CLMESON - Nowhere are images between last season and this season as contrasting as those from the sideline.
Former quarterback Kyle Parker was typically seated alone on a bench between offensive possessions last season, occasionally picking up the sideline telephone to have a brief talk with then coordinator Billy Napier.
This season, quarterback Tajh Boyd is engaged in constant conversation with offensive coordinator Chad Morris when the Clemson defense is on the field.
Communication is why Morris says he is on the sidelines during games, trading a comprehensive view of the playing field from the press box for face-to-face interaction with players. While the value of such communication is difficult to quantify, Morris can tout his boots-on-the-ground philosophy as being the correct one due to the lack of time he's had for conversation: Clemson leads the nation with 626 offensive plays this season.
No. 6 Clemson travels to Georgia Tech at 8 p.m. Saturday (ABC) where Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson also calls plays from the sideline. Tech (6-2, 3-2 ACC) and Clemson (8-0, 5-0) have the top two scoring offenses in the ACC.
"They have to be able to sense the urgency in my eyes, the tone of my voice," Morris said. "That's why I've always on been on the field. You need to have an open line of communication."
Morris always touches base with Boyd, the key on-field decision maker.
"If it's a three-and-out, it's what did you see?" Morris said of the discourse. "If it's a six-and-out we probably had a mental breakdown or overthrew a ball. What were you thinking on this play? If a drive ends in a touchdown, nice, but we should have scored three players earlier. What did you see? We have a great relationship and it allows me to coach him hard.
"We are always communicating."
After mistakes, rare for the sophomore this season, Boyd does not always want to talk. Morris said that's when Boyd is forced to listen.
Sometimes the sideline discussions center on mechanics. In the first quarter of the Maryland game, Boyd's throws were off target, sailing over his intended targets. Morris took Boyd aside and harped on his mechanics:
Finish with your weight on your front foot. Don't grip the ball too tight.
The refresher course worked as Boyd led Clemson back from an 18-point deficit.
Morris also typically speaks with his offensive line and tight end Dwayne Allen.
The wide receivers?
"Every one of them says they are open," Morris said.
But Morris listens to the receivers, too, especially Sammy Watkins, who Morris said has rare football intelligence.
Against Florida State, Watkins told Morris he could beat defenders on a slant-and-go route as FSU defenders were overplaying slant routes. Morris listened, called a slant-and-go, and Watkins beat FSU for a long touchdown.
The key to open communication? Honesty.
"Don't come off the field and lie to save your tail chewing because I'm going to find out on film and we've had it a few times this year," Morris said. "When you communicate with me on the sidelines, it affects how we call the next series. I'm just on the sideline, they are playing, that's why it's so important the information we get from them is accurate."
The communication is two-way: Morris admits mistakes, too.
At halftime Saturday, Morris gathered the offense in the locker room and said the third-down draw play he had call minutes early - a play resulting in a loss - was a mistake, his mistake.
"I said, hey, look I make mistakes, too," Morris said. "You develop a trust.
They trust you and you trust them."
* Running back Andre Ellington (sprained ankle) will be limited in practice this week Morris said but is expected to play at Georgia Tech.
* Boyd is No. 8 on Sports Illustrated's Heisman watch.
* The Davey O'Brien Foundation announced Monday the selection of 16 semifinalists for the 2011 Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award. Narrowed down from all 120 quarterbacks from NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision schools, semifinalists include Boyd.