CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - In case you weren’t quite sure, Tajh Boyd is just fine.
The senior signal-caller had one of his career-lows with the lights bright against top-five Florida State two weeks ago (17-of-37 passing for 156 yards) - and posted as quiet a 300-yard passing game as any last week at Maryland (304, one TD/one INT).
Offense breakdown: Virginia review
From the get-go in Charlottesville, however, he was on, completing his first nine passes for 135 yards and a touchdown, which set the ACC career record for touchdown responsibility, and after a minor lull, went right back at it to finish the first half at 22-of-27 for 278 yards and two scores.
But he wasn’t done yet. Third-and-15 backed up to their goalline early third quarter, Boyd saw the matchup he wanted - a freshman corner on an island with his star target Sammy Watkins - and fired the second-longest touchdown connection in school history, 96 yards.
The Tiger QB finished with 377 passing yards, completing 83 percent of his throws, totaling three passing TDs and adding a touchdown rush to the mix.
Boyd’s play has been analyzed, reanalyzed and overanalyzed in the last few weeks, but Watkins says a few factors came into play Saturday night.
“I think he just had fun. He was out there playing relentless,” said Watkins. “I think him limited in running (ankle injury) is helping him go through his reads, one through eight. He’s not forcing it and he’s using his checkdowns.
“That was the best game he played this year with how much poise and how much character, leading us to touchdowns and throwing the ball and playing without fear.”
Swinney says some renewed confidence played a part as well.
“Last week was big to get that win and finish the game like he did,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We really limited him early in practice, but he was very engaged and focused those two days. He jumped right in there Wednesday and Thursday and took it to the game field tonight. I loved his demeanor and he was excited about being up here in Virginia.”
In his 36th-straight start, he moved to 4-0 against Commonwealth teams, and you can be sure he knows it.
“It was great to come back here and get a victory,” Boyd said. “That makes it 4-0 against the home state so that makes it sweet, but at the same time, we just wanted to come out and play the type of football that we’re capable of playing.”
He had plenty of folks from his Hampton, Va., hometown, including a Pop Warner football team he mentors (the Mustangs).
“There were more than I was expecting honestly,” said Boyd. “It’s always good to have support. It was definitely a better atmosphere here. When I played at Virginia Tech a couple years ago I got booed when I went on the field. It was just a great night.”
Clemson freshman safety Jayron Kearse entered Saturday as a backup, and through six drives, his playing time was limited.
After a Travis Blanks’ personal foul, however, he got his chance, inserted at free safety, and with the game at an impasse, Kearse provided just what the Tigers needed.
In a six-play span, the 6-4 205 South Fort Myers (Fla.) product forced turnovers in his first two drives - an interception over the middle first and then a fumble.
“That was a spark that kind of got us going right there,” Swinney said, “and it was like, ‘Here we go.’ We kind of got the mojo going and the guys executed as well as we have all year.”
Kearse’s 37-yard interception return set up a 21-7 Clemson second-quarter advantage, after four consecutive drives without points, and the Tigers profited off the fumble with another seven points (McDowell 25-yard rush).
“I think I’m a real good playmaker,” said Kearse. “When I’m back deep, quarterbacks have to make the right decision, be aware that I’m going to make a play on the ball. And then the fumble was just me doing my job, taking care of my responsibility and not trying to do too much.”
With the win, Clemson finished 4-0 in its ACC away slate for the first time since 1995, dominating by a 25.5 points per game margin. The Tigers also extended streaks in double-digit wins over unranked opponents (16) and consecutive victories away from Death Valley (8).
GOODBYE FOR NOW
Virginia got probably as much as they can stand of Clemson, and luckily for them, they won’t be seeing the Tigers for a while.
Thanks to an unbalanced schedule and a 14-team league, the Tigers play Virginia next in Death Valley in 2020, and their return trip to Charlottesville is on a to-be-determined date after this cycle runs out (2024).