By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. — The fun is in the winning.
That’s what Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney likes to tell his players, but for a little while his eighth-ranked Tigers were not having too much fun. Whether it was the pressure of being the overwhelming favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference, being ranked as high as No. 3 in the country or all the national championship talk, somewhere along the way Clemson stopped having fun.
This has been especially obvious with its quarterback. Tajh Boyd, who will have a homecoming of sorts when the Tigers take the field against Virginia at 3:30 this afternoon in Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., has struggled to find his joy since the last five minutes of the second quarter at Syracuse on Oct. 5.
Whether it has been due to the struggles on his offensive line, inconsistencies in the passing game, nagging injuries or the pressures of being a Heisman Trophy candidate, it has been obvious to pretty much everyone that Boyd was not having the same amount of fun he was having when he was beating Georgia, while racking up big yards and big plays in wins over S.C. State, NC State, Wake Forest and then the first 25 minutes at Syracuse.
But Boyd and the offense began to sputter in the Carrier Dome. He threw his first interception of the season, while the Tigers failed to capitalize on two red zone possessions to end the first half. Then came a shot to the left hand in the second half that is still aggravating him.
Against Boston College on October 12, Boyd and the offense showed some vulnerability as they struggled to execute at times as the defense bailed them out with a 13-yard fumble return by Vic Beasley to end the pesky Eagles’ upset bid in Death Valley.
And then there is the Florida State game a week later where no one on the team, including Boyd, played well.
“We lost a game and we did not play well and he did not play well in particular,” Swinney said. “Sometimes you do not have to explain all the stuff. He had a bad day. It is unfortunate, but he has had a lot of fun because like I always say, the fun is in the winning.”
When it comes to winning, Boyd has had a lot of fun at Clemson. Only one other quarterback at Clemson, Rodney Williams (1985-’88), has had more fun. Boyd has won 28 games in 35 starts and is ranked as the second all-time leader in passing yards and total offense in ACC history.
But somewhere along the way to the promised land, Boyd stopped having fun.
“You go win a ballgame. You feel pretty good and you make some big throws and you kind of get back to doing some of the things you need to do.” Swinney said. “That’s what he has done. Everybody has pressure on them. Every player and every coach at this level has pressure to perform because it is very competitive.”
It appeared good ole’ No. 10 for Clemson finally got back to his normal self in the third quarter of last week’s win at Maryland when he made a third-down scramble that reminded everyone wearing orange why he is so special. With a little encouragement from his head coaches, he continued to have fun in the fourth quarter when another run set up his own five-yard touchdown and then a 41-yard pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant set up another fourth-quarter touchdown, this time by running back Rod McDowell.
“He played good and did what we expected him to do,” Swinney said. “He had some big scrambles in the game and made some nice runs. He made some big-time throws. That’s what we expect. It has been no different since he has been under center for us. We expect him to play well.”
And more importantly, they expect him to have fun while doing it.