Dabo Swinney remembers Tajh Boyd’s first two games as Clemson’s starting quarterback like it was yesterday. He had just brought in Chad Morris to run the offense and Boyd beat out Cole Stoudt as the starting quarterback that spring and summer.
Swinney and Morris both bragged about Boyd’s progress leading up to the start of the season and how far the Virginia native had come since the spring in learning Morris’ power-spread attack. Then the season started and Swinney and Morris were scrambling around wondering where their quarterback was.
Boyd and the offense struggled early in Clemson’s wins over Troy and Wofford. The Tigers trailed Troy 16-13 at the break before rolling to a 43-19 win, and then the next week against the Terriers, an FCS school, the Tigers were tied, 21-21, at halftime.
“We got booed off the field,” Swinney said Tuesday at his weekly press conference to preview Saturday’s season opener against Kent State.
“We are all sitting there as coaches saying ‘where in the heck is our quarterback,’” Swinney continued. “Chad is on twelve packs of gum and he does not know what to say. He was saying, ‘I don’t know where my quarterback is. Somebody kidnapped my quarterback.’ I’m going crazy on the headset. It just kind of took him a little while to kind of get his sea legs, if you will, and then off he went and the next thing you know, he became Tajh Boyd.”
After his early struggles, people were wondering if Swinney had made the right choice with Boyd, but Swinney never doubted it because he knew what he had seen in practice.
“I know what I see on the practice field and I know what I saw out of Tajh on that practice field and it just did not quite show up early and then he blossomed,” Swinney said.
Boyd blossomed into a record-setting quarterback that went on to set a Clemson single-season record with 3,828 passing yards as well as school-record 33 touchdowns in leading the Tigers to a 10-4 record and the program’s first ACC Championship in 20 years at the time. He eventually won ACC Player of the Year honors in 2012 and won 32 games as a starter, which tied a Clemson record.
Now it’s Kelly Bryant’s turn. The junior won the starting job over freshmen Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson this summer.
However some wonder how Bryant can handle adversity when it first comes up. Will he handle it the same way Deshaun Watson did? Will he bounce back like Boyd did?
“That is the next step. We have to go see him play,” Swinney said. “We have seen it at practice. I have seen him get punched in the mouth at practice. I have seen him respond against a really good defense, against really talented players where you do not have any room for error on our practice field. So that is a pretty good gage for us, but at the end of the day, you still have to go do it on game day.”
Swinney is hopeful Kelly will not miss a beat this Saturday. He says the Calhoun Falls, S.C. native, is well prepared. He says Bryant has been in every situation and he has responded.
“He flat out won the competition, as simple as that,” Swinney said. “He won the get ready phase (in the spring). He won the transformation phase (in camp) and now he has to win primetime. We will see what happens.”