By Will Vandervort
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — How will Tajh Boyd be remembered at Clemson? It’s a fair question.
Thanks to the 12th-ranked Tigers’ 40-35 victory over No. 7 Ohio State Friday in the Discover Orange Bowl, he ends it as the winningest quarterback in Clemson history, tying Rodney Williams’ mark of 32 wins from 1985-’89.
But is that his legacy?
Thanks to his 378 passing yards, Boyd tied former NC State quarterback Phillip Rivers for the most career 300-yard passing games in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
Is that his legacy?
With his 34-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins in the first quarter, Boyd became the first ACC quarterback to ever throw 30 or more touchdowns for three straight seasons.
Is that his legacy?
He owns 52 school records at Clemson and 13 ACC records.
Is that Boyd’s legacy?
“He has set the standard for every quarterback to come through Clemson,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s got every record in the book at Clemson. He’s got a bunch of records in the ACC. And he’s done it with class. He’s done it with great integrity and great character.”
The Orange Bowl was a perfect example of all those things Friday night. Boyd, like any athlete, has had his ups and downs as a competitor. But he has never let his failures define him.
He made a few mistakes in the Orange Bowl, like his second-quarter interception at the Ohio State three that killed a potential scoring drive. As he scrambled to his right, it appeared as if Boyd was going to run for a first down that would give the Tigers’ first-and-goal at the three or even closer. Instead he tried to flip the ball to Watkins in the end zone and the Buckeyes’ Von Bell made an outstanding play to intercept the pass.
In the fourth quarter, as the Tigers were trying to run out the clock, Boyd checked off at the line of scrimmage on a third-and-13 play and miss read the coverage, allowing safety C.J. Barnett to step in front of the pass to keep the Buckeyes’ hopes alive.
“I kept telling him that I’m going to keep the ball in your hands and it ain’t coming out so don’t throw it, especially right there at the end and he didn’t listen to me on that. He was sick about it,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.
But in each case, the Clemson defense had Boyd’s back, forcing a three-and-out on the first mistake, and then linebacker Stephone Anthony picked off Braxton Miller in the final minutes to seal the victory.
However, like in his three-year career as a starter, Boyd had way more great moments in the Orange Bowl than the bad. He rushed for a career high 127 yards, ran 49 yards for a touchdown, while throwing for more, including a beautiful pass to Watkins on third-and-10 from the Ohio State 30 that drew the Tigers’ within two points, 29-27, with 2:47 to play in the third quarter.
“Our game plan tonight was that we were going to put it in his hands and Sammy’s and let it ride,” Morris said. “That was our exact words, let it ride.”
And the Tigers rode Boyd to 505 yards of total offense and six touchdown responsibilities. The biggest of those came in the fourth quarter when on third-and-goal from the Ohio State six, he rolled right and then threw the ball back to his left where he found a wide open Stanton Seckinger for what turned out to be the winning touchdown.
“This is a very special night,” Boyd said. “All these guys right here (pointing to his teammates), these are the guys I play for. When we step on the field, we give it everything we have. Not for anybody else, but for these guys beside us.
“What a special way to go out.”
And Boyd’s teammates know how hard he plays for them. And they had no doubt he was going to lead them to a victory even when they trailed by nine points late in the third quarter.
“He is a competitor. He is tough. He is our leader,” left tackle Brandon Thomas said. “He did what he had to do to get us in the end zone and he just did it. I’m happy he found another way to pull out the win.”
Some might say Boyd’s failure to beat archrival South Carolina prevent him from being considered the greatest quarterback in Clemson history and they may have an argument. But considering he has recorded 32 wins in his 40 career starts and eight times beat a top 25 team—the most in school history—including four vs. top 10 teams, there is a good argument he is.
“There are always going to be people out there that all they talk about is what you don’t do,” Swinney said. “Those people don’t do jack. When you’re in the arena, you’re going to have failure along the way and that is what is going to help you grow. That’s what helps you get better. That’s what helps you develop.
“This guy has transformed as a player and as a person since the day he came to Clemson and he knows that. He is ready. He is a great, great competitor, great winner, great football player and a great man.”
And that is Boyd’s legacy.
“His legacy is what he has done for this university and what he has done for this program,” Morris said. “He set a standard to play quarterback here that is remarkable. He proves that not only can you execute on the field at a high level, but you can be a great person off the field. His legacy will always be remembered as that.”