This week, Clemson plays Wake Forest, which might not create a ripple on Lake Hartwell unless the Tigers lose, but anxiety began to percolate around the nation’s third-ranked team after one player was injured over the weekend in a fatal automobile accident, and two were disciplined for showing out at N.C. State.
Life in a fishbowl becomes testy in a hurry when expectations are at Defcon 3 and climbing. Nobody understands better than the quarterback, the unequivocal leader and face of the team.
While Tajh Boyd played well enough to beat N.C. State, there’s a school of thought that 24 of 37 for 244 yards and three touchdown passes weren’t Heisman Trophy worthy passing numbers. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris suggested this week Boyd should relax and enjoy the ride. On the other hand, as coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday, something has been lost in the context.
“Our expectations are monstrous for him,” Swinney said. “So, you just go back and say let’s take a deep breath and talk through this. It’s early in the season.
“He came back and played lights out,” he said. “He’s not going to get worse. He’s just going to keep finding that rhythm.”
In the second half, Boyd completed 9 of 11 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
“That’s just the nature of playing quarterback,” Boyd said. “We have expectations of what the offense is supposed to look like.
“Each year, it starts out a little bit rocky and a little bit the other side of the fence,” he said. “You have to understand that it does take time.
“In this offense and the position I’m in, rhythm is everything. I think we got that in the second half. I think that it will continue with this stretch that we have.”
When Boyd appeared Tuesday at his weekly media session, the easy smile was not evident. The weekend’s events might have been a gut check for all the Tigers.
Defensive tackle Carlos Watkins might miss only one game as he recuperates from injury following a one-car accident Saturday in North Carolina that killed a cousin, Swinney said. Already thin at receiver after Charone Peake tore an ACL, Swinney revealed that Martavis Bryant was disciplined for an inappropriate gesture after a touchdown in Raleigh that game officials and coaches missed. Earlier, offensive tackle Isaiah Battle had been suspended and faced week-long discipline for landing an uppercut late in the game.
Boyd said he intended to voice his displeasure to them both.
“It’s disappointing having those guys missing some times, but it’s needed,” he said. “I do have to do my diligence and will go talk to those guys as well.”
It’s not all on Boyd’s shoulders, though. Rather than relying on its relentless offense, Clemson seems to have struck a better balance this season. Swinney spent much of the time Tuesday talking defense.
“It has been a pretty complete effort by our football team, these first three games. That’s what I am most excited about,” he said. “We’ve got a chance to be a pretty complete team as we progress through the season.”
Swinney continued to praise the defensive line, particularly end Vic Beasley, as well as linebackers Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony. All three were recognized for their performances in the N.C. State game.
“I’ll take 11 more wins like we just had,” Swinney said.
“We’re much better after three games than we were last year after three games,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be, but our guys are hungry. They want it.”