CLEMSON — A year ago at this time, Tajh Boyd’s future at Clemson was anything but certain.
Following a lackluster spring practice – capped off by a spring game that saw him complete just eight of 24 passes – new offensive coordinator Chad Morris sat him down and told him, in no uncertain terms, that he needed to lift his play to a new level if he wanted to start in his offense.
Last fall, Boyd did just that. He put together the most prolific season ever by a Clemson quarterback, throwing for 3,828 yards and 33 touchdowns against 12 interceptions, leading the Tigers to a 10-4 record and their first ACC title since 1991.
Entering his junior season, he is firmly entrenched as the Tigers’ starting quarterback and one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks. He is the most valuable player in our countdown of Clemson’s 20 most valuable players.
As Boyd goes, Clemson goes. This was never more evident than the final six games of 2011. Over the first eight games, Boyd threw for 24 touchdowns and three interceptions, and the Tigers were 8-0.
Over the final six, he threw for nine touchdowns against nine interceptions, and Clemson finished 2-4.
Instability in the offensive line took its toll; with steady left tackle Phillip Price hampered by a knee injury and the line reshuffled, Boyd often scrambled for his life and got happy feet, making poor decisions.
His footwork and decision-making were major focuses of improvement in spring practice, and will be this fall, as well.
Boyd’s strong arm and ability to make plays with his feet make him a perfect fit for Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle offense; he showed an affinity for moving the Tigers up and down the field with precision.
Last fall was the breakout performance in a career that has been closely watched since he became Dabo Swinney’s first major recruit in December 2008.
Boyd turned down Ohio State and Oregon, among others, to sign with Clemson; he was rated as the nation’s No.3 quarterback prospect by Rivals.com and the nation’s No.59 overall prospect by ESPN.com.
Following a redshirt season in 2009, he had an up-and-down freshman season backing up – and, at times, spelling – starter Kyle Parker. Boyd completed 33 of 63 passes for 329 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions, but had trouble keeping the ball out of dangerous situations.
He was much-improved last fall, and took full advantage of an offensive supporting cast that included tailback Andre Ellington, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, and tight end Dwayne Allen.
Boyd was named first-team All-ACC and set Clemson single-season records for passing yards, completions, pass attempts, touchdowns and total offense; he was second in passing yards per game (273.4) and total offense per game (289.0).
In addition, he was responsible for an ACC-record 38 touchdowns and led the ACC in total offense per game and passing yards, finishing fourth in passing efficiency.
He is Clemson’s clear leader, and a guy that the Tigers can’t do without; his backups are sophomore Cole Stoudt, incoming freshman Chad Kelly and redshirt freshman Morgan Roberts.
His play will set the tone for Clemson’s ACC title defense. He’s clearly the Tigers’ most valuable asset.