CLEMSON -- This season, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has played against Virginia Tech's robber defense. He's been max-blitzed by North Carolina. He's searched for open spaces against Georgia Tech's Cover 2. He's seen odd fronts, even fronts and now eight-man, max coverage from Wake Forest.
The first-year starter has seen about every defense imaginable in his first 10 career college starts.
"That's probably been most influential in my growth," Boyd said. "It's a lot different seeing it in person versus seeing it on film. ... It's important in the process of becoming the quarterback I want to be."
Big plays down
One area where a struggling Clemson defense has shown improvement is in allowing fewer big plays in the passing game.
After allowing 16 passing gains of 20 yards or more from Week 3 against Auburn through Week 8 against North Carolina, Clemson has surrendered just one completion of 20 yards or more the last two weeks.
Part of the improvement can be traced to the development of cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who held Wake Forest star receiver Chris Givens to two catches for 16 yards. Givens had four catches for 31 yards in the loss.
"Givens is very talented, he can run," defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "We matched Cody up on him in press coverage and he did a very nice job on him. In the offseason (Sensabaugh) got a lot stronger. He's always been extremely fast, tenacious and tough."
Coach Dabo Swinney said he's optimistic receiver Sammy Watkins will be able to play at N.C. State but said it could come down to a game-time decision.
"He looked a lot better (Monday)," Swinney said. "If he's not 100 percent, if he doesn't feel confident, we'll hold him out. ... If we were playing the championship game this week, he would definitely play."
Tight End U
Boyd thinks Brandon Ford could be this year's Dwayne Allen -- next year.
"He's phenomenal," Boyd said. "If the ball is in the area, he is coming down with it. I think they have Dwayne rated as the No. 1 tight end this year and I feel like (Ford) can be rated as the No. 1 tight end next year."
It sounds as if Boyd does not expect the draft- eligible Allen to return. Allen is rated as a top-50 overall NFL prospect by many analysts.
BCS scoreboard watching
Swinney indicated he's paying attention to the BCS standings. Clemson is ranked No. 7 with three weeks to play, but it is an extreme-longshot to get back in the national title-game picture. Clemson has moved up four spots in the last two weeks.
"There are three undefeated teams and a handful of one-loss teams, so every game is critical," Swinney said. "We're focused on trying to have the best finish we can possibly have."