Clemson’s not slowing down, even without the offensive stars that made them go in receiver Sammy Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday his team won’t ease up on the attack that averaged better than 40 points and 500 yards for a second-straight season in 2013. Of course, he won’t have Watkins and Boyd, the high-performance duo who took center stage as Clemson went 32-8 and won the 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference championship during their three seasons as starters.
Watkins left school a season early and was picked No. 4 overall by the Buffalo Bills, while Boyd was taken in the sixth round by the New York Jets this past May – opening up two very high-profile spots on last year’s eighth-ranked Tigers.
For those returning, the message is clear, says offensive coordinator Chad Morris: “To prove that we weren’t a two-man show.”
That question should linger into the season opener at Georgia on Aug. 30.
Cole Stoudt, a senior and son of NFL passer Cliff Stoudt, won the quarterback job in the spring, helped by both an injury to rising freshman DeShaun Watson and the spring game sideline meltdown and subsequent dismissal of Chad Kelly.
Swinney said Watson, who set Georgia state high school records with 17,134 yards and 218 touchdowns, is healthy and pushing for playing time. Swinney and Morris say they knew since Watson’s first practice with the Tigers that he would get playing time, just when and how much are the questions.
Morris is high on Stoudt, who performed ably in mop-up duty and the few times Boyd came out with injuries.
“Cole, we’re excited about you,” Morris said. “Now, it’s time to go out and win some ballgames.”
Swinney recalls the last time he faced this situation after Kyle Parker left to play Major League Baseball after the 2010 season, and he was left with untested redshirt sophomore Boyd and freshman Stoudt as the main backup.
“I can promise you I’m sleeping a lot better with this situation,” Swinney said.
Stoudt will have several big targets to throw to, just not those Tiger fans had been used to watching the past several years. Along with Watkins leaving early, 6-foot-5 Martavis Bryant also gave up his senior season for the pros. Bryant was second on the team with 42 catches for seven touchdowns.
The receiver spot starts with the return of Charone Peake, considered Watkins’ equal when the two arrived in 2011 but who missed all but two games with a knee injury last season. Mike Williams will get a chance to earn a spot but should be pushed for playing time by mid-year enrollees Artavis Scott and Demarre Kitt.
Clemson also has several capable tight ends who can catch the ball in Sam Cooper and Stanton Seckinger. Jordan Leggett, at 6-5, could be the team’s most talented player at the spot and has stepped up his work habits after a lackluster freshman season, said tight ends coach Danny Pearman.
Morris, starting his fourth season in charge of the offense, thought back to when he took the job after the 2010 season. He said people were happy here with an offense that was averaging fewer than four touchdowns a game.
That’s a so-so half to Morris’ way of thinking, and he won’t let the fire slide simply because his old stars are gone. Swinney agrees, saying he’s developed a program the past five-and-a-half seasons that can stand the test of changing personnel.
“I think our guys are confident because we’ve built a good program, and good programs can sustain themselves through success and adversity,” he said. “You look around at the better programs, and that’s what you see.”