Clemson’s offensive resurgence over the past two years is due to the influence of Chad Morris, the highest-paid coordinator in college football for a reason. But Morris has an impressive set of tools to work with, and none has been more essential than quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Although he came to Clemson as a highly-touted recruit, Boyd’s redshirt year was followed by an unimpressive showing in garbage time in 2010 (33 of 63, four touchdowns, three interceptions) capped by a disastrous appearance in the final minutes of the Meineke Car Care Bowl to replace graduating starter Kyle Parker.
Benefiting from Morris’s tutelage and system, Boyd grew into one of the nation’s best in 2011. Even with the Tigers’ late-season implosion, he finished 20th in passing yards per game at 273.4. Boyd is on track for an even better finish this year; he’s currently 14th at 292 yards per game, above big names like Landry Jones, Matt Barkley and Johnny “Football” Manziel. His passer rating of 163.92 is good for tenth in the nation.
Most people could look like a decent quarterback with Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins catching their passes, but Boyd truly is one of the best. His development from last year has been very encouraging, and he’s making better decisions. There have been a few moments that looked uncomfortably like this pick against Florida State, or his attempted throw out of bounds against Virginia Tech that went backwards and was only saved when the officials ruled his knee down. But for the most part he’s kept a good head on his shoulders.
Clemson’s third down conversion rate has improved each of the last four years, from an embarrassing 29.94 percent in 2008 to 43.32 percent last year and 53.03 percent so far in 2012. Boyd is the biggest reason behind the change. He’s better at finding receivers, at knowing where to throw, and especially at deciding when it’s best to tuck the ball and run himself.
Boyd doesn’t try to be a hero, just to get the first down. In 2011, he made a first down 23 percent of the time when he ran the ball on third down. This year, he’s at 46 percent. Boyd has already eclipsed his 2012 rushing mark, and is on track to finish at around 450 yards — not Tim Tebow territory, but pretty good for a quarterback in a system not designed around QB runs.
So with all these numbers, why isn’t he getting more national attention, then? RGIII and Tim Tebow aside, the Heisman goes to the best offensive player on a top-10 or -15 team. But one recent Heisman candidate list includes Matt Barkley, a statistically worse passer on a team that will probably finish with 4 losses, Braxton Miller, an intriguing runner who currently sits at 55th in passer efficiency and 90th in passing yards, and Teddy Bridgewater, who is certainly a good quarterback but is behind Boyd in most major statistical categories.
The culprit must be ACC hate, a well-documented but almost universal condition. The conference very quietly has two teams back in or around the top 10, and a few teams positioned well to sneak into the bottom fifth of the rankings by the end of the season. Clemson seems like the fourth or fifth-most attractive candidate in the current top 14 to fill one of the four BCS at-large spots (although only two if Boise State makes it in, since Notre Dame controls the other bid as of now), so the ACC does have a chance at two BCS bids for the second consecutive season. But if Tajh (or Nuk Hopkins for that matter) played in the Big 12, they would be getting a lot more national attention, and Clemson would likely be propelled further up that at-large line.
As always, perception has to change with results on the field, though. Tajh will have a chance to prove himself against a top-10 South Carolina team in perhaps the biggest game in the history of the rivalry. And who knows what might happen after that? RGIII played his way into the Heisman in the season’s last few weeks after a relatively non-spectacular first two months to start to the year. And by the same measure, maybe Tajh Boyd ends up in New York as well; he’s certainly Clemson’s most deserving candidate since C.J. Spiller was shunned three years ago.