CLEMSON, S.C.—Following No. 3 Clemson’s 56-7 blowout of Wake Forest here Saturday afternoon, Tajh Boyd said, “I feel I’ve accomplished about everything you can accomplish in a college career, minus a couple of things. Well, three things.”
He’s about right. Consider this: The Tigers’ fifth-year senior quarterback has won an ACC Championship, a bowl game, ACC Player of the Year honors and All-American honors.
His career stats are better than any quarterback in Clemson history. Consider this: Saturday alone, he became the program’s all-time total offense leader (with 9,971 yards) and became just the second Clemson player and 11th quarterback in ACC history to throw for at least 9,000 yards (9,047).
He threw his 166th consecutive pass without an interception, setting Clemson’s record for the longest such streak in program history.
He now has 102 combined rushing and passing touchdowns in his career, most in Clemson history and 10 behind Philip Rivers’ ACC career record. He’s already first in Clemson history in passing touchdowns (82) and passing efficiency.
What hasn’t he done? Well, beat South Carolina, win a BCS national title and win a Heisman Trophy.
Entering Saturday afternoon, there was reason to be concerned about Boyd’s Heisman candidacy. Through three games, he had thrown for 683 yards and six touchdowns against no interceptions—solid numbers, but hardly spectacular. He was fifth in the ACC in passing yards (227.7 YPG) and fourth in pass efficiency rating (148.0), both below his 2012 numbers (299.8 YPG, 165.6 efficiency).
This week, Heismanpundit.com ranked him in a five-way tie for fifth in its latest Heisman straw poll.
Following a sluggish 26-14 win at N.C. State, offensive coordinator Chad Morris admitted that he felt Boyd was “pressing,” a notion Boyd didn’t deny. Boyd said his footwork was poor and he was whipping the ball around like it was a weight attached to his arm.
Against a Wake Forest defense that entered allowing 15.8 points per game, Boyd was outstanding. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, adding 17 carries for 69 rushing yards and another touchdown. And he did it all in three quarters of work before leaving with a 42-7 lead and yielding to backups Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly. It was a day full of highlights, which could fuel Boyd’s Heisman campaign.
The biggest key, said offensive coordinator Chad Morris? Just have fun. Relax.
“That was the biggest thing I could tell him. Just quit pressing, go have fun,” Morris said. “He didn’t look like he was having fun last week (at N.C. State). He wasn’t. He missed some deep-ball shots, and if he had hit, it’d have been a different ballgame. But it wasn’t. Just go have fun. Go play. You play this game as a kid because you had fun. We weren’t going to change who we are; we weren’t going to change what we did. Just go have fun and let loose. That’s what he did tonight.”
Three plays into the game, Boyd and Clemson sent a message.
Boyd went deep down the right sideline for Sammy Watkins, who shook off an obvious pass interference for a 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
It was the Tigers’ first touchdown of longer than 36 yards since Watkins went 77 yards in the opener against Georgia.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the play was scripted, designed to play off the Demon Deacons’ aggressive cornerbacks and send a message, even if it missed.
It hit, and it got Boyd right back on track.
“I wasn’t worried about Tajh’s performance with the N.C. State game,” said Watkins, who finished with five receptions for 113 yards and the touchdown. “This offense is a game of routine, and you have to gain a rhythm. I think this game actually put us in a rhythm to get us flowing. He came out and attacked them, and took a lot of deep-ball shots and kept this offense going.”
Boyd said the Watkins score built his confidence, since he missed three deep tosses last week to Watkins and junior Martavis Bryant.
“We had the opportunity to hit about three of those last week and we didn’t,” he said. “We didn’t put enough air underneath them. You’ve got to go out there and make those plays. There are going to be plenty of times when you miss a throw, but we wanted to start off this game with a bang. The crowd barely had a chance to sit down. It was great.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of Boyd’s day was how it was accomplished—with a group of backups and behind a shuffled offensive line.
Starting left guard David Beasley sat with an ankle injury, replaced by junior Kalon Davis.
Starting right tackle Gifford Timothy sat with a concussion sustained at N.C. State, replaced by sophomore Shaq Anthony. Normal backup tackle Isaiah Battle sat, serving a suspension for upper-cutting a Wolfpack defensive back in the waning moments in Raleigh.
And Bryant, he of the breakout two-touchdown night in Raleigh, sat for the first half while suspended for a throat-slash gesture he made after one of the scores.
When Clemson needed tough yards through the air or on the ground, Boyd was there. He was the Tigers’ leading rusher.
In fact, the most effective short-yardage play was just giving it to Boyd and letting him bull forward for three or four yards. He converted a pair of fourth downs that way deep in Wake territory, extending drives.
“His demeanor was, just relax. Relax and go play,” Morris said. “Quit pressing. I saw that in his pregame demeanor. He was loose. This is what he does. I think we saw Tajh Boyd we’re all used to seeing.”
Boyd suggested that some of the Heisman hype had gotten to him. If so, Saturday provided a release.
“I think I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself,” he said. “You start getting, not necessarily caught up in it, but you want to start proving things to other people more so than you want to prove to yourself. The biggest thing to me is to go out and enjoy it.”
Before the game Saturday, Morris told Boyd a quote from Michael Jordan. According to Boyd, Jordan once said that every time he stepped on the court he tried to put on his best show, because there was someone in the stands who’d never seen him play before.
Tajh Boyd said offense "isn't close to where we need to be, and that's a good thing."— Greg Wallace (@gc_wallace) September 28, 2013
“That made an impression on me,” Boyd said. “Coach Morris said it, and it reminded me that every time you go out there, you’ve got to be competitive. Every extra yard you can get, you’ve got to get it. You want to make an impression every time you step on the field.”
The impression he left Saturday was very, very positive.
*Unless noted, all quotes in this article were obtained directly by the author.
Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace.