- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let's take a trip back to 2008, when Boyd was committed to play at West Virginia. Much was made back then about his brashness, about the T-shirts proclaiming that he and a high school teammate of his would form the next prolific tandem to wear blue and gold.
But Boyd had second thoughts about attending West Virginia, essentially because the offense was not much of a juggernaut under Bill Stewart and then-offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. He opened up his recruitment, and Stewart lashed out the only way he could. Unable to refer to Boyd by name because of NCAA rules, he simply said no player would call the plays, or the shots, at West Virginia.
Boyd was out.
That sent West Virginia in search of its quarterback of the future. Smith was churning out terrific numbers at Miramar High in Florida, and ESPN had him rated as one of the top 150 recruits in the nation.
He and Boyd had attended an Elite 11 camp together in California, but Smith had no idea that Boyd had committed or decommitted to West Virginia. When then-West Virginia assistant Doc Holliday started recruiting him, Smith liked what he heard. The two had ties going back to Holliday's time as an assistant at Florida.
Now here they are in South Florida getting ready to lead their respective teams in the Discover Orange Bowl, certainly aware of their "six degrees of separation" connection. But they are doing their own thing at their own schools, thriving and pass-happy.
Well, just happy.
"I think things really fell into place," Boyd said. "At first, I didn't know how things would turn out, but I have had success at Clemson and [Smith] has had success over there. I think things could not have turned out better in regards to our situations. He is a very good quarterback as well and both of us have to perform in this game, and I am excited about that."
Both quarterbacks truly began to thrive this season in their respective hyper-energized offensive systems. Boyd got the opportunity to start this year and made the most of it with Chad Morris calling the plays, winning a spot on the All-ACC first team after throwing for 3,578 yards and 31 touchdown passes. He even got some Heisman consideration when Clemson got off to its 8-0 start, and ended the season with a school-record 36 total touchdowns.
"Coming out of spring ball, I knew Tajh had the potential," Morris said. "Tajh was trying to memorize the offense, and so he and I had a long talk. When I say a long talk, it didn't take too long to tell him what I had to tell him, but it was to the point, and if he valued his playing career, he'd better take his summer workouts pretty serious because if not there would be a young man going to be pushing him pretty hard and heavy.
"So Tajh dedicated his summer. I think he took one day off this summer to go to the lake with his friends. And he basically focused in on learning the offense instead of memorizing it, learning the protections, learning his reads. To see him grow and mature in this offense has been amazing. I wasn't expecting it to happen as quick as it did. I kind of thought we'd have some road bumps or road blocks along the way. Well, we did, but it was late in the season. He did a great job growing into this offense, growing into his leadership role."
Smith is in his second season as a starter, but he took off with Dana Holgorsen calling the shots. He also made the All-Big East first team, after setting the school's single-season records for pass attempts (483), completions (314) and yards (3,978). He needs just 47 yards to break the Big East's single-season passing mark of 4,024, set by Brian Brohm of Louisville in 2007.
Both quarterbacks rank in the top 20 in the nation in pass efficiency and total offense.
"Tajh's a really good quarterback," Smith said. "I've watched him play a couple games just on TV. He's done a great job."
And yes, he has watched Boyd to see what he can add to his own game.
"I want to be better than all those guys," he said. "So I look at their game and I try to elevate my own game. I do steal things from everyone. I try and learn as many tips as I can. You're never as good as you can be."
Indeed, Smith and Holgorsen believe the offense could have been better this season, even with all the yards it piled up.
"I left a lot of yards out there," Smith said. "A lot of touchdowns. I think a lot of that is because I've been overly coaching myself. I've been too hard on myself at times. It's also helped me because I've learned you've got to be consistent. That's something I'm working on every day."
And if Boyd had made a different decision?
"When I got on campus, I realized the magnitude of his decommitment and my commitment," Smith said. "At the time, I didn't know what it meant. But now I do."