CLEMSON, S.C. – Thursday began as a chilly night inside Memorial Stadium. At kickoff of the Clemson-Georgia Tech game, the temperature was 50 degrees, but dropped as the evening wore on.
With No. 8 Clemson holding a 17-point lead, the final play of the third quarter surely sent more shivers down Tiger fans’ spines.
Star senior quarterback Tajh Boyd ran for a 7-yard gain with a Georgia Tech defensive lineman falling awkwardly on him.
He grabbed his left (non-throwing) shoulder and didn’t get up.
“Initially,” Boyd said later, “I thought that I had just ended my career in Clemson.”
Boyd heard what he called a “nasty crunching and cracking sound,” and immediately went to the locker room after jogging off the field.
“He’s Superman,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Your breath goes away when you see a great player on the ground.”
Boyd is the ACC’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns and the only ACC player to ever throw for 10,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more yards in a career.
Junior Cole Stoudt is a capable backup, but Boyd is not easily replaced. Fortunately for the Tigers, it was only a scare. Boyd suffered a bruised left collarbone and bruised sternum. He said he’ll play in his college home finale next week against The Citadel.
“It sounded a lot worse than what it really was,” Boyd said. “I’ll throw some ice on it and be fine. I can’t sit for my last game in the Valley. Maybe I’ll throw a pad in there, but I’ll be practicing Monday and I’ll be just fine.”
That was the best news to come out of Clemson’s 55-31 rout of Georgia Tech, which improved the Tigers to 9-1 overall and 7-1 in ACC play to keep them in solid position for a second BCS bowl berth in three seasons.
The next-best news? If something does happen to Boyd, Clemson knows it has a capable option in Stoudt. The backup came in cold off the bench to lead a touchdown drive, completing both passes he threw for 35 yards and adding four rushes for 29 yards and a touchdown.
While much of the attention in Clemson’s post-Boyd quarterback derby has been focused on redshirt freshman Chad Kelly and incoming mid-year enrollee DeShaun Watson—a highly touted prospect from Gainesville, Ga., Stoudt has his team’s confidence.
“I’m very confident,” Boyd said of Stoudt. “Again, it’s something we go through in practice, something we go through in meetings, off the field, man. Just understanding him, getting a chance to know how he thinks. Anytime I can go out there and help him out in a situation in the game, it makes it that much more special.”
Boyd trusts Stoudt and Kelly implicitly.
“I know if I’m out of the game, the offense will be just fine,” Boyd said. “At the same time, you have to make sure you encourage these guys, keep them calm in nature. I played a lot of football here. I’ve been in every situation. Anytime you can pass on advice it’s much needed.”
The same goes for Swinney.
“It was a good opportunity for Cole,” Swinney said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in Cole. He took it right down and put points on the board. Chad came in and executed well too (rushing three times for 24 yards and completing one of two passes for eight yards). They played a great football game.”
Before he left, Boyd showed how high Clemson fans’ collective standards will be for his replacement with one of his most complete games.
In three quarters, Boyd completed 20 of 26 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns, throwing only one ill-advised red-zone interception under pressure.
“We feel like we can score on any play of the game,” Boyd said. “And that’s what we did tonight.”
Junior wideouts Martavis Bryant and Sammy Watkins combined to catch 10 passes for 280 yards and three scores, with Bryant rolling up a career-high 176 receiving yards and a touchdown on five catches.
Making it all the more impressive was that the Tigers' production came against a Georgia Tech team that entered the night with the nation’s No. 12 overall defense, the No. 10 rushing defense and the No. 14 scoring defense.
“It makes people understand how explosive this offense is,” Boyd said. “It’s been a situation where Tay' (Bryant) has been doing some really good things this season. Tonight, he stepped it up another level. There was a pass interference earlier in the game and he came back to the sidelines (to talk).
“I’d like to think that my arm is a good judge of speed. He was like, ‘Tajh, I promise you, you won’t outthrow me. I’ll run under anything.’ He was confident. I was confident in him and we went out and made some things happen tonight.”
Boyd said it was just a stinger, bruised collarbone, and he'll be back for The Citadel. Initially thought his college career was over.— Greg Wallace (@gc_wallace) November 15, 2013
Add the fact that Brent Venables’ defense held Georgia Tech to 248 rushing yards (63 under its average of 311 yard allowed), and it was a truly special night in Death Valley.
Even the night’s most frightening moment had a happy ending, one that bodes well for the end of this season and beyond.
“That was a great win,” Swinney said. “I was really proud of our team. Really proud of how they persevered and handled adversity in this game. I thought they came ready. Georgia Tech has been incredibly difficult for us and the way we competed all night was awesome.”
*Unless noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace