Clemson not shying away from high offensive expectations
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson coach Dabo Swinney asked his players at a recent team meeting to name the past five Heisman Trophy winners.
''Nobody could get past the last two,'' co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said.
The message was clear - the national runners-up could not rely on last season's rousing offensive success to take the next step forward this year.
Not that the Tigers, who were undefeated until falling to Alabama 45-40 in the national championship game two months ago, don't have several stellar pieces to live up to over-the-top expectations. Quarterback Deshaun Watson, the first in FBS play to throw for more than 4,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000, returns for his third season as starter. Single-season rushing leader Wayne Gallman, who ran for 1,527 yards last year, passed up the NFL for another year in college.
Receiver Mike Williams, a 1,000-yard pass catcher two years back, returns full speed after a scary neck injury in the 2015's opener.
Add in tight end Jordan Leggett, experienced receivers Artavis Scott and Hunter Renfrow, and a largely intact offensive line and expectations are through the roof.
''We think we can outscore anybody,'' Williams said Wednesday.
First things first, Swinney said.
''There are a lot of really good things'' on offense, he said. ''They should have high expectations. But potential is one thing and performance is what it's all about. It's like I tell the guys, last year's touchdowns aren't going to win this year.''
So far, the Tigers have responded well, Scott said.
Watson, the smooth, smart junior, has led an intense first week of spring practice and the rest of the offense has followed the quarterback's example, Scott said.
It's hard to imagine Watson playing any better than he did in leading Clemson's attack last fall. Watson passed for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns. He ran for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns. More than production, Watson showed the knack making the right call at the correct time.
Watson wrapped the season with a transcendent performance against the national champion Crimson Tide with four touchdown passes and 498 yards of offense.
His goal this spring is to improve on the finer points of quarterback play. Quarterback coach Brandon Streeter said Watson's working on his footwork to avoid some front-foot throws that led to mistakes or ended drives. Watson, who finished third in Heisman balloting last season, is also working on leadership skills to take even more ownership of the Clemson offense.
The Tigers averaged better than 514 yards a game last fall, 11th best in the country. They averaged 38.5 points a game, good for 16th best nationally.
Clemson's offense kept up with Alabama throughout the title game. It was breakdowns on special teams in the second half - Nick Saban's pop up kickoff gamble the Tide recovered and Kenyan Drake's punt return TD that put Alabama ahead by double digits - that severely cost the Tigers.
Gallman hopes the offense can keep the Tigers out front throughout the upcoming season.
''I know when we get in the game, we can always score points whether it's passing or running the football,'' he said. ''To be in that talk is pretty good, but it's just another challenge.''
Center Jay Guillermo said the returnees from last year's run must stay true to the work ethic that got them near the top in 2015. ''There isn't just a fast forward to January,'' he said. ''We know what it takes and you've got to go through the process.''
Right now, Swinney said that's the challenge this spring - and after one week, he's excited about what he's seen from his attack.
''We have a lot of successful guys that are coming back and a lot of guys that are driven and motivated to be great,'' he said. ''And that's a contagious thing.''