DURHAM, NC — Even with the miscues, Tajh Boyd is on the prowl.
The Clemson quarterback set a personal record by throwing three interceptions Saturday night at Duke, but he still put on such an amazing performance in Clemson’s 56-20 rout of the Blue Devils that he’s arm-and-arm with Giovani Bernard in the hunt for the ACC’s Player of the Year honor.
On Saturday, Boyd did it with his arm, throwing five touchdown passes and for 314 yards before halftime. He finished with those five scores and 344 yards. A week earlier, in a road rampage of Wake Forest, Boyd hooked up with Tigers’ wide receivers for five scoring passes in the first half as well. Prior to that contest, his career-high for an entire game was four scoring tosses.
“I just can’t seem to get that sixth one,” Boyd joked. “You just have to go out there and have fun. It’s been fun to me lately. Guys have been coming out, everybody’s touching the ball. I just love to see it. It’s just so fun playing with these guys and being able to put points up like that.”
As Bernard is raising his profile at North Carolina entering the season’s stretch run, Boyd is right there with him. Last week may have been the most dramatic of the season pitting the stars and their numbers.
Boyd passed for a school-record 428 yards in that Thursday victory at Wake, and two days later Bernard ran for 135 yards, caught eight passes for 95 yards and returned a punt 74 yards for a game-winning touchdown.
With UNC off this weekend, however, Boyd used his opportunity to surge ahead, even if ever so slightly.
But don’t ask him about the honor or one-upping the Tar Heels’ sophomore. It’s nowhere near Boyd’s radar.
“I guess it’s arguable,” Boyd said when asked if he’s playing the best football of his career. “I feel like I’ve still got so much more to improve and so much more to learn, and you just have to take it from there. I’m very proud with the way coach (Dabo Swinney) trusts me with this offense.”
Against the Blue Devils, Boyd connected with DeAndre Hopkins for three first-quarter scores of 5, 58 and 45 yards. He also found Sammy Watkins for a 30-yard touchdown before the opening period expired. It was the second consecutive contest in which Clemson (8-1, 5-1 ACC) had a 28-point quarter in a conference road game.
The junior signal caller from Hampton, Va., hooked up with Martavis Bryant for 41 yards in the second quarter and ran one in from 21 yards out to complete Clemson’s 42-point first half. Boyd didn’t finish the third quarter because the game was out of reach.
ACC honors aren’t, though, and the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder is making a strong case for everything a quarterback can win, and his team is surging toward a possible BCS bowl even if they don’t win the ACC championship.
“One of the things we stressed in practice is we knew we could get matchups in that nature…,” Boyd said regarding the Tigers’ preparation for the Blue Devils. “But we had to win those matchups. It was a challenge for the receivers, it was a challenge for the linemen, it was a challenge for me to put the ball on them.”
Saturday marked the fifth time this season Boyd passed the 300-yard mark through the air, including four times in Clemson’s last five contests. He’s also thrown 16 touchdown passes in that span and run for five more.
In fact, it’s Boyd’s ability to escape pressure and turn up field that has added another dimension to his game. Dropping 15 pounds in the offseason, as he did, will do that.
Boyd enters the final quarter of the season with 2,850 yards and 25 touchdown passes. The 10 interceptions, though, are a figure that could haunt him. But as the No. 10 Tigers keep climbing the rankings coupled with UNC’s three defeats and probation, maybe it won’t matter in the end.