There is a familiar face roaming the Clemson sidelines this year, and it is one that has a smile that stretches from ear to ear.
Tajh Boyd has returned to coach at Clemson, working as an offensive analyst helping the quarterbacks on Dabo Swinney’s staff. Boyd’s return to Clemson could not come at a better time, as for the first time since his departure in 2013, the Tigers have a quarterback that plays with the same style and has the same qualities and features that made Boyd so enduring to Clemson fans.
D.J. Uiagalelei is a big quarterback. When he checked into camp last week, Uiagalelei checked in at 6-foot-4, 247 pounds. He is by far the biggest quarterback Clemson has ever had.
Boyd was not even close to Uiagalelei’s size, but he was big for a college quarterback. During his sophomore season, Boyd played around 235 pounds, garnering him the nickname “Fat Boy” by his teammates.
But by his junior season, Boyd slimmed down to about 225 pounds and became the Tigers’ main weapon, not just in the passing game, but in the run game. He became the main in short yardage situations and inside the 10-yard line.
When it is was third-and-short, Boyd was almost unstoppable with the quarterback power, something the Clemson offense has not run really since. That is going to change this year.
Clemson’s run-spread attack was designed for a quarterback like Uiagalelei. It gained its popularity when Cam Newton ran Guz Malzahn’s offense all the way to a Heisman Trophy and national championship at Auburn in 2010.
When Chad Morris brought his friend’s offense to Clemson in 2011, Boyd was a perfect fit, as he became the ACC’s second all-time leader in passing yards (11,904) and the league’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (107) and touchdown responsibilities (133).
Boyd is still the only ACC quarterback in history to throw for more than 100 touchdowns in his college career.
“It is so fun to have Tajh back because (Uiagalelei) reminds me a lot of Tajh,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “You think about Tajh and Tajh had a huge arm. There has been Deshaun [Watson] and there has been Trevor [Lawrence], but it started with Tajh and the big arm and then his running style. I think there are similarities with their running styles, and it was the same back then.”
Boyd never really put up the big numbers running the ball that Woody Dantzler, Watson or Steve Fuller did in their Clemson careers, but he was effective in a different way. He set the Clemson record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 26 in his career and was so dominate in short-yardage situations that he kept defenses off-balance.
“He was that guy that neutralized the defense,” said Elliott, who was the running backs coach at Clemson during the Boyd era. “Whenever you try to get a number, and obviously, you want to hand the ball to the backs and tell those guys to carry the load. But whenever you needed to surprise the defense or balance it out to create the numbers you got to have, you have to have that quarterback run game.
“Then there are certain components of our RPO and our run game that the quarterback has to make us right when pulling the ball and we have been fortunate to have guys that can go the distance. I think D.J. is potentially one of those guys in the long run, but we just have to see what he is comfortable with and where he is at. As this offense creates its identity, we will see how the quarterback run fits into that identity.”