CLEMSON -- Freshman defensive end Da'Quan Bowers' eyes bulged two weeks ago when interim coach Dabo Swinney told him to come join the offense during Clemson's eighth practice period.
Swinney said he had a plan.
Bowers, billed by recruiting services as the nation's top defensive prospect, also had moonlighted as a short-yardage power back during his illustrious prep career.
The Tigers wanted the 6-4, 265-pounder as a blocker, though. For two snaps in the Georgia Tech loss, Bowers served as a wing tight end, forming a wedge with fullback Chad Diehl on a smashmouth running play for Jamie Harper called "ambush" -- as in, designed to catch the opposition off-guard at the beginning of a series.
"I was kind of excited," Bowers said. "But I wasn't too excited, because I knew I wasn't going to get the ball."
A pinch of tempered enthusiasm seems to be the measure for how players have reacted since Swinney fired Rob Spence as coordinator upon taking over.
Clemson has averaged 17 points through four ACC games, on pace to become its lowest conference average since 1994 (14.5).
While the Tigers' points and yardage totals in the Georgia Tech loss merely maintained the status quo, the aggressive manner in which they went after points struck many veterans as a refreshing change from Spence's conservative approach.
Although Swinney, formerly the receivers coach, oversees the offense, the play-calling is mostly handled by former tight ends coach Billy Napier, who now handles the quarterbacks.
Several players said the influence of Napier, a former quarterback, was apparent in the concerted effort to finally establish a vertical passing game.
"It takes a lot to call certain plays in certain situations and take risks knowing that it's high-risk, high-reward, and sometimes things don't work out," senior receiver Aaron Kelly said judiciously.
"But I think having two guys who aren't afraid to make those play-calls will help us a lot. And I think that's the difference."
Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski said last week's open date should allow Clemson to unveil plenty of new wrinkles in Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
The plan to use backup quarterback Willy Korn in change-of-pace spot duty would qualify, but the Tigers maintain their offensive tweaks so far have been philosophical, not schematic.
The criticisms of Spence were that he was predictable and called plays not to lose, an approach that is perceived to have fostered passiveness and softness and thereby eroded players' confidence -- a theme echoed by Swinney on Tuesday.
Most of the tricks Swinney and Napier pulled from Clemson's hat against Georgia Tech were in fact installed there by Spence, who built a reputation for installing comprehensive game plans, only to significantly scale back once the action was under way.
"The one thing about these coaches, if you do the play in practice, they're going to call it," running back James Davis said.
What they didn't call may have had as profound an impact on morale.
Spence, already a screen pass proponent, grew increasingly reliant on the quick horizontal pass as a means to compensate for the offensive line's leaky pass protection.
Against Georgia Tech, Clemson dialed up just one receiver screen in the first half with the blatant intent of establishing its skill players as weapons instead of safety valves. Instead, the Tigers varied their protections to minimize getting one-on-one mismatches on the offensive line.
If nothing else, Swinney and Napier believe mounting a vertical passing game ties into Swinney's stated desire to alter the mind-set Clemson players are not expected to snatch success in clutch situations.
"Even if you don't complete them, we have to take shots to send a message," Swinney said. "The biggest threat a wideout has is to run by somebody. If you don't have that shot, there's no fear, so they can send everyone."
"Covered doesn't mean incomplete. We have to give guys opportunities to make plays."