SENECA — Despite graduating three starting offensive linemen, despite losing a tight end to the second round of the NFL draft and overseeing a second-half offensive production slide in 2011, Chad Morris expects his offense to be better in 2012.
The Clemson offensive coordinator notes the Tigers will be in their second year in his system and rattled off the names of young players who have tantalizing upside remaining. But more than anything else, Morris expects improvement because he now has a veteran quarterback.
This fall, Morris expects quarterback Tajh Boyd to play more like the Heisman contender he was in the first half of 2011, when he led Clemson to an 8-0 record and possessed a 24-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, than the quarterback who threw as many interceptions (9) as touchdowns (9) over the final six games when Clemson lost more games, four, than it won, two.
Boyd will try to reverse a program trend of second-year-starter slumps at quarterback. The Tigers’ last three multi-year starters at quarterback — Charlie Whitehurst, Cullen Harper and Kyle Parker — regressed statistically in their second full years as starters and in the win column: Clemson combined for a 27-13 record in their first full seasons as starters and a 19-18 record in their second full years. It is a player’s second year when opposing playcallers have acquired scouting reports and gametape and force the player to adjust.
Still, Morris has a theory of why Boyd couldn’t put two excellent halves together in 2011 and why he can in 2012.
“When guys were not on the field in the second half (of the season), when Andre (Ellington) was injured, when (Sammy) Watkins got injured, when (Phillip) Price got injured, it seemed to disrupt (Boyd’s) comfort zone,” Morris said. “Well, he was a rookie then. He’s a veteran now. We expect him to make the 10 other guys around him better. That’s what’s going to separate him from being a really good quarterback from a great quarterback. In my opinion, he has the potential to be the one of the best quarterbacks in the country.”
Morris said the focus has been on cutting down on Boyd’s turnovers and for Boyd to do a better job of taking what defenses allow rather than forcing throws deep into secondaries loaded with extra defenders, which opponents did more often in the second half. Boyd is noted for his work ethic and has lived in the film room this offseason.
“(Boyd) has to do a great job managing the game and that’s been our focus,” Morris said. “I think you saw some of his inexperience (in the second half). I think the four- or five-game sputter we had we all probably expected that to happen earlier in the year but it was the opposite. I think that’s a learning experience. Him being a veteran now I think you expect him to be able to overcome those things. Be able to really stand at the forefront and take over ownership of the football team.”
Coach Dabo Swinney said he thinks Boyd has developed into a leader. “He’s been booed and cheered,” Swinney said. “He’s played in big games. His skin has thickened.”
Boyd was good in 2011, in 2012 Morris wants greatness.
“While we made significant improvements there was so much left behind,” Morris said. “Our goal is to be the No. 1 offense in the country.”