By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
The first time Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd took his team on the road was to Virginia Tech when the upstart and undefeated Tigers visited the 11th-ranked Hokies at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.
“It was a homecoming for me,” the Hampton, Va., native said. “So walking out there and being a captain for that game and getting booed when they called my name, I just loved it. I thrived in it. I felt like I was right at home.”
Or did he?
Boyd actually struggled on that rain-soaked afternoon in Blacksburg. He opened the game just 9 of 25 for 112 yards and threw his first interception in four games. Clinging to a 10-3 lead and his defense playing well, head coach Dabo Swinney had offensive coordinator Chad Morris scale things back a little in the second half as Boyd threw only seven passes, completing four of them for 92 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown pass to former tight end Dwayne Allen.
Clemson went on to win that game, 23-3, its third straight over a ranked opponent, which is still an ACC record.
So Boyd can understand a little bit what Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will be going through at times tonight when he comes into Clemson for his first real road test of his career as the fifth-ranked Seminoles take on No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley.
“It’s different for everybody,” Boyd said. “Everybody has different ways that they deal with it. But again, for me and how I deal with it? I’ve got to love it and embrace it. It’ll be something we’ll see how it goes. We’ll see how he adjusts. I think in a way, for me, after a while it all gets blocked out because all it comes down to is you performing that particular play every time you step on that field.
“But again, it’s different here.”
This isn’t Winston’s first road game this year. The Seminoles opened the year at Pitt where he completed the first 11 passes of his career and went on to complete 25 of 27 for the game for 356 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-13 victory.
On Sept. 28, he led the Seminoles to Chestnut Hill, Mass., where he guided them back from a 14-point deficit by hitting on 17 of 27 passes for 330 yards and four more scores in a 48-34 win at Boston College.
“You know, he plays older than he is,” Boyd said. “He’s a red‑shirt freshman. His teammates back him. They support him. He handles himself in a more mature way when he steps out on the field.”
But it has to be noted, in his two road games already this year, the Seminoles (5-0, 3-0 ACC) were not playing the Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh or Tom Brady and the Patriots in Boston. Road trips to Pitt and BC will not compare to the more than 83,000 at Clemson Memorial Stadium that will be screaming against Winston all night.
However, the Florida State quarterback says he is not concerned about the deafening noise from the Clemson crowd, which has flustered many of visiting quarterbacks over the years, including Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray earlier this season and just last week Boston College’s Chase Rettig. Both four-year starters – who have played in many of road games in their career – were called for several delay-of-game penalties and had to burn timeouts because of communication issues.
“Coach (Jimbo) Fisher, that’s why he let me travel last year,” Winston said. “NC State last year was really loud, the fans were all on top of us. I was there on the sideline and I saw how our players reacted.
“Even Boston College, when we were down, those fans were on top of us. I know it’s not like Clemson. Of course it’s going to be loud. But we’re not playing against the crowd. We’re playing against the Clemson Tigers. I don’t think we’ll let a crowd defeat us.”
Those are pretty strong words for a young player that has yet to play in a game of this magnitude – the first game between top 5 teams in the history of Death Valley – with division, conference and national championship aspirations at stake.
“The thing is it will be different for him here, but we’ll see how he handles it,” Boyd said. “I was in a similar situation and I was a year older as a red‑shirt sophomore, but going to play in different venues is always fun and always exciting.
“You never really know how it is until you actually step in that arena. I’m anxious to see how he handles it, but the coaches are going to prepare him as best as possible. But at the end of the day, you really just have to go out there and make plays because regardless of what you did before, in a game like this you have to go out there and just be prepared for this game.”
Boyd has been on the big stage countless times in the last two and a half seasons. He has had his ups and his downs, but for the most part he has shined in the big games. The Tigers are 7-4 against ranked opponents with him as the starting quarterback, including a 3-0 record against top 10 teams, two of which were ranked in the top 5.
Boyd basically willed his team to victory in last year’s, 25-24, Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over No. 7 LSU and then opened this season with a five-touchdown performance in a 38-35 win against then No. 5 Georgia. He was named Most Valuable Player of the ACC Championship game in 2011 after completing 20 of 29 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-10 victory over then No. 3 Virginia Tech.
“Personally I love being in these situations where the ball is in your court, it’s in your hand,” Boyd said. “You have to go out there and make a play when the game is on the line. It’s kind of always been me. That’s kind of why I love to play the position.
“Growing up I wanted to be a quarterback because I wanted the ball in my hands. When it comes down to making a play late in the game, when you need it, when you have to have it, that’s always been my thing, regardless of the outcome. You’ve got to love being in that position. As a program we’ve been in that situation a few times this year. We’ve been in that situation numerous times throughout my career here.
“You know, it’s something that they haven’t really had to deal with so far this season, but again, they have guys who have played there for a while now and they understand the circumstances and situations and how big this game is for them, as well.”
But do the Seminoles – and in particular Jameis Winston – know how much the sellout crowd in Death Valley will play a role in the game?
“I’ve seen situations where I feel like the crowd has actually won it for us,” Boyd said. “The Florida State game a couple of years ago when we got that sack late in the game. The Auburn game when the guy threw the pick. I think that’s why we got the interception. It was just that loud in here.
“But again, it’s different for every quarterback in every situation.”