College football preview: Slimmer Tajh Boyd looking for big 2012

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (10) throws the ball during practice on Friday.

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (10) throws the ball during practice on Friday.

— – In retrospect, Tajh Boyd’s 2011 season played out in reverse.

You had the sublime first eight games – 24 touchdowns, three interceptions – followed by a stumble to the finish line with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions over six games.

The overall results – 33 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 3,828 passing yards, first-team All-ACC honors – were good, especially for a first-year starting quarterback.

They just weren’t good enough. Not for Boyd. Not for his coaches.

As Boyd prepares for his second season running Clemson’s high-powered offense, he seeks consistent improvement.

A year’s experience, combined with a leaner, healthier body, has Boyd convinced he can avoid the roller-coaster ride that defined his 2011.

“You have to have confidence,” he said. “Last season we stared off really well, I started off pretty good. Things stated to falter with me not being comfortable. Right now I’m as comfortable and confident in this team as I’ve ever been. Just knowing that the type of offense we can have, the type of defense we can have, it makes you that much more comfortable out there. For me it’s just being comfortable out there.”

Comfortable with his game – and his body. If one made a chart of Boyd’s weekly weight set against his 2011 statistics, you’d likely notice a trend: as the weight rose, the performance fell.

He began the season at a lithe 220 pounds, and ended it around 235. A beat-up offensive line played a role in that trend, but Boyd says his body was a major factor.

Poor diet – “Chick-fil-A here, popcorn there, Chick-fil-A there,” he said, caught up with him.

“I think he’ll be first to tell you, I don’t think he moved nearly as effective late in the season,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “Therefore, he was losing confidence. We were playing early in the year, he was having success, he was really moving, playing with his eyes, arms and reacting and having fun.”

That added weight also affected his decision-making, limiting his overall options.

“It was doing your own thing, not going through your proper reads,” Morris said. “This will take me here instead of pulling the ball down, and I’m just reaching. I’m making impulse decisions, that’s not playing within the system.”

Boyd agreed.

“We’ve got certain plays designed for certain things and you can put your own spin on it. That’s not the bad part about it,” he said. “The bad part is when you completely ignore the system. There were some situations where I did that.”

Over the first eight games, Boyd had 165 yards and four rushing scores; over the final six, he had one touchdown and 53 yards.

Morris believes he can rush for 700 yards this season.

“The sky’s the limit for Tajh,” Morris said. “Tajh is effective when he can be a threat running the ball. When he can’t be a threat running the ball, he’s not as effective. He’s got to be that guy. That’s our challenge to him.”

This offseason, Boyd pushed himself with intense workouts and an improved diet.

“I’m not a vegan, I eat meat,” he said. “But no fried foods, plenty of water. For us to be successful, everyone has to play their part. Me being overweight is like us playing with 10 people instead of 11.”

Several pundits have listed Boyd as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, but he says such awards are products of team success.

Most important right now, he says, is being a consistent, steady force for the offense – never too high, never too low.

Do that, and a great season – along with all the accolades you could imagine – will follow.

“I’m in a fortunate situation to come play football,” he said. “I try and live it up to the most, every day I come out here. I try to love it. It only lasts for so long, so every day I get a chance to come out here with my brothers, I appreciate it.”

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