The talent, firepower, and star power of the Clemson Tigers offense can be blinding. They’re the team with the thousand-watt offense and headliners at every skill position.
Their quarterback, Tajh Boyd, was first-team All-ACC last season. Their running back, Andre Ellington, was named to the second team. Their All-American wide receiver, Sammy Watkins, will sit out Saturday’s game at Alumni Stadium. Their alternative top target: DeAndre Hopkins and his 101.8 receiving yards per game.
But even when he takes in all the Tigers’ talent, Boston College offensive coordinator Doug Martin knows no one’s ever won a fight on name recognition.
He sees the 317 yards per game that his quarterback, Chase Rettig, is averaging, Alex Amidon’s Atlantic Coast Conference-leading 122 receiving yards per game, and the Eagles’ passing attack — the most potent in the ACC at the moment — and dares opponents to beat it.
And he wants his players to see it the same way. He laid all the numbers out for them earlier in the week.
“Let’s look at this thing and let’s see who we are and tell me who we should be intimidated by,” he said. “We shouldn’t be intimidated by anybody. If we’re playing like we’re capable of and we take care of ourselves, we can produce against anybody and that’s the challenge each week.”
It’s the attitude Martin has tried to hardwire into his players since he was hired last December. And it’s the polar opposite of how the Eagles’ offense operated the past five seasons.
“It’s just his aggressive mentality, honestly,” said wide receiver Bobby Swigert. “The past couple years it was like, ‘If our offense can hang in there, our defense will make plays.’ ‘If we can put a couple points on the board, we’ll be all right.’
“This year, he has it set in our minds that we want to score 30 points a game or it’s like a failure for the offense. We want to put the big numbers up. We want to be the top offense in the ACC. Everybody has that mentality right now. We’ve seen what we can do. We’re going to keep being aggressive. We’re going to keep throwing the ball.”
For that reason, Martin has no issues trading punches with Clemson.
Martin has confidence in what he’s building at The Heights, and one of his immediate goals was instilling that confidence in an offense that struggled to find an identity or stability before he arrived.
“I wanted them to be an aggressive offense,” he said. “You’ve got to attack. You can’t just lay back and take what a defense gives you. People hear that all the time. I don’t believe that. I believe that you’ve got to be aggressive, you’ve got to play aggressive and you’ve got to force the defense to make mistakes. That’s how you score points.
“So I began to talk to them about changing the attitude of how we approach offense here with the tempo that we play at, how they look at themselves, what they believe about themselves, what their roles are here, and they’ve really bought in. It’s been fun.”
Prior to Martin’s arrival, BC’s offensive issues were easy to diagnose.
It’s been five years since Matt Ryan threw for 4,507 yards and the Eagles led the ACC in total offense. Since Ryan left, BC hasn’t ranked higher than eighth in the conference in passing. Last season, the only air attack in the conference worse than the Eagles’ was Georgia Tech’s, and the Yellow Jackets attempted almost half as many passes.
Quarterbacks have come and gone. So have offensive coordinators. Before Martin was hired, the Eagles had burned through three in a year.
When coach Frank Spaziani brought Martin in to interview, they watched film and brainstormed.
“We had been unable for a number of reasons to be successful on offense,” Spaziani said. “But we wanted to be able to get ourselves into where we could run the ball, throw the ball, score more. Doug, he brings that to the table. He has his offense, but he understands how we need to play football and what our guys can do. That’s always the mark of a good football coach.”
Martin immediately started piecing together the potential. He saw Rettig’s unteachable field vision, a receiving corps that had underachieved, a tight end threat in Chris Pantale, and thought about ways to pull everything together.
“Obviously, they had struggled throwing the ball,” Martin said. “So we talked about how to help the players that we have be better. Obviously, we don’t have a lot of speed receivers, so how are we going to get those guys open, how are we going to help them to get open. We began to put a plan in place to show him how we had done that before.
“They’re really hungry to prove that they can get it done offensively. They understand that they’ve struggled here the last couple years, and I told them that’s healthy. You guys need to have a chip on your shoulder about that and let that be a motivator, and I think that’s what they’ve gotten to and it’s fun to watch them start to meet that challenge.’’
The mentality change on offense goes beyond the numbers. From Jake Sinkovec, who converted from linebacker to fullback and shocked Miami with a first-quarter touchdown reception in the season opener, to Spiffy Evans and Johnathan Coleman, who took turns making big plays in the Eagles’ win over Maine, everyone on the field is an option.
“We just haven’t been like that the last two years,” Rettig said. “It’s something different and the guys are taking it and running with it.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney took notice.
“They’re just much more dynamic,” Swinney said. “They’re totally different looking at them as far as throwing the football and their efficiency at throwing the ball and really understanding how to attack a defense. I’m very impressed with what they’re doing offensively.”
For Rettig, though, it’ll take more than numbers for the offense to get its point across.
“We’ve got to win,” he said. “At the end of the day, no one cares if we’re the leading ACC passing team. If you’re not winning, it doesn’t matter. But one thing I’ve learned my whole life is being under the radar is probably the best thing you can be. Even if we were 3-0 we’d probably be still under the radar.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.