Tajh Boyd smiles — perpetually, it seems — usually with a sweet mix of amusement and devilish glee at questions about the Clemson offense.
As the starting quarterback for two seasons, he has developed a cultured eye for its nuances and potential. Neither of which, Boyd believes, has been maximized despite its record pace.
Still, there are doubters. Not about Chad Morris, the chief architect of the nation’s ninth-ranked offense, or of DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, receivers on the fast track to the NFL, or even Andre Ellington, whom Mel Kiper Jr. listed as the nation’s top senior running back.
Boyd isn’t getting much love. Much of it begins with his height. At 6-foot-1, Boyd is shorter than most of the other top prospects (so was Russell Wilson).
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CBS Sports lists him as the 10th best junior quarterback in the nation, behind ACC rivals Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech and Bryn Renner of North Carolina, among others. Also, he’s an afterthought on most composite lists of junior and senior QB prospects behind EJ Manuel of Florida State and Mike Glennon of N.C. State.
Truth be told, it probably has more to do with last season, when Boyd threw nine interceptions and Clemson went from 8-0 to “oh my” the final six games.
Even then, he was voted first-team all-conference, beating out Thomas, Renner, Glennon and Manuel.
This season, his throwing efficiency ranks fourth nationally with only Manuel ahead of him. Sleeker and more agile, he ranks eighth in total offense, sixth in TD passes and 14th in passing yards.
The one statistical abnormality is the nine interceptions. Turnovers scuttled Clemson a year ago, and much of the criticism fell on Boyd, whose swagger and self-confidence occasionally trump his judgment.
Three interceptions at Duke last week, even though he again tied a school record with five first-half touchdown passes, were sufficient reason to ask if Boyd was revisiting some bad habits. One was a Hail Mary on the final play of a lopsided first half, one was stolen from tight end Sam Cooper’s hands by a heady safety and the third was a hair underthrown, again credited as much to good defense.
“You don’t ever want to throw a pick,” he said. “It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t feel good, but I think I’ve grown enough to where it doesn’t affect me at all.”
None of them were bad decisions, said coach Dabo Swinney.
“On paper, it looks the same, but it isn’t the same,” said Swinney. “It’s a whole different deal from where we were last year, as far as his decision-making.”
Boyd’s success in two years as a starter can be directly attributed to his relationship with Morris and the skills of Hopkins and Watkins, who could be the greatest receiving tandem in school history.
While winning its final two conference games are critical for the short view, Clemson needs to run the table to create converts and believers. Boyd said after the Duke game “style points” might be necessary.
“I just think that you want to play the best that you possibly can. I think what he’s talking about,” Swinney said. “It is November and you’re coming to the end of the race and you want to be playing your best football. You don’t want to be stumbling at the finish line.
“You want to play great football in the month of November because that’s what people are making decisions on right now.”