In his time as the Clemson starting quarterback, Tajh Boyd has played in several marquee games.
In five of those games, the Tiger offense faced a do-or-die moment – a manageable deficit that, because of either time or momentum, required a Clemson score. Each time, such drives resulted in a Boyd turnover that helped seal a Clemson loss.
That changed in Monday’s 25-24 win over a favored LSU squad known for wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks in both pressure and pass coverage with a defense that came into the Chick-fil-A Bowl giving up an average of less than 200 passing yards per game.
Boyd threw for 346 yards and a pair of scores through the air and had another on the ground with no interceptions, but what showed more growth was his handling of the big moment. Head coach Dabo Swinney told Boyd his time would come in the primetime bowl game, comparing his role for Clemson to that of Kobe Bryant for the Los Angeles Lakers as the star who must perform.
“That’s what I told Tajh. ‘You got to play; you got to fight for everything out there,’” Swinney said. “What I told him going into this game, ‘You’re going to beat a team like this ... you got to pull the trigger.’ Boy, did he make some big, big, big throws. Made some huge runs.”
The biggest of moments came for Boyd with 14:52 left in the game and his team trailing 24-13. After the Clemson defense forced a three-and-out, the offense got the ball on its own 29-yard line.
Boyd has seen similar situations over the last two seasons. Earlier this season, the then-No. 10 Tigers trailed then-No. 4 Florida State 42-31 when their defense forced a fumble on the Clemson 22. On just the second play of the ensuing drive, Boyd threw an interception that resulted in a touchdown on the Seminoles’ next offensive play to push the margin to 18 with less than nine minutes remaining in the game. Boyd rallied the troops for another score later, but the damage had been done.
Against Georgia Tech and South Carolina last year, and the Gamecocks again this year, the story was the same. Clemson forces a turnover or gets the ball back after forcing a field goal, and Boyd throws an interception.
In last year’s 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, Boyd had a chance to stem the tide earlier in the game after the Mountaineers had stretched their lead to 35-20 with 2:29 remaining in the first half. Again on the second play of the Tigers’ drive, Boyd threw a pick that led to a West Virginia score. Boyd fumbled on the following drive, and the historic rout was on.
This time, Boyd said his team was prepared for the adversity they’d face, trailing from the beginning after losing Sammy Watkins to an injury on a fumble in the game’s second play.
“Before the game, coach talked about how we would face adversity. Getting the win would be all about how we respond to it,” Boyd said. “We weren’t expecting that adversity to happen so early in the game, but we were ready and stepped up.”
Boyd came through for the Tigers after Watkins’ fumble with a scoring drive capped by his 11-yard touchdown run, and he answered the bell again in the fourth quarter. He cut the 11-point deficit to eight by leading the team on a 63-yard drive that ended with a 26-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal first, and then the Clemson defense handed him the ball again after another three-and-out.
This time with the ball on the Clemson 23, Boyd went to work with his favorite targets on the night, DeAndre Hopkins and Brandon Ford, and put his Tigers within two with a 12-yard bullet to Hopkins.
Boyd’s two-point conversion pass came up short, but he wasn’t done for the night. After three pass attempts by LSU and another three-and-out, the Clemson offense got an opportunity that excited its on-field leader.
“(1:39) is like 10 to 15 minutes for us,” he said. “When I saw that clock and that we had three timeouts, I said, ‘Let’s get it.’ It didn’t look promising after the first few plays, but it became a special moment.”
Clemson started their attack moving the wrong direction, but on fourth-and-16 at the Clemson 14, Boyd found a sliding Hopkins for a 26-yard gain, and the wheels were moving. Six plays later – all either passes or Boyd runs – Catanzaro put the ball through the uprights for a 32-yard field goal as the clock expired.
Clemson won the game, but the magnitude of that drive, particularly the game-saving pass to Hopkins on fourth down, was not lost on Swinney. Espcially if Boyd, a redshirt junior and offensive MVP of the game, decides to return for one more year, Clemson will have a great deal of momentum at its back heading into next season.
“Put the ball out there. (Hopkins) went out and got it,” Swinney said. “That’s football. He was awesome. So proud of him. So good to see him step up and beat a top-10 defense.”
The head coach of that high-ranking opponent, Les Miles, had even higher praise for Boyd’s efforts, citing the big hits Clemson’s signal caller took each time he ran.
“Tajh Boyd was phenomenal,” he said. “I did not expect the heroic, if you will, efforts that he had.”
Not many expected it, but they will now.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.
Boyd in big games
Game Comp-Att Yds TD INT
vs. Va. Tech (W) 13-32 204 1 1
vs. Ga. Tech (L) 23-40 295 1 2
vs. S. Carolina (L) 11-29 83 1 1
vs. Va. Tech (W) 20-29 240 3 0
vs. W. Virginia (L) 24-46 250 2 2
Game Comp-Att Yds TD INT
vs. Florida St. (L) 20-36 237 3 1
vs. S. Carolina (L) 11-24 183 1 2
vs. LSU (W) 36-50 346 2 0
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (10) is tackled by LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan (18) during the second half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)×
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (10) works against LSU during the first half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)×