By Ed McGranahan.
Dabo Swinney became agitated by an inquiry regarding Tajh Boyd’s performance in the Virginia Tech game. Neither pointed nor confrontational, the question seemed to push the Clemson coach to the defensive.
“There’s no conspiracy,” Swinney said, though nobody suggested one. Boyd played poorly, and both the coach and the quarterback acknowledged as much.
The question that bothered Swinney was why now? What happened between the sixth game and the seventh that resulted in Boyd’s uncharacteristic inaccuracy?
Was he unprepared? Injured?
A year ago Boyd entered Heisman Trophy conversations after Clemson’s 8-0 start. He admitted to becoming infatuated with the notion, and that it affected his focus during the stretch when Clemson won two of its final six games.
Boyd missed open receivers several times – wide open, short and long, nearly always high. One hit Nuke Hopkins on the tip of a finger and landed in the hands of a Virginia Tech player lying flat on his back.
“He just had a bad game,” Swinney said. “There’s no other way to explain it other than he didn’t use his fundamentals and mechanics properly on a few of those throws.”
That was the easy answer. Not necessarily the wrong answer, but curious nonetheless.
“I think his head was perfect,” Swinney said. “You don’t have to explain all the mechanics. Sometimes you just screw up. Sometimes you just make a bad play.
“It’s not anything else. Sometimes when you play at such a high level, you do so many things that then you show a little weakness or you show some human tendencies, hey, the guy isn’t perfect. Then it’s ‘what’s wrong with him?’”
So how do a quarterback’s mechanics begin to unravel at this point of the season? Quarterbacks have been known to have what baseball pitchers call “dead arm,” usually a temporary condition from throwing thousands of passes. With rest, they typically recover quickly.
But Boyd’s arm strength wasn’t in question, and Clemson had an extra week to rest. An injury, even a minor muscle pull or a bruise, might contribute to a subconscious tweak in mechanics to compensate for the pain, like a toe blister can alter a stride.
Boyd said he did not throw at Sunday’s practice because the muscles “surrounding” his right shoulder had been sore, “but it’s fine overall.”
Swinney virtually scoffed at any curiosity.
“I think sometimes Tajh thinks he’s got to explain everything instead of, ‘you know, that was just a bad play,’” Swinney said. “He’s very hard on himself. This year he’s done a much better job of that, and just managing the game and finding ways to lead his team down the field.”
Boyd has been chasing the perfect game this season. Patience has not been a virtue, but it’s growing with his maturity.
“I feel like mechanically I wasn’t as sound as I needed to be,” Boyd said. “A couple of those throws, any of those throws I missed I feel like I can make in my sleep.
“It’s tough, man, because you want to go out there and complete every pass.”
There’s no questioning Boyd’s willingness to do whatever it takes to win despite – another baseball metaphor – not having his best stuff.
“It’s all about do you lead your team to victory,” Swinney said, defending him. “Yes he did, and he did it in a gutsy way, and with his legs.”
Gutsy was Kyle Parker playing virtually the entire season with a cracked rib he didn’t know about.
“I guess it’s more of an answer culminating,” said Swinney after his initial reaction. “I keep getting that and people are this and that or whatever.”
Creative and supremely confident, Boyd continues to be schooled in patience, to not step outside the scheme and trust himself to find the end zone when not making throws he’s made in his sleep.
“Inside it’s, ‘man, I’ve got some work to do.’”
“You become so accustom to it and have the expectation of getting there at will,” he said, “That when it doesn’t happen, you have to let the game flow and find your rhythm. You can get to the point sometimes where you can press it, you start to do things that ordinarily you wouldn’t do.”
Chasing that perfect game can become frustrating even when there’s absolutely nothing wrong.
“It never works out the way you tell yourself.”