By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- In the first half against Troy, Clemson’s first game of the season, Clemson first year starter Tajh Boyd looked like a first year starter. However, each week Boyd has continued to improve as the Tigers have continued to become more confident in Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris’s offense and have continued to win football games, sitting at 4-0 now after two great wins against #21 ranked Auburn and #11 ranked Florida State.
Boyd, and the rest of the Tigers who are now ranked #13 in the country, have what I like to call a quiet confidence. After a disappointing 6-7 season in 2010, the Tigers are using their 2011 season to prove to the nation that they are not the same team; they have a new offense, new quarterback, and several young offensive weapons to work with.
Going into their first road test against #11 Virginia Tech, Boyd knows that it will be a challenge to win in Blacksburg, but he promises Tiger fans that the game will not be a letdown.
“We’re going to do what we can to prepare for the hostile environment this week in practice,” Boyd said. “We’re going to practice with crowd noise, but when it comes down to it, I hope that it doesn’t play a part in how we perform, we’ve just got to go out there and execute.”
Boyd who is a Virginia native, is looking forward to a homecoming of sorts, and has even spoken to Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas recently about the matchup.
“We just talk a little bit, it was a pretty friendly conversation, nothing too big,” Boyd said. “He was a tight end in the All American game we played in, so it’s funny how he converted over to quarterback. But he’s doing a great job, I’m proud of him. “
Boyd knows going into Clemson’s first road game that it will definitely be a battle which will test the Tigers and see where they actually stand in the ACC.
“It’s our first road game, and a night game,” Boyd said. “It’s something we’re not used to, but we’ve just got to go out there and prepare this week so we’ll go into Saturday ready to go.”
The Tigers have already won a few big time games this season, boosting the confidence going into their first road test. But Boyd doesn’t believe that the fact that they’ve already knocked off two ranked teams, two weeks in a row will be a factor against the Hokies.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how reserved we are as a team,” Boyd said. “Before the Troy game, I talked to Sammy and both of us were real nervous going onto the field, but then I made a few plays and I started to get more comfortable out there and a little more confident each game. Hopefully this doesn’t change anything, I should just transition right into it, it’s going to be a test but I think we’re up for the challenge.”
Boyd’s whose 21st Birthday was this past Sunday said that instead of celebrating his birthday, he was preparing for Virginia Tech.
“We celebrated the win Saturday night as a team,” Boyd said. “But we know that we have no room for complacency anywhere on this team, and we have to keep working. That’s the best part about this team, every day in practice is a challenge for us, we haven’t proven anything yet, we’ve got a really solid team but we still have a lot to improve on, offensively, defensively, and on special teams. I’m excited to see where this program is going.”
Theoretically, the Tigers’ offense shouldn’t miss a beat by taking the show on the road, based on the way their plays are called; it should continue to be seamless.
“That’s one of the really good things about this offense as well,” Boyd said. “I feel like it’s accustomed to any environment. We’re not going to change what we do, it just comes down to execution, we just have to go out there and perform.”
In 2006, the last time the Tigers played in Blacksburg; it wasn’t a pretty sight, with the Tigers according to Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris just wanting to get back to the bus as quickly as possible. Boyd however promises that the team’s trip to Blacksburg this weekend will be different.
“I may have been a freshman in high school the last time Clemson made the trip to Blacksburg, so it’s irrelevant,” Boyd said. “That was 5 years ago, they have a different team and I know that we definitely have a different team. This isn’t the same old Clemson, I believe from previous years. I know people have their doubts here and there but I believe the program is on the verge of a different path and we’ll just have to prove that this weekend.”
Does Boyd worry about a letdown after two big wins at home?
“It’s definitely not going to be a letdown,” Boyd said. “We have solid leadership on this team and the coaches do great job of keeping up humble, I would be disappointed if it was a letdown but I can guarantee that it won’t be a letdown. We know that they’re a very good team, we’re going to practice hard this week and give it all we have in practice and just keep working from there.”
After only 4 weeks of running this offense in game situations, the Tigers are already looking comfortable running the system and showing how explosive it can be.
“Everyone’s figuring out what this offense is capable of,” Boyd said. “Again we leave a lot of points and yards out there, and that’s pretty good because we’re scoring a decent amount of points but we haven’t peaked yet. I hope we don’t peak now, maybe somewhere 8th, 9th game of the season. It’s still a work in progress, have a lot of room for improvement but we’re still making plays.”
One thing that Boyd has been disappointed in so far this season and knows that the offense needs to continue improving on is gaining short yardage. The Tigers have been very successful in converting 3rd and mediums or 3rd and longs, however when trying to convert 3rd or 4th down and 1, they’ve had trouble, only converting on 1 4th down and 1 all season.
“Short yards are huge,” Boyd said. “You can say that’s the one thing that’s been disappointing. 3rd and short, 4th and short, if we’re going to go for it on fourth down, you’ve got to get it. Everyone has to do their jobs; I know we’re capable of getting it, we just have to focus on the play and our assignments.”
What kind of statement would Clemson be making if they beat the Defending National Champ, the Defending Atlantic Division Champ and then the Defending ACC Champ in three consecutive weeks?
“This is something we’ve been preparing for since the South Florida game,” Boyd said. “Coach Swinney said earlier in the year that this is a Championship schedule, and if we want to be the best we have to beat the best. This schedule is one of the best in the country. We have a lot of pride in ourselves as a team, and we’re going to give it all we’ve got.”
Although Clemson has been getting a lot of positive national coverage after getting off to a great start this season, Boyd himself has been in the media so far this week for something he wishes the media would forget.
“A few days ago a friend of mine texted me and told me that my third down fumble that Warner scored on was on PTI (Pardon the Interruption),” Boyd said. “It was on ESPN too last night, it was a terrible moment don’t get me wrong, but I’m glad that they changed it from an interception to a fumble, because I don’t want another interception on my stats. It was just one of those plays, I’m a clumsy, goofy person, I trip when walking a lot so I kind of expected to go down, but it was just one of those plays.”
What does this mistake say about Boyd and his offensive teammates though that they followed the fumble up with a scoring drive?
“It says that we’re capable of scoring anytime,” Boyd said. “We have players that can step up in situations. The biggest play of the game was probably the Dwayne Allen 3rd and 10 grab. When you’ve got guys like that out there, I just have to find a way to get them the ball.”
Boyd and his center Dalton Freeman had a communication problem late in the game Saturday where receiver Nuk Hopkins was wide open with no one from Florida State covering him and Boyd couldn’t get the ball snapped because Freeman was having problems hearing him over Florida State’s band, is Boyd worried about having to put up with that noise for three hours this weekend at Lane Stadium?
“Hopefully if we come in and score fast enough it might get a little quiet in there,” Boyd said. “You never know what‘s going to happen over the course of the game, but it’s definitely going to be a challenge. They’re going to bring their best, we’re going to bring ours; it should be a well fought game. We’re going to work on some silent stuff this week, so it should be a fun week of practice.”