In retrospect, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd wasn’t bothered by the fumble on the first play of the Oct. 19 game against Florida State. He was more irritated by how he handled it on the sideline.
“I didn’t keep these guys uplifted,” he said on Tuesday. “I didn’t pay it any mind how they felt. Who knows what was going through anybody’s head that game? I was thinking, ‘OK, cool, let’s just go back to the sideline, we’ll be fine.’ And we weren’t.”
Against FSU, in the biggest game of the year, Boyd and the Clemson Tigers collectively delivered their worst performance of the season and were steamrolled in a 51-14 loss that blew them right out of the national championship picture. Not since then has Clemson played a game as meaningful as the one it will play Saturday evening when it travels to rival South Carolina. In what will be the first top-10 matchup between the programs, Clemson is looking to snap a four-game losing streak to the Gamecocks, and it will need Boyd to be at his best in his final shot against South Carolina.
“He’s played great the great majority of his career,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “We certainly need him to play well if we’re going to have a chance to win. He’s got to play better than he did against Florida State, but we’ve got to do everything better than we did against Florida State. We didn’t give ourselves a chance at all. We’ll need him to be at his best, and I don’t have any doubt he will be.”
That hasn’t been the case in years past.
Two of the most glaring trends in Clemson’s losses to South Carolina have been the turnover margin and the Tigers’ inability to protect Boyd. Clemson has had nine turnovers in four games against the Gamecocks, while South Carolina has committed only three and had a positive turnover margin in each of the wins. Clemson also has thrown at least one interception in all four games: three by Boyd and two by former quarterback Kyle Parker.
While this will be the final regular-season game of Boyd’s career, he said he is not approaching it as his last chance to beat South Carolina.
Instead, he wants to do what he didn’t against Florida State.
“For right now, I’m just trying to be the best leader I possibly can be for my teammates,” he said. “These guys are going to respond how I respond, how I perform, how I act. So I just need to make sure I get everything in gear, understand the game plan, understand what I’m trying to accomplish here to make sure we get it down.”
According to ESPN’s Stats & Information department, in three games against South Carolina (two starts), Boyd has averaged just 113.0 passing yards per game and thrown more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two). He has been sacked 14 times and held to minus-15 yards rushing. He has thrown only four completions that have gained at least 20 yards.
Clemson has allowed 28 sacks this season, an average of 2.55 per game. Boyd said he’s confident the pass protection will be better Saturday.
“In every situation, for a quarterback to be effective, the pass pro has got to be there,” he said. “It’s not going to be perfect every time, but you want to give yourself a chance. I think the guys understand the stakes and the situation, and I’m confident we’ll do a good job in pass pro. That’s something that has been relatively good this year, and I feel confident in the guys I’ve got up front.”
Clemson has every reason to be confident in Boyd. He is now responsible for 126 touchdowns, with 24 rushing and 102 touchdown passes, both ACC records.
About the only thing he doesn’t have is a win over South Carolina.
“This game is always personal because of how big it is in the state,” Boyd said. “We have a huge Clemson standing throughout the state. It’s not just us that has to live with it; our fans have to live with it 365 days as well. Three-hundred-sixty-five times four? That’s a long time our fans have had to endure these things.”
It’s an even longer time, though, for the starting quarterback.