For a few seconds in the third quarter Thursday night, Tajh Boyd had the best seat in the house.
Knocked to the ground after delivering a dart to Sammy Watkins for his fourth touchdown pass, Boyd rolled over, propped his elbows on his knees at the Clemson 45-yard line and gazed at the scene sprinting away from him.
There won’t be any more nights for him in Death Valley, so Boyd wanted to savor every second. Continuing to write his legacy as, perhaps, the greatest quarterback to wear a Clemson uniform, Boyd accounted for five touchdowns in a 55-31 win against Georgia Tech.
In a game that closed eighth-ranked Clemson’s league schedule, Boyd broke the Atlantic Coast Conference record for touchdown passes. In another masterful performance, he completed 20 of 26 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
Playing a team harboring hopes of a conference championship, Clemson (9-1) took Georgia Tech (6-4) down several notches with 551 total yards while neutralizing the Yellow Jackets’ lethal option offense.
After averaging 311 rushing yards the first nine games Tech finished with 248, its third-lowest output of the season. Running back David Sims, who hadn’t lost a yard his first 120 carries this season, was dropped a yard behind the line of scrimmage in the third quarter.
“It was a great night for our defense,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “They just won the physical matchups, and that’s what you’ve got to do to defeat an option offense.”
Clemson and Boyd still have a bit of unfinished business. There’s talk of an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl if Clemson should win its final two game, including that one at the end of the schedule they haven’t won with Boyd at quarterback.
Having Boyd healthy would be priority one.
He did not run down The Hill during pregame, further fomenting speculation that the season was taking a toll. Then, in the third quarter, Death Valley drew deathly quiet when, after a 10-yard run for a first down, he lay on the ground in pain. Clemson confirmed he sustained an injury to his left collarbone, and the earliest report indicated there was not a fracture. A collective sigh of relief was evident when he came back to the field.
“He wanted to go back in the game bad,” Swinney said.
Cole Stoudt came off the bench, put the finishing touches on that scoring drive and engineered another as Clemson led 55-24 with 9:47 to play.
The individual numbers were gaudy.
Martavis Bryant caught 5 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown as Clemson built a 27-7 lead in the first half. Sammy Watkins caught 5 for 104 and two touchdowns, becoming the first Clemson receiver to have a pair of 1,000-yard seasons.
Chandler Catanzaro kicked field goals of 40 and 51 yards for Clemson, the second the longest of his career.
Tech passed for a season-high 192 yards, most from a position of desperation. Robert Godhigh rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
It was Clemson’s second consecutive and third win in seven games with Tech in the Paul Johnson Era, Clemson’s 30th with Boyd as a starter.
When Clemson got rolling, Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense couldn’t keep pace.
After starting at its 35, the Tech 49 and its 41, Clemson led 6-0 on Catanzaro’s field goals.
Stumbling against Clemson’s smothering defense, Tech was limited to 17 rushing yards in its first 12 carries and failed to mark a first down until the second quarter — that on a pass.
Tech was unable otherwise to pick up the slack.
After Catanzaro’s first field goal, DeAndre Smelter fumbled the kickoff at the 2-yard line and Tech punted.
Clemson end Vic Beasley beat a double-team and climbed quarterback Vad Lee’s back to force a poor throw on third down of Tech’s next possession. End Shaq Lawson sacked Lee and forced another punt in Tech’s third possession.
Once Clemson discovered a solution for menacing Tech end Jeremiah Attaochu, Boyd began to find a rhythm. He hit Watkins in stride for a 41-yard touchdown 59 seconds into the second quarter for a 13-0 lead. A 41-yard pass that Bryant tracked down at the 4 set up a jump ball to Mike Williams that Boyd checked from a run call, making it 20-0 with 9:03 to play.
“We just answered every single time,” Swinney said. It was the most points in a game with Tech since 1903. “It’s all about points, bottom line.
“That’s what it’s going to take to finish the way we want to finish.”
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