FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Getting another chance to play in the Orange Bowl carries great significance to Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, for an array of reasons.
It’s his final college game.
It’s a chance to avenge one of Clemson’s most embarrassing losses.
Maybe best of all, it’s a chance to see how his life might have been different.
Before Boyd decided to sign with Clemson — and become “the face of our university,” said Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris — he was quite close to enrolling at Ohio State. And in a neat bit of symmetry, Boyd’s final game as a Tiger will be against the Buckeyes, with the programs squaring off on Friday night in the Orange Bowl.
“I definitely feel like this is the best spot for me,” Boyd said Monday. “I couldn’t have picked a better school. It is kind of surreal to end your final game as a Clemson Tiger against Ohio State. It’s going to be a fun matchup, and I can’t wait.”
This is Clemson’s second Orange Bowl trip in three years. The 12-ranked Tigers lost two years ago to West Virginia 70-33, a game that simply fell apart when Clemson allowed 21 points in the final 2½ minutes of the first half.
The chance to erase some of the sting of that night is one he’s happy to have.
“It’s a blessing for us,” Boyd said. “We’re just going to try to take full advantage.”
Boyd changed his mind late in the recruiting process, and the Tigers have been thankful just about ever since. He’s thrown for 11,526 yards and 102 touchdowns in his 46 college games. He’s one of only three active quarterbacks with more than 100 scoring passes; one of only five with more than 11,000 yards.
He’s run for another 1,038 yards, along with 25 more scores with his feet. It’s no wonder No. 7 Ohio State wanted him so badly to begin with.
“We know he’s got all the ability,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “I mean, we recruited him too. We know exactly who he is and what he is.”
Who he is and what he is, that’s simple to describe. He’s Clemson’s everything.
In the huddle, teammates say Boyd tends to alternate between motivational and hilarious. If someone needs to yell, he yells. If someone needs a pat on the back, he delivers. He’s tight with his defensive teammates, close with the special-teamers, and the unquestioned leader of the offense.
For the most part, he’s taken on all the responsibility in stride, making it all look easy at times.
“He leads on and off the field in different ways,” Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “He did help this program out and brought it from the bottom to the top. … It’s not easy. He deals with a lot of different things. I think that he handles himself well and took this university and put us on a pedestal and represented us properly.”
The Tigers were 6-7 in Boyd’s freshman season, when he saw limited action.
They gave him the keys to the offense the next year, and they’re 31-8 since.
And when Boyd is great, Clemson is darn near unbeatable. When he throws for 300 yards, the Tigers are 17-0. When he throws for two touchdowns or more, they’re 25-3. When his offensive line doesn’t allow him to get sacked more than once, not counting games as a freshman where he made mere cameo appearances, Clemson is 16-1.
But when the talk Monday turned to Boyd’s legacy, and what the Orange Bowl will mean to that legacy, he deferred.
“Honestly, for me it’s all about just trying to make sure it’s the best game that I played this far,” Boyd said. “It’s more so not just for me, but for this program and this university. Obviously, a win in a bowl game adds momentum, it adds a fuel to you during the offseason. So it’s important for me personally to go out here and try to get a victory. It’s also important for this team and what they’re trying to accomplish next year as well.”