Matt Bockhorst came into Monday’s media availability with reporters clearly frustrated.
There’s no question that Bockhorst is Clemson’s leader up front. His voice is one that often rings the loudest within the confines of the Tigers’ locker room. He also knows the standard that it takes to win, and right now, Clemson’s offense isn’t reaching that standard.
During Saturday’s battle in the trenches, Bockhorst pulled back the curtain on his fiery side. He played with intense passion and effort in Clemson’s 14-8 win over Georgia Tech because this season, at least to him, means more than ever.
“We only scored seven points in the first half,” Bockhorst said in response to a question about why he was so fired up Saturday. “This offense has traditionally done a lot better than that. So I know that there’s a standard here. There’s a standard that’s been set by the guys before us. We owe something to that standard. I’m not going to relent on that, and I’m not going to let those guys down because I know what they gave. The guys that came before us, I know what they sacrificed. I know what that looks like. I’m going to bring out of everybody some way.”
From a leadership standpoint, Bockhorst believes that there’s a time and place for everything.
Because there’s so much going on during the course of a game, it’s hard to realize what truly transpired for 60 minutes until players have a chance to turn on the tape.
“It’s funny because a lot of people have opinions on things, but they really don’t look at the tape,” he said. “They just have an emotional reaction about what they perceive to be what happened during the play. But, on Sunday, we take a chance to take a look at the tape, to correct the things that need to be corrected and come back in here on Monday and evaluate that. We close the book and move forward.
“I’ll tell you if you look at the tape, it’s really not that bad, but I think everyone’s got this preconceived notion that the offense is falling apart, that Coach (Tony) Elliott needs to go and that D.J. (Uiagalelei) isn’t this and isn’t that. Those things are wrong. We know that here. We just have to keep doing what we need to do and continue to improve, and we’ll be just fine.”
Bockhorst realizes that the narrative is going to be what it is. He can’t change that, and as an offensive lineman, he’s learned how to deal with the criticism and tune out the outside noise.
Still, Bockhorst realizes that Clemson can’t continue to leave points on the field and eke out wins against tougher conference opponents
“At the end of the day, we’re here to get an education and win football games,” he added. “We’re winning, yes, but, we’re cutting it close. There’s a standard, like I said, that has been set and needs to be met. So when we come and talk about execution, football, it’s a game of execution. The scheme can only take you so far. We need to finish drives. We need to get on the same page and get all the young guys on the same page. Make sure receivers are getting the signals. Everything. All of the little details it takes to be successful as an offense, that’s what we need to do.”
Speaking of criticism, it’s Bockhorst’s quarterback who has received the bulk of it through Clemson’s first three games. Bockhorst acknowledged that everyone’s human, even Uiagalelei. Despite what people may otherwise think, Clemson’s offense isn’t totally immune from making mistakes.
“That kid’s come in here and worked harder than anybody else,” Bockhorst said of Uiagalelei. “His dedication and commitment and drive are unmatched. I know that (the critics) see maybe a missed throw — I know that there are throws from Saturday that D.J. wants back — but D.J.’s improving and he’s a proven leader. We have faith in D.J. I’ll ride with 5 until it’s over. I don’t care.
“If he’s not doing as well as they think he should, then so be it. But I know that myself and the other guys around him, we’ve got all the confidence in the world in him.”
Bockhorst has that same level of confidence in the guys around him.
“I’m taking the guys around me and we’re going,” he said.
Earlier Monday, Tony Elliott said that he expects other teams going forward to mimic Georgia Tech’s defensive approach, which helped limit Clemson to just 14 points. Bockhorst welcomed other ACC teams to try and do the same.
“If the rest of the ACC wants to come out and play an odd front with two-cloud coverage, then let’s spot the ball and play because we’re ready for it,” Bockhorst said.
Behind Bockhorst and Co. on Saturday, Clemson rushed the ball for 158 yards. And with that, Bockhorst delivered a warning to the rest of the conference.
“We did it all day Saturday and we’ll do it again, so buckle it up tight,” he added.
Through and through, Bockhorst is the bonafide leader of this team. He’s been here since 2017, and he’s deeply embedded into this program. The bottom line is, he’s going to be himself because that’s all he knows.
“Each person has their own style and not everyone’s going to be like me. and that’s a good thing,” he said. “You don’t need a bunch of people hootin’ and hollerin’ and making a scene. That’s my style. That’s the way I play the game. That’s the way I’ve always played the game. As an offensive lineman, I feel like you have to bring that because putting your hand in the dirt and run blocking somebody for 50 plays is not fun, but that’s what your job is. That’s what you signed up for. If you don’t bring the fire, then I don’t know how you’re going to get through that.”