CLEMSON — Almost a year later, Tajh Boyd and Clemson are still learning from the Orange Bowl.
West Virginia’s 70-33 shellacking – the second-worst loss in program history – forced Dabo Swinney to re-evaluate his defensive philosophy and led to the departure of defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, as well as the arrival of new DC Brent Venables.
“I personally think there’s a lot of lessons learned from all ends,” Boyd, the Tigers’ junior quarterback, said Thursday. “From the players, to how we operated to the practices, the way that it was run. I think that’ll really be a lesson for us as a whole program. From every position, I think everyone learned something from last year, the way the bowl season was prepared. We didn’t come with our best foot forward in last season’s bowl game. I don’t feel like we were into it as much.”
As No.14 Clemson (10-2) prepares for its Chick-fil-A Bowl showdown against No.9 LSU (10-2) on New Year’s Eve, there’s a different feeling around the program. Players are ready to face off against a top-10 SEC team and chase Clemson’s first bowl victory since a 2009 Music City Bowl triumph over Kentucky.
The Tigers have one final on-campus practice today before breaking for Christmas. They’ll reconvene Dec. 26 in Atlanta and begin final on-site preparations for the Bayou Bengals Dec. 27.
“It’s totally different this year. We’re very excited about it,” Boyd said. “Coach Swinney has done a great job preparing us and challenging us every day. Game planning should be set. We’ve got to make sure we’re clicking on all cylinders.”
Wednesday, sophomore defensive tackle Josh Watson said Swinney “put his boot up our butts and kept it there for four days” in regards to the physicality of on-campus workouts.
“We had some really intense workouts,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “We strained them, which is what we need. When you go to a bowl site, I think you’re going to see a day or two of that as well. This ballgame will come down to a physical battle. We’re going to have to play really physical. I’m pleased with how they responded. We had a couple days we didn’t have great days, but we responded the very next day which is good.”
Clemson owns only two wins over teams with more than six victories – Ball State (9-3) and Virginia Tech (7-5). The Tigers faded in the second half against both Florida State and South Carolina, and Boyd knows LSU is an opportunity to burnish his team’s reputation and build momentum for 2013.
For us it’s all about finishing games now,” Boyd said. “We had the opportunity to win both of those games and it fell through for us. Now we have another opportunity. I think we’re becoming a more consistent program as of late, 10 wins the last two seasons. Now it’s time to take that next step. Now it’s time to evolve a little bit more.”
The same goes for Boyd, who was named a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association as well as the ACC Player of the Year by writers and coaches alike. He threw for 3,550 yards with 34 touchdowns against 13 interceptions, adding nine rushing touchdowns and 492 rushing yards.
Thursday, he confirmed that he submitted paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board, and will consider his decision with his family following the bowl game. He is not projected as a first-round pick, which is Swinney’s benchmark for advising players to leave early.
Morris believes Boyd can use improvement in reading defenses.
“I think he’s a first-round guy, I don’t know if it’s this year. I think it’d be next year,” Morris said. “I think he could definitely improve his draft stock. Those are things he’s got to talk to his family about, that he and I will talk about, and I think he and I have an unbelievable relationship and my opinion would matter to him You’ve got to do what’s best in your family. I think (with his) improvement from year one to year two in the system, going year two to year three he can only improve himself.”
With great honors come great expectations.
“He’s an All-American,” Morris said. “We stress that to him – you’re a first-team All-American, you’re going to have to play like it. You’re going to have to prepare like it. It’s no fluke. They don’t just give those away. How much can we continue to put on him? I think we can continue to put stuff on him, I really do. As we go, working into spring ball, you’re going to see more added to his plate.”
Boyd isn’t worried about spring practice right now, however. His only focus is a strong finish in the Georgia Dome.
“There’s nobody that’s going to pick us to win this game, outside of the people from Clemson and this part of South Carolina,” he said. “It’s exciting for us. A challenge. We’re going to go out there and play with great effort and technique.”