Like Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Tajh Boyd absorbed untold punishment from LSU’s defense. Unlike Texas A&M’s freshman-for-the-ages, Boyd endured, stayed turnover-free and rallied his team to a stirring victory.
In so doing Monday night, Boyd authored the signature performance of this ACC football season, vaulted Clemson into top-10 consideration and made his looming NFL decision all the more curious.
A redshirt junior quarterback from Phoebus High, Boyd led Clemson to three fourth-quarter scores and a 25-24 win over No. 9 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He set career-highs for completions and attempts, broke the ACC’s single-season record for touchdown passes and played a central role in one “ridiculous” moment.
This Boyd did against a defense best described as nasty. LSU rates not only among the nation’s best statistically, but also physically, as Boyd learned early and often from jarring hits by the likes of Barkevious Mingo.
“I’ll be sore in the morning,” Boyd told a group of reporters outside the locker room (video here).
With soreness will come satisfaction. Boyd completed 30-of-56 passes for 354 yards and two scores. He ran for a touchdown, survived five sacks and prospered without a key playmaker – Sammy Watkins exited with an ankle injury on the game’s first possession.
Contrast those numbers to Manziel’s. He was 29-of-56 for 276 yards and no scores against LSU, which intercepted him three times in a 24-19 win.
“Tajh Boyd took a number of shots,” the Charleston Post and Courier quoted LSU coach Les Miles as saying. “It's amazing he continued to play as well as he did. He was phenomenal. I did not expect his heroic efforts.”
With Boyd orchestrating coordinator Chad Morris’ spread attack and the defense matching LSU’s fierceness, 14th-ranked Clemson dominated the game in stretches. Clemson ran 100 plays to LSU’s 48, outgained the Bayou Bengals 445-219 and amassed 32 first downs to LSU’s nine.
But Clemson lost two fumbles, which LSU converted into 10 points, and entering the fourth quarter, the SEC West runner-up led the ACC Atlantic runner-up 24-13.
The conference dynamic was an unavoidable subplot here, and after the SEC bludgeoned the ACC 4-0 on Nov. 24, the latter was in dire need of a counter.
Enter Boyd and his favorite receiver, DeAndre Hopkins.
Their 21-yard connection sparked a drive that ended with Chandler Catanzaro’s 26-yard field goal early in the fourth. After LSU went three-and-out, Boyd threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Hopkins to bring Clemson within 24-22 -- the Tigers’ 2-point conversion attempt failed.
Another LSU three-and-out marked by brain-dead play calling (three consecutive passes) gave Clemson possession with 1:39 remaining at its own 20.
“One-thirty-nine is like 10 to 15 minutes to us,” Boyd told reporters. “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.”
Indeed, two incompletions and a sack left Clemson in a fourth-and-16 abyss. That’s when Boyd found Hopkins running a seam route for 24 yards.
“Just a ridiculous play,” Boyd said.
He and Hopkins (13 receptions, 191 yards) weren’t nearly finished. They connected for 7 and 13 yards, with an LSU pass-interference penalty sandwiched between.
With two seconds remaining and the ball at LSU’s 20, Clemson spent its final timeout. Catanzaro’s 37-yard field goal as the clock expired was true.
“For us, it’s just staying composed,” Boyd said. “The defense played a helluva game.”
The ACC Player of the Year, Boyd finished the season with 36 touchdown passes, two beyond the ACC record established by North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers in 2003. He now must decide whether to join Rivers in the NFL now, or return to Clemson for his senior season.
At 6-foot-1 and dependent on his speed, Boyd is not the NFL prototype. But nor are Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, rookies who quarterbacked the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks into the playoffs.
Moreover, this draft’s quarterback crop pales to last season’s.
“I definitely think he’s a first-round guy,” Morris told the Columbia State prior to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. “I don’t know if it’s this year. I think it will be next year. … I think he could definitely improve his draft stock (by returning).
“Obviously, those are things he needs to talk to his family about, and he and I will talk about. I think he and I have an unbelievable relationship and my opinion would matter to him. You’ve got to do what’s best for your family, but I honestly feel the improvement we saw from him from year one to year two in this system, in going from year two to year three he can only improve himself.”
The deadline to declare for the draft is Jan. 15, but in the first moments of 2013, Boyd thought more about the perks of the season’s end.
“You can just sit in the ice bath,” he said, “for as long as you want.”
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