CLEMSON, S.C. -- On Monday, Clemson was on fall break and the players were allowed to sleep in before attending an offensive meeting at 10 a.m.
That’s when offensive coordinator Chad Morris woke them up.
“I’ve never seen him that fired up,” center Dalton Freeman said.
Clemson fans might say the same about the Tigers’ offense on Saturday against North Carolina.
Seven different players accounted for touchdowns in Clemson’s 59-38 romp of the Tar Heels, including defensive end Kourtnei Brown, who returned two turnovers for scores. It seemed as if Clemson had more playmakers than North Carolina had defenders on the field. Only one other time in school history -- against Wake Forest in 1981 -- had Clemson scored more points against an ACC opponent. The Tigers’ ability to distribute the ball coupled with the unselfish attitude from playmakers young and old are what has separated the program, now 8-0, from the rest of the ACC this year.
Receiver Sammy Watkins might be the best freshman in the country, but he doesn’t have to be for Clemson to win.
“Today was probably the most complete game we’ve had as far as distributing the ball and sharing the wealth,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “There is a lot to go around. If somebody game-plans for this person or that person, we do have other options out there. It’s exciting to see, and that’s probably the most rewarding thing I took from today, was that you come back into the locker room and you see the smiles on these guys’ faces because they are getting shown love. We’ve got too many playmakers. It’s a quarterbacks dream to have those type of players out there.”
Against North Carolina, receiver DeAndre “Nuke” Hopkins was Boyd’s favorite target, with nine catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. He was one of five different receivers who caught touchdown passes, a single-game school record. Even with Watkins drawing the bulk of the attention from UNC’s defense, he still finished with eight catches for 91 yards and a touchdown.
“I think that’s the key to our success,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “First of all we’ve got really, really good players. We’ve hit some home runs with recruits from that standpoint. … The key for us is it’s not like you can just defend one guy. We have a lot of guys who can make plays. We have a lot of backups who can make plays. We’ve got a quarterback who can pull the trigger and make a decision, and the offensive line is playing some really, really good football. That’s a good combination to have.”
And it’s only the beginning. Clemson has 42 freshmen (redshirt or first-year) among the 85 players on scholarship. The Tigers have played 13 true freshmen, none of whom have had more of an impact that Watkins, but Mike Bellamy and receiver Martavis Bryant have also been key contributors this year.
“You’re going to see that distribution continue to spread, especially next year, because these guys are going to be sophomores and even better,” Swinney said. “There’s not a lot of distance between our skill guys from a talent standpoint. There’s just not much difference at all. That’s a big blessing for us. That’s the bottom line, they know that everybody is going to have an opportunity to make a play in this offense. We’re not sitting there throwing to one guy.”
And if there’s anyone on the roster who still feels the need to be THE guy?
“The door’s right there,” Swinney said. “That’s the least of my worries. I am the last guy to coddle guys. This is a team sport. Our guys know that. It’s one team, one dream. You’re going to have a hard time making it at Clemson if you’re not a team guy.”
And opponents are going to continue to have a hard time stopping Clemson without an extra defender or six on the field.