An encore for Tajh Boyd, a new-start opportunity for Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly

Dabo Swinney says he's excited about the upcoming competition, although the transition is 'bittersweet'

Football - Quarterbacks Chad Kelly, Cole Stoudt and Tajh Boyd

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football - Quarterbacks Chad Kelly, Cole Stoudt and Tajh Boyd

Unless things go extremely well, or poorly, for Clemson Friday night, it's unlikely that either Cole Stoudt or Chad Kelly will get on the field for the Tigers' Orange Bowl clash with Ohio State.

Of course, redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd was thinking the same thing in 2010 in Charlotte, when Kyle Parker suffered broken ribs late in the first half and the Tigers' backup quarterback was pressed into action against South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

In an otherwise lackluster team performance, Boyd gave Clemson fans a glimpse of what was to come by throwing for two second-half touchdowns and leading a late-game rally that nearly salvaged a Tiger victory.

The game signaled a changing of the guard at quarterback for the Tigers. Parker moved on to professional baseball, Chad Morris replaced Billy Napier as Clemson's offensive coordinator, and Boyd has spent the past three seasons rewriting Clemson's record books.

This week, with position transition dead ahead and a three-way battle for the Tigers' starting quarterback spot looming in the spring, Stoudt and Kelly are waiting in the wings, ready if needed for Orange Bowl duty and doing their best to patiently bide their time.

It hasn't always been easy, either for the spirited, emotional Kelly or for Stoudt, who battled Boyd and Tony McNeal for the Tigers' starting spot in 2011 as an early January enrollee and has spent the past three seasons as a backup.

Both players would love to get on the field Friday night.

Stoudt grew up in Ohio and was briefly recruited by the Buckeyes before they settled on Braxton Miller as their quarterback of choice.

He's learned during his three years working under Morris and as Boyd's understudy that his best preparation for his big-picture chance is to concentrate on the little things needed to be successful if he's called on against Ohio State.

Time will take care of the rest, he said.

"I think about next year, and the spring, every now and then," Stoudt said. "But right now, I'm just thinking of this bowl game. I don't want to think too far ahead. If you do that, you lose focus on the little things. I'm focused on the little things, knowing that I'm doing what I need to get ready for this game and to get ready for the future."

Kelly - younger and more tempestuous by nature - had a hard time maintaining a big-picture perspective when he wasn't called on to play during the Tigers' Death Valley finale against The Citadel.

“I didn’t get in the Citadel game and I was very upset and emotional,” Kelly said following a recent practice. "I like to play football and that’s what everybody likes to do. Me and Coach Morris and Coach Swinney kind of bumped heads a little bit."

A lengthy meeting with Morris ensued, and Kelly said he emerged with his mind "open" and "right."

"I talked to my parents right after and I was like 'it’s a new beginning from here on out,'" Kelly said. "I only have to deal with it for a month and a half longer until the quarterback job is wide open.”

“Me and Coach Morris kind of went through everything that I need to do. I’ve got my mind very good right now after talking to him about what he sees in the very near future and how he wants me to act and play as a player and take what’s given to me.

“I've definitely changed my attitude a whole 360 degrees after hearing what he had to say, hearing that he believes in me and what he wants to see me change.”

Like Kelly, who leans on his family - including his NFL Hall of Fame uncle, Jim - for advice, Stoudt has his own family expertise in his dad, Cliff, who spent 14 seasons in the NFL, mostly as a backup to Terry Bradshaw at Pittsburgh.

Stoudt - who set a Clemson single-game record this season by completing 19 of 20 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns against S.C. State - says he often turns to his dad to help tweak his throwing mechanics.

"My dad can correct my form over the phone," Stoudt said. "I'll tell him that my ball's dying, and he'll say 'well, you're not bending your knees' or 'you're lowering your elbow.' I can talk to him on the phone and then go out and throw perfect spirals.

"It's really good, because any time I have a bad day of throwing, I just call him up and talk to him. It helps knowing that if I throw a bad ball, I can know exactly why."

While Stoudt will be looking to seize his final opportunity to be Clemson's starter, and Kelly will try to make good on his new outlook, both will be challenged this spring by incoming freshman Deshaun Watson, a five-star recruit considered by many to be the nation's best high school quarterback.

Watson will arrive on campus next week with the skills and savvy perfectly suited to what Morris wants from the quarterback in his offense.

"We'll just see how it plays out this spring," said Stoudt. "I'm looking forward to competition."

“I've heard he's a great player - stats and numbers don’t lie,” Kelly said. "We all are going to go out there, try our best and do what we can.”

Kelly said he and Stoudt will go into the competition with a considerable advantage in their first-hand knowledge of Morris' playbook and the experience of having run the offense.

“It will be good,” Kelly said. “Me and Cole have been here for two, three or four years now and the playbook isn’t something simple, that’s for sure. I knew a good amount of stuff about football, but since I have been here I have learned so much more.

“It is incredible the amount of stuff I have learned just sitting here in Coach Morris’ meeting rooms and being around Tajh."

Swinney says he's excited about the upcoming competition, although the transition is "bittersweet."

"I'm sad because Tajh has to move on, but that's just the nature of it," Swinney said. "Tajh has set a standard, not just in all the records, but in the way he's represented Clemson and how he's embraced being the face and voice of the program.

"I'm very confident in the guys we have in the program who'll compete for the job when he's gone. They're all very, very talented. It's a good problem to have, and it's going to be a lot of fun."

Morris said that Stoudt and Kelly "really complement each other."

“I’m excited about those guys being able to come in and play this year," he said. "Not a lot of teams have that luxury to get those guys in and play, and it’s definitely going to pay dividends as we continue."

For now, Kelly and Stoudt are determined to make the most of their final week as Boyd's backup.

"I think it's so far been my best season, and I want to continue that," Stoudt said. "I've not been perfect, and there are always things to improve on, but I'm happy with my situation. I'm determined to keep working to get better every single day."

“Coach told us that these are the most important practices of your career because you're going into a situation next year where the job is open,” Kelly said. “We also have to help Tajh get better because he’s about to leave for the NFL and do the best he can. We just have to push each other and every day keep fighting.”

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