CLEMSON, S.C.—They’re not really so different, Tajh Boyd and Jameis Winston. One is a fifth-year senior. The other, a redshirt freshman on the opposite end of his college football career.
Both have strong, accurate right arms. Both are elusive runners who can avoid sacks and extend plays with their legs.
And right now, both are starting quarterbacks for Top Five teams—which just happen to be meeting Saturday night.
And while Boyd and Winston won’t face off directly against one another, the quarterback subplot has emerged as one of the biggest stories of the week.
While a number of variances can come into play like the running game, special teams and turnovers, odds are that Clemson versus Florida State will tilt on which quarterback has the better overall game.
And that makes Tajh Boyd vs. Jameis Winston an incredibly intriguing story to follow.
"He's a veteran guy. He knows it's not about him," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of his signal-caller, Boyd. "He knows it wasn't about him and (Georgia quarterback) Aaron Murray. It's not about any of that. It's just about playing the game, trying to give yourself a chance to win. All the individual stuff comes from great team success, and Tajh understands that better than anybody.
"He's probably the least talked‑about superstar out there, just simply because of his nature. He's not going into this game worrying about what some other guy on another team does. He's going into this game trying to execute the plan that we've put in place and give his team a chance to win."
How similar are the two statistically? Well, consider this.
Boyd is the ACC’s leader in total offense, averaging 328.3 yards per game; Winston is second at 315.2 per game. Boyd leads the ACC in passing yardage with 297.2 yards per game; Winston is second at 288.2 per.
Winston leads the ACC in pass efficiency with a 213.9 rating; Boyd is second at 172.0. Winston has 17 touchdowns against two interceptions; Boyd has 15 scores against two interceptions.
Both are mobile quarterbacks: Boyd averages 31.2 yards rushing per game while Winston averages 27.0.
|Player||Passing yards per game||Rushing yards per game||Total offense yards per game||Passer rating||Passing touchdowns|
Clemson and FSU sports information
In discussing Winston, Swinney said the two quarterbacks are quite similar in their ability to extend plays.
"It's tough," Swinney said. "I mean, because you do a great job of coverage and you feel like you're in good shape. Next thing you know he finds a rushing lane and he runs for 15 yards. He can break a tackle. It's just like our guy. I mean, it's like going up against Tajh Boyd. That's why you go recruit those kind of guys. It makes us all look like better coaches. Man, that was a bad play: oh, oh, no, yes, yes. He's one of them oh, no, oh, yes guys. That's called recruiting."
Give a crease, Swinney says, and Winston will take a huge gain.
"You can be in great position, you can do a good job but you don't quite get off that block well enough or that rush lane gets a little wide, and next thing you know he's in space, he makes a linebacker miss because of the type of athlete that he is, and it's a big play," he said. "You see it with No. 10 (Boyd) on our team all the time. How many times have we seen No. 10 make plays with his legs when there wasn't anything there? That's why he's a great player. So it's a big challenge."
Boyd is by far the more experienced player of the two. With 164 passing yards this week, he’ll become the third quarterback in ACC history to surpass 10,000 career passing yards. With four total touchdowns, he’ll pass former N.C. State and current San Diego Charger quarterback Philip Rivers for the ACC’s all-time mark for total touchdowns (Rivers had 112, Boyd has 109).
"His consistency. That’s the thing we all get bored with," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said of Boyd. "That’s what you don’t want to write about. You want to write about something spectacular. Great players are consistent in how they perform—his decision making, his athleticism, his arm, all those are great attributes, but what makes a great player is he does it every week.
"He’s consistent in his performances. To me that’s key to any great player is consistency and performance over any long period of time and he’s definitely done that."
Winston agrees that Boyd’s track record gives him credibility.
"When you beat teams like they beat Georgia, he’s won big games like the bowl game last year against LSU, he’s proven himself numerous times," he said. "A lot of people say I have to prove myself and things like that, but it’s a team game. He has such a great team around him just like I have a great team around me. But when you’re a great player and you get people to follow you, that’s when the leadership qualities come in, that’s when people know you are the real deal."
Winston isn't worried about the comparisons.
"Me and him (Boyd) both know that we have to do our jobs to help put our team in the best situation to win," he said. "Both of us being offensive people, obviously he’s going to try to get his offense to start clicking and I’m going to get my offense to click. It’s probably going to be a quarterback battle but I’m pretty sure he’s not thinking about competing against me, he’s thinking about competing against (FSU linebacker) Telvin (Smith) and those guys just like I’m thinking about competing against Clemson’s defense."
While there are questions about his readiness for Saturday, Winston already owns spectacular road performances in his freshman season. In his college debut at Pitt, he completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns. And after falling into a 17-3 hole at Boston College, he rallied the Seminoles to a 48-34 win with 330 yards passing and four touchdowns, completing 17 of 27 passes.
But Winston has yet to experience a raucous environment like the atmosphere that will envelop Memorial Stadium, with 81,000 crazed Clemson fans in attendance. Boyd made his first big road start in 2011 at Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium, leading the Tigers to a dominant 23-3 victory.
"It will be different for him here, but we'll see how he handles it," Boyd said of Winston. "I was in a similar situation and I was a year older as a redshirt sophomore, but going to play in different venues is always fun and always exciting.
"You never really know how it is until you actually step in that arena. I'm anxious to see how he handles it, but the coaches are going to prepare him as best as possible. But at the end of the day, you really just have to go out there and make plays because regardless of what you did before, in a game like this you have to go out there and just be prepared for this game."
Swinney believes Winston won’t be overwhelmed by Death Valley, given his other road-game experiences.
"Well, I mean, this is a tough place to play for anybody. You know, you've got to have great focus and poise. He certainly has demonstrated that big‑time," Swinney noted. "They got down 17‑3 on the road at Boston College. I mean, it wasn't looking real good. Next thing you know, bam-bam, he makes a big play, he just responded. I think he's a very poised young man. He plays baseball, and baseball is probably as bad as any sport out there as far as having to have some thick skin, and I think that helps him.
"But this is a special place, and we're going to need our crowd to definitely be at an all‑time high and the best that it's been to try to create that energy that our team needs and also make it difficult for them, because it is difficult when all that is kind of working against you."
Saturday will likely serve as an elimination game both for the ACC Atlantic Division (the loser would have to lose twice more to give the other team a chance) and the BCS National Championship Game.
But it could also serve as an elimination game for the Heisman Trophy race. According to HeismanPundit.com, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel lead the latest straw poll, with Winston third and Boyd tied for fifth.
Saturday’s losing quarterback could see his Heisman hopes end. Boyd and Winston won’t face off directly, but their similarities and success, and the surrounding intrigue, will make for fascinating postgame and Sunday morning discussion.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article were obtained directly by the author.
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