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Clemson OC, QB share growing success
By PETE IACOBELLI
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Two years ago, newly hired Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris wasn't sure what to make of talkative, playful and untested quarterback Tajh Boyd.
What Morris found was a kindred spirit in Boyd, eager to learn and ready to trigger an attack that's breaking records and passing milestones every time it takes the field.
"Tajh is a guy who's having fun," Morris said.
Both Morris and Boyd appear at the top of their games for the 10th-ranked Tigers (8-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) who face Maryland (4-5, 2-3) on Saturday.
Morris' offense put up 718 yards last week in a victory at Duke, the second highest total in program history and sixth time its surpassed 500 yards this season. Boyd leads the ACC with 2,680 yards and 25 TDs.
Coordinator and quarterback clicked almost from the start, Morris remembered, although it took a while for Boyd to fully understand the commitment to detail necessary to succeed.
Boyd and the Tigers were one of college football's biggest surprises in 2011, Morris' high-flying offense helping the team a surprising 8-0 start. Then came the disastrous 1-3 finish where Boyd's productivity plummeted and his decision making fell apart.
He went from a Heisman Trophy hopeful with 24 TDs and three interceptions the first eight games to throwing seven interceptions and only four touchdowns down the stretch.
The Tigers recovered to win the ACC championship before they were humiliated in the Orange Bowl by West Virginia, surrendering a bowl record for points allowed in a 70-33 loss.
While the focus in that debacle was the Clemson's defense, Boyd threw of pair of interceptions as he struggled to keep pace with the Mountaineers' offense.
Morris knew if Clemson were to pick up its offensive pace, Boyd had to take another big step forward.
The two spent time this offseason working on positioning and footwork. Boyd put time in the weight room, losing about 15 pounds to be more mobile when asked to run.
"Running the ball is one of those things where you have to gain confidence," Boyd said. "If you don't grow up running, you don't feel as comfortable in it. Me and my dad used to talk about it all the time."
Boyd has already rushed for 350 yards through nine games after getting 218 a year ago.
"I feel faster," Boyd said with his trademark smile.
Morris likes the dual threat Boyd's become, although he's not buying into his junior standout's speed. "He said he was fast. I said, `I don't know about that, but at times you look fast,'" Morris said.
The two also spend plenty of time discussing the pressures of the positions. As Clemson's starting quarterback, Boyd is the most high-profile - and highly scrutinized - athlete on a campus crazy about football.
"It's a big deal to be quarterback for the Clemson Tigers," Morris said. "And with that comes pressure."
Morris knows about pressure. He's the highest paid assistant in the game at $1.3 million a year and shared with Boyd his worries over calling the perfect offensive game. Boyd acknowledged how difficult it is to strive for mistake-free football with fans' judging you on a play-by-play basis.
The two agreed the sport should be well-played, but fun.
"Sometimes we all feel like we have to be perfect and we don't," Morris said. "Really talked to him about that."
The pair of also talked about managing the game with the right choices. So far, Morris likes what's he's seen.
"He's the leader of this football team and he's playing like it," Morris said.
The pair have spent plenty of time talking about football, life, anything and everything to develop the necessary bond that makes offense go. "We've got to think so much alike," Morris said.
Morris also acts as Boyd's spokesman when things go wrong. When teammates and other coaches want to console or give guidance, Morris might shoo them away so Boyd can have some space. "You say, `Hey, leave him alone. He'll figure it out,'" Morris said. "He's done a great job figuring out how to fix things."
Boyd passed for four touchdowns in Clemson's 56-45 comeback victory at Maryland last year. Terps coach Randy Edsall believes Boyd is much stronger and polished with a year's more experience.
"Boyd is playing extremely well, just throwing the deep ball well and making good decisions," Edsall said.
Both Boyd and Morris might have choices to make whenever Clemson's season ends. Boyd is eligible for the NFL draft while Morris' name is sure to be tagged to several head-coaching openings. Neither spends much time thinking about that now with Clemson going so well.
"We've just got to keep working and continue to grow," Boyd said.
Updated November 9, 2012