was clearly far more comfortable than he had been, and that started with the big early play to Watkins. Morris said he spent last week telling Boyd to relax and chill out.

"You start with the inside and work out, that's the biggest thing," he said. "Outside influence has no bearing on Tajh's play. It starts on the inside. He's got to make sure he's not pushing. He's not trying too hard. I think that's what he was doing. He was pressing to the point he wasn't having a whole lot of fun. He felt like he had to be perfect, and I've shared that.

"My biggest thing to him this past week was just relax and have fun. Even early in practice last week he missed a couple of throws and you saw it in his body language. That hasn't been him. The years I've been with him, that hasn't been him. We talked a lot about body language, go to the next play, just quit pressing. It's all going to come into play. There's a reason why it's happening the way it is, the reason the schedule is set up the way it is. Maybe it's because we don't want you playing your best ball right now. Slowly build this bunch up."

Morris said Boyd "wants the ball in his hands all the time," which is perfect for the run game.

"That's what you like in your quarterback," he said. "And whether it's short yardage, long yardage, what it may be. He wants the ball in his hands, and he wants to be one of the best teams in the country in short yardage, and that translates to red zone offense.

"And for what he's done in the red zone the last two years, getting us in the end zone and getting away with points. He's extremely confident in what we're calling, what we're doing. He's got a knack for it. He knows how to set up his blocking and fall forward for two and three yards. He's the guy who's going to provide that big punch. That's his mindset. He's tough and it's what he wants."

With his 17 carries, Boyd was involved in 41 offensive plays Saturday. There's no doubt he earned an early break with a 42-7 lead midway through the third quarter.

"When he went in for that last touchdown, coach Swinney and I were talking," Morris said. "(Boyd) was playing good, just finished off a strong drive. ‘Let's pull Tajh, let Cole get some reps but let's leave our starting line in because they needed the reps.' That was the mindset, I'm completely good with that, the way Tajh was playing. If Tajh had been struggling, I think you'd see him stay in there to get some rhythm going. There was no need in it."

Morris on the competition on the line: "I think there's a lot of competition going on right now, and that's really good to see. So I wish I could tell you, maybe someone will want to take the job and run with it. I don't know. We think we've got an idea, we think we've got a pinpoint on it, but when we get David Beasley back and get him healthy… I'll say it again, Kalon Davis is playing really well."

On how centers Ryan Norton and Jay Guillermo fared against Wake Forest defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock: "He made a few plays on us. He got a sack on one, his experience took over, on Jay, you could definitely tell. He was a veteran and Jay wasn't in the way he approached him early on. Jay picked him up and got better. Our plan coming in was to try and put two bodies on him as much as possible. Couple that with playing fast it really helped us out."

On Rod McDowell's status for this week with an ankle injury: "It's kind of hard to see right now. I did see him this morning, talked to him this morning. He was walking around. It's a wait-and-see process. I'm very pleased with where Zac Brooks is, and D.J. (Howard) had his best game in well over two years. We just can't wait two more years to have another game like that. I'm very proud of him, my challenge to him is consistency."

On Howard and his 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run: "He's been that guy that's been kind of steady. I think he had some success early and that boosted his confidence. It was good to see. It wasn't a really good throw. Tajh put it on his back hip and he had to actually spin around. He had two really good blocks out on the edge, Sammy Watkins and Adam Humphries did a really good job blocking on the edge for him, and allowed D.J. an opportunity to come back. I've been pretty critical of our wide receivers, because we played as physical a game at wide receiver as we've played this year. It can't be a one-hit wonder. We've got to put a string of games together where these guys are going to be physical and block on the edge. That was our challenge to them this past week and they met the challenge."

On freshman receiver Mike Williams, who had his first career touchdown catch Saturday: "It's just confidence. He's playing with some great confidence right now, he's playing fast, he's going to be a guy who's going to be really good for us in due time. With playing a freshman like him you make some mistakes, but he's got to continue to push. He and Martavis (Bryant), that's a great battle right there at that position going right now. Good to see. That position for us really needs to come on, earn the trust of our quarterback. I don't think our quarterback has had the trust in that position the first few weeks. Just inconsistent play. Inconsistent. Inconsistent blocking, inconsistent route-running that's a position, you have to be consistent and have the confidence of your quarterback. And I think we took a big step in that direction this past week. You saw it with Cole Stoudt, you saw it with Tajh. Good to see. Anytime you replace a first-round draft choice, you're going to have some inconsistencies early on. With us continuing to play it's really going to help."

On competition between Williams and Bryant: "I think they're battling right now, I think they've got a good competition going right now. I think that's what we need. I think Martavis needs it and I think Mike needs it. They're pushing each other pretty hard."

On the tight end situation: "Sam (Cooper's) injury kind of put a kink in things. Forced us to bring Stanton (Seckinger) on a little faster. Stanton has been a guy who's been consistent, got his weight up, 235, looks good, runs well, physical. To be honest, we expected a little more out of Jordan Leggett coming out of spring. He got injured in fall camp, and that set him back from a mental standpoint as much as it physically. Young kids like that when they get bunged up and injured, they want to be nurtured, oh, poor me. Instead of, hey, now is the time you've got to engage in your meetings, not get behind. As much as you tell a young kid like that it's hard for them. They've always been in high school, this is the way it's always been, and so I think you're starting to see Jordan coming on.

"He had some success last week and we coached him extremely hard. Coach (Danny) Pearman and I have been on him religiously about the technique and his mindset. I think the success he had will only help him. He's a guy who's got phenomenal talent and he's just got to keep coming on. Sam is getting faster every week, had a couple of drops Saturday, know he was disappointed in that. You can see his speed coming back, it's going to take a little more. I've been pleased with the position. It hasn't been the highlight like we wanted it to be. But that's OK. It's going to slowly come on, there's other guys picking up till that position comes into its fold."

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