CLEMSON — When Tajh Boyd carried 11 times for 42 yards at Boston College Saturday, it wasn’t necessarily part of Clemson’s game plan.
But that’s just fine with coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Boyd’s willingness to run shows his comfort with the offense in his second year as the Tigers’ starting quarterback.
A year ago, Boyd’s footwork and ability to handle the zone read were liabilities. Now, they’re becoming strengths for No.15 Clemson (4-1, 1-1 ACC).
“That was one of the worst things he did last year,” Swinney said. “It was not visible to the naked eye, but it was very visible to us what he was supposed to be doing. Last year, he was handing it when he was supposed to keep it, keeping it when he was supposed to be handing it. Very inconsistent with his footwork, very undisciplined with his eyes, not fully committed to that part of his game.
“That’s where he was challenged big-time in the offseason. He’s got a lot of things he’s got to get better at but he’s greatly improved form where he was last year.”
Through five games, Boyd is Clemson’s No.2 rusher with 161 yards on 56 carries; he has lost 68 yards on sacks. Andre Ellington leads with 515 yards, but no one else has as many as 100 yards.
Boyd says he’s more comfortable with the run game following an offseason of film study and improvement.
“Last year, it was kind of like if I had a give read, I was going to give it, rather than mixing it up and trying to get a better feel for the game,” Boyd said. “I think I was more trying to make sure everyone was happy instead of doing what this offense needed.”
Over the last six games of 2011, Boyd threw nine touchdowns against nine interceptions in the final six games after throwing 24 touchdowns against three interceptions in the first eight games. Part of that was the 15 pounds he put on in the course of the season (Boyd now weighs about 220 pounds after finishing last season at 235), which also hampered his footwork.
He is also a far more aware player this season, something that hit home while watching highlights of West Virginia’s 70-63 shootout win over Baylor on the plane ride back from Boston.
“(West Virginia QB) Geno (Smith) once had seven seconds to throw the ball,” Boyd said. “It’s not realistic. It’s not going to happen every time. So one of the things for us, I’m going to try and buy some time to go downfield, but at the same time it’s an instinctive thing. We do a drill called hitch, hitch, throw and go. We drop back, hitch up in the pocket. Either going to throw it, or you’ve got to take it and run because the pocket collapses like that. That’s what we do a lot with.”
Saturday, Clemson’s first touchdown came on a Boyd six-yard option run. You won’t see him running Tech’s flexbone anytime soon, but the added mobility is a plus.
“Trying to stop a zone read is kind of like slow-playing,” Boyd said. “The ends crash a little bit, kind of relax, and you have to make sure they play both. If the defensive end makes the tackle, you haven’t done your job on that zone read. We have an outlet. It’s almost like a triple option, you can give it, pull it, throw it.”