CLEMSON – Chad Morris hopes he’s done riding the roller coaster.
Who: The Citadel (4-6, 4-4 Southern) at No. 8 Clemson (9-1, 7-1 ACC)
When: Nov. 23, 12 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
The production of junior wide receiver Martavis Bryant and the attitude of freshman offensive tackle Isaiah Battle have each provided challenges for Clemson’s offensive coordinator throughout the year.
The roller coaster slows to a crawl. Bryant’s a 6-foot-5 gazelle who yo-yos in his trust level with quarterback Tajh Boyd, at one point letting freshman wideout Mike Williams jockey for equal playing time. Battle’s a 6-foot-6, 280-pound behemoth who hasn’t mastered the entire playbook and is as much the object of his coaches’ affection as he is their constant cajoling.
The roller coaster reaches its apex after a steady incline. Now Bryant is the newest ACC receiver of the week after setting a Death Valley record with 176 receiving yards against Georgia Tech, a game in which Battle earned the start at right tackle and earned positive reviews from Morris and head coach Dabo Swinney.
Where does the train go from here? Does it cruise into a sweet ride with reasonable twists and turns, or does it veer off course?
It boils down to this: have they matured over the past three months?
“I would say so, yes. Yeah,” Morris said. “Most definitely Martavis. Isaiah’s a guy that’s trying to figure it out.”
In a weird way, Bryant and Battle are inextricably knotted to one another. Each player was suspended for separate reasons in the third game of the season, a 26-14 win at North Carolina State on Sept. 19.
Bryant made a throat-slashing gesture after scoring a touchdown, sitting him down for the first half of the next game; Battle’s transgression was far more severe, punching a Wolf Pack player to get himself ejected from the game and serving a one-game punishment a week later vs. Wake Forest.
Bryant meandered his way through the next month, catching 10 balls for 202 yards and one touchdown over four games. That was after a no-catch effort and two drops in the opener against Georgia.
Since then, in three outings, he’s recorded 14 catches for 336 yards and one score, a 76-yard touchdown Thursday night.
“I know he had a rocky start the first few games,” junior cornerback Bashaud Breeland said, “but the player you see now is the player he is.”
Bryant has 14 catches gaining at least 20 yards – the exact same amount as his much more heralded teammate, Sammy Watkins.
“I think he’s playing with great confidence in himself,” Morris said. “I think more than anything where it’s kind of turned for him is he sees and recognizes that Tajh has confidence in him. I think that’s really helped him out.”
Battle had to be even more patient. He did not participate against Wake Forest or Boston College, and was used only sparingly in three other games before drawing the start at right tackle against Georgia Tech and gutting through 37 plays, injuring his shoulder but returning to take on a few drives.
For now, Battle remains the starting right tackle on the depth chart, backed up by fellow rookie Shaq Anthony. Opening week starter Gifford Timothy is now backing up Brandon Thomas at left tackle, opening up more reps for Battle and Anthony.
Offensive line has been a subject of scrutiny all year long. For the first time in awhile, Swinney and Morris each sounded rather encouraged by the line.
“We’re starting to play with good chemistry and good confidence,” Swinney said. “From that individual position, I thought he played at a very high level. (Battle) played well for a young guy that hadn’t played right tackle at all. He handled the mental aspect of it very well.”
Highly talented and turbulent, Battle and Bryant have three more games – Saturday vs. The Citadel, Nov. 30 at South Carolina and a bowl game – to prove their worth as consistent playmakers for an offense still trying to peak at the perfect time.
“Much like a lot of the younger players that haven’t played – you go through that growing-up process over the course of the season,” Morris said. “You hope at some point in time the light bulb will click on. It’s going to, it will for every player, but some sooner than others.
“When it does click on, you hope it’s at the point of the season that you need it.”
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