Looking back, it’s hard to believe anyone doubted Tajh Boyd.
Yet, that’s where we were two weeks ago. Three games into the 2013 season, Clemson’s senior quarterback had work to do just to keep his Heisman Trophy campaign alive.
Boyd had 683 yards passing with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Solid numbers, but hardly worthy of an invitation to New York, much less Clemson’s first stiff-arm trophy.
Two weeks later, Boyd should be firmly back in the Heisman conversation.
He followed a breakthrough game against Wake Forest (17 of 24 passing, 311 yards, three passing touchdowns and two rushing scores) with one of the best games of his illustrious career in No. 3 Clemson's 49-14 rout at Syracuse Saturday.
In exactly three quarters of play, Boyd completed 20 of 27 passes for 455 yards (breaking his Clemson single-game record set twice in 2012) and five touchdowns (tying his Clemson single-game record set five times over the last two years). It came against a Syracuse defense that entered No. 32 nationally in total defense, yielding 337.8 yards per game.
Four of those touchdowns covered 40-plus yards.
Boyd threw his first interception in 188 passes (a ball too high for the 6’5” Mike Williams) and added another on a pass tipped by tight end Stanton Seckinger into the arms of a Syracuse cornerback.
Regardless, it was an incredible overall effort, one that should keep Boyd’s name prominently on the lips of Heisman voters. “Everything was in a flow,” Boyd told orangeandwhite.com. “I felt really good out there today. I felt like we got in the sync of the offense and did some really good things. We’ve got to finish on some things, not get complacent, but I felt like we really came out and were strong.”
In doing so, he also showed Syracuse what an elite ACC quarterback looks like.
Earlier this week, Syracuse tailback Jerome Smith raised a minor furor when he tweeted that "Ima take my #10 in orange against theirs ... " That“#10” was sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt, making his first ACC start and second career start.
Hunt told Syracuse reporters that “I want to out-shine him. I want to show people that I can compete with the best.”
Not even close. Hunt finshed 8-of-24 with 52 yards passing, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Carrier Dome boasted a raucous crowd of 48,000 for Syracuse’s first-ever ACC game, and the week’s storylines centered on how Clemson would adjust to the loud, stuffy environment (the Dome does not have air conditioning).
Three plays into the game, Boyd took the air out of the building, finding a streaking Adam Humphries for a 60-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.
“That’s very important,” he said. “When you go on the road, in an environment like this where they’re against you, it’s crucial. We want to try and take a stadium out of it.”
He spread the ball around, too: His five touchdowns went to four different receivers (two to Humphries, one to Seckinger, one to Martavis Bryant and one to Sammy Watkins).
“I’ve got guys out here, running backs, receivers, tight ends that are some of the best skill guys in the country,” he said. “I try to put guys in the best situations possible. I trust in them and try and play a complete game. I felt like I got as close as possible.”
And just when Syracuse thought it might have gotten in Boyd’s head, he came up with his biggest play of the day. Through the first 14:20 of the third quarter, the Orange held Clemson to two yards of total offense, and a hard hit left Boyd with a bruised thumb on his left (non-throwing) hand.
Backed up at his own 9, Boyd let fly with a long pass down the left sideline, and Watkins (himself nursing a bruised hip) hauled it in for a 91-yard touchdown, the second-longest offensive play in Clemson history.
“What a throw,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “"Sammy just took off on it. When I saw Sammy running underneath it, I just looked over at Coach (Chad) Morris, and for both of us, it was just like 'wow!'”
Boyd is now seventh in ACC history in career passing yardage with 9,502 yards and now has 10,421 yards of total offense for his career. He has 107 career passing and rushing touchdowns, six behind Phillip Rivers for the ACC’s all-time touchdown record.
In the last two weeks, Boyd has completed 37 of 51 passes for 766 yards with eight passing touchdowns and two rushing scores as well as the aforementioned pair of interceptions.
It should be enough to keep his name in the Heisman chase. This week, Boyd ranked fourth in HeismanPundit.com's straw poll, behind Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
In two weeks, Boyd will have his biggest spotlight in a likely top-10 showdown against Florida State and freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, who strafed Maryland for 393 yards and five touchdowns Saturday.
After squeezing the Orange, Clemson’s senior quarterback is right where he needs to be: right in the middle of the Heisman race.
Connect with Greg on Twitter@gc_wallace