Tajh Boyd – Clemson’s Program Revitalizing Quarterback

March 10th, 2014

Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Tajh Boyd, Clemson’s record setting quarterback, was selected with the 37th pick of the sixth round in the 2014 NFL draft by the New York Jets. Now that he’s officially off to the NFL, we look back on his legacy at Clemson and the immense impact he has had on the program. We start way back in 2008.

Clemson’s 2008 football season was a tumultuous one. The Tigers came into the year with the #9 ranking in the AP Poll and reasonable optimism following a solid year that saw them win nine games and fall just one play short of their first ever ACC Championship Game berth.

Of course, we know those expectations were not met. Clemson lost three of their first four against Div. 1 opponents: a blowout to Alabama in the opener, a three-point home loss against a Maryland team that had already lost at Middle Tennessee State, and then the final straw in Winston-Salem. The Monday following that Thursday night loss to Wake Forest we learned that Tommy Bowden had “stepped down.”

Wide Receivers Coach, Dabo Swinney, took over as interim head coach and steadied the ship enough to finish 4-2 down the stretch. With the 4th of those wins coming at the expense of South Carolina, it was good enough to get his interim title removed (IRONY!).

Enter stage: Tajh Boyd.

Tajh Boyd was just graduating from high school that December as Clemson was preparing for the Gator Bowl against Nebraska. Clemson would lose that Gator Bowl, leaving Swinney to hit the recruiting trail with little pedigree and little to sell but his vision for special things on the horizon. Tajh Boyd believed in that vision, believed in Coach Swinney, and believed in Clemson. The Hampton, Virginia native agreed to join Dabo Swinney’s first recruiting class, which would come to be known as the “Dandy Dozen.”

Boyd was rated as a five-star recruit by Scout.com which noted “Boyd is a leader and a winner. He is one of those guys that makes everyone around him better.” He met and even exceeded that description by not only making his teammates better, but making the entire program better for the foreseeable future. Clemson is not the same program that Tajh Boyd joined in 2009. Great players come and go, but rarely is their impact felt years after they are gone. Because of Boyd–as well as the rest of the Dandy Dozen and the coaching staff–the foundation is as strong as it’s been since the Danny Ford days.

In his first year as a Clemson Tiger he redshirted as he worked to recover from a high school knee injury which he played through during his senior year. Meanwhile Kyle Parker was taking over from Cullen Harper. Parker guided the Tigers to their first ever ACC Atlantic Division that season and the “Dandy Dozen” quickly got a glimpse at those championships Dabo Swinney was envisioning.

During the offseason, Kyle Parker turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars in contract negotiations with the Colorado Rockies to return for one more year behind the helm as Clemson’s starting QB. Tajh Boyd, now a redshirt freshman would be his back-up. Unfortunately, that season was a miserable endeavor. Clemson lost to the eventual National Champion Auburn Tigers in overtime and Kyle Parker sustained a rib/back injury that may have affected his play throughout the year. Neither he nor the team was the same for the rest of the season (and Auburn was only game three). They’d accept an invitation to the Meineke Car Care Bowl (then in Charlotte) against USF. In front of a mostly Orange crowd, Clemson was outplayed and only led for a grand total of 39 seconds. In the latter stages of the game, Tajh Boyd replaced Kyle Parker, receiving his first bit of meaningful playing time. He wasn’t amazing, but he kept fighting and brought Clemson within five, the margin by which they’d eventually fall, 31-26. I was on hand that cold, demoralizing day, and I remember remarking–somewhere between all the lamenting–that “at least that new QB looked fairly promising.”

Within a week, Dabo Swinney fired OC Billy Napier and began searching for a replacement. With plans to build his program around the collegiate equivalent to a franchise QB, Swinney included Tajh Boyd in the interview process. Of course, we know that process ended on Chad Morris who recently won the 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year Award. What would happen over the next three years is nothing short of a complete rejuvenation of a football program–specifically on the offensive side of the ball–whose glory days were 20 years prior.

In his first season at starting quarterback, Tajh Boyd and Clemson set out on what Swinney dubbed the “Shock the World Tour.” Clemson started 8-0 and with three wins against ranked opponents. Unfortunately, Boyd would face his first dose of adversity late in the year as Clemson lost three of four (GT, NCSU, SCar) to close the season. They managed to hang onto the Atlantic Division and would head to Charlotte as underdogs to a Virginia Tech team playing their best football of the season. In that ACC Championship Game, Clemson scored 38 points, Tajh Boyd was name ACCCG MVP, and the Tigers captured their first conference championship since 1991.

Oranges were being thrown on the field in Charlotte that night as Clemson celebrated a watershed moment for the program. Those oranges though now seem bitter as we remember a month later Clemson was blown out by West Virginia in Miami. In his first season as the starter, Boyd broke Charlie Whitehurst’s single-season passing record, but there was more foundation to be laid and more work to be done.

In 2012, his second season as the starter, he continued to improve. His completion percentage jumped by 7.5 percentage points and he tallied 46 total touchdowns. It wasn’t perfect, as Clemson failed to hang onto halftime leads against both FSU and SCar. The loss to SCar was especially painful, as it was at home and marked the 4th straight loss to the Gamecocks. Clemson would finish 10-2, and though they didn’t qualify for a Conference Championship game or a BCS Bowl the consistency was something new for the program. Clemson won all 10 games in which they were heavily favored, something media pundits mocked Clemson for failing to do in the past. The season was capped with one of the greatest performances from a Clemson QB in memory.

In the 2012 Chick-Fil-a Bowl vs. LSU, Boyd threw for 339 yards, despite getting knocked around by one of the most talented defensive lines in college football. When he wasn’t getting hit as he threw, he was being hit after one of his 29 carries. He kept getting up and kept fighting. Needing a game winning drive at the end of the game, Tajh Boyd led the Tigers down the field and put Chandler Catanzaro in position to convert for the game winning field goal. In the end, Clemson defeated an elite team from the elite conference, and people began to believe in Clemson.

After that win, Boyd walked off the Georgia Dome turf thinking it would be his last game as a Clemson Tiger, but there’s something in those hills, that makes it hard to leave Clemson. He decided to return for his redshirt senior season, and one last go round.

In his final season, Clemson won every game in which they were favored en route to finishing the regular season 10-2 and earning a bid to the Orange Bowl (the program’s fifth Orange Bowl berth). In fact, by the season’s end they had beat 18 straight unranked opponents by double-digits. Greatness may not be measured by these wins, but consistency is and that has been a major step for the program. In his senior campaign, Boyd triumphed over Georgia in on of the biggest wins in Death Valley in ages. He set the all-time ACC record for touchdown responsibility and broke Philip Rivers’ record for TD passes with one fewer season as a starter.

He capped off his career by winning the Discover Orange Bowl against Ohio State, tying him with Rodney Williams as Clemson’s all-time winningest QB. The victory also made Tajh Boyd one of just three Clemson QBs to ever win an Orange Bowl (Billy Hair-1950, Homer Jordan-1981). He didn’t win three consecutive ACC titles like the aforementioned Williams, but he shattered dozens of Charlie Whitehurst’s records and is easily one of the best quarterbacks Clemson has ever seen. (Top five Clemson QB list)

There are new challenges ahead for Clemson: A resurgent Florida State, a relevant South Carolina, and a facilities arms race just to name a few. As Tajh Boyd leaves, it’s next man up for Clemson. Cole Stoudt appears solid and reliable and should be a quality starter come week one. Looking beyond 2014, many are hoping Deshaun Watson, the top QB in this year’s recruiting class, will be the next great Clemson QB. I’m definitely hoping just that about Watson, but also realize that nothing is certain with recruiting and player development.

Hopefully the Tajh Boyd era at Clemson serves as a springboard for great things ahead. If that is the case, we will look back and see that much of it is possible because of the foundation Tajh laid. For that, we thank Tajh Boyd, our program revitalizing quarterback, and wish him the best of luck with the New York Jets. We couldn’t be prouder.

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