There’s no question, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said, that his offense is “substantially better” than how it looked at the end of spring practices.
There are numbers to back him up.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd was 8-of-24 in the spring game, but in all three of the scrimmages during summer camp, Boyd completed over 50 percent of his passes (a total of 28-of-41 for 68 percent), and threw five touchdown passes and just one interception. With the highly touted recruiting class now familiar with the playbook, Clemson is an entirely different team with an entirely different offense than when fans last saw the Tigers play. True freshman receiver Sammy Watkins has played his way into the starting lineup, and when Clemson lines up against Troy on Saturday, fans will finally get to see just how productive the up-tempo spread offense can be under first-year coordinator Morris.
The truth is, though, not even Morris knows what to expect.
“The biggest concern is anytime you put a first-year quarterback out there and some younger guys, how are they going to respond?” Morris said. “That’s probably my biggest concern. I have a feeling they’re going to do what they’ve done in practice, and get better as the game goes, but until you start fighting the battles together, you just don’t know.”
Troy has won each of the past five Sun Belt Conference titles, but still, it’s a game the Tigers should win. Clemson is loaded with talent, particularly up front, where the Tigers should control the game.
The biggest question is how well Boyd and his teammates will execute the offense.
“I mean, that's really what it's about,” said coach Dabo Swinney. “We've got good players, we've got good coaches. It's about execution, and I want to see us go out and play the game the way we've practiced. We've had good focus, we've had excellent preparation. These guys have been very dialed in on trying to get better every day, and you know, we've set a standard, and I want to see us play to that standard. So that's really the biggest thing. Just avoid some of those first game things that sometimes you see a lot when you turn the TV on; take care of the football, no stupid penalties, be clean with our procedures and so forth.”
Morris said he entered summer camp thinking they would have to start from scratch again and build up, but the players surprised him with their retention and summer work ethic. He said he was amazed at how quickly they grasped it, but he doesn’t want them to think it has to look perfect on Week 1.
“I just want them to play good,” he said. “I want to continue to build the confidence we established through fall camp and understand that the whole offense, we’re not asking them to operate as you would in Week 9 and Week 10, but just come out and execute what we do and get good at what we do and play fast and physical.”
They will, however, need to be in November form by Week 3 against Auburn.
Let the tune-up begin.