MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Clemson’s Dabo Swinney sat at Tajh Boyd’s kitchen table in Virginia four years ago eager to convince the quarterback to wear the purple-and-orange combination in college.
Swinney, who didn’t have much of a résumé as a head coach yet, promised Boyd something that would come to fruition during Friday night’s Discover Orange Bowl against Ohio State.
"I sat there, and I told him, I said, ‘Tajh, here’s the plan. If you’ll believe in me, we’ll change Clemson. We’ll change it. It’s not going to be easy. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we will change Clemson.’"
In his final game, Boyd accounted for six touchdowns as the 12th-ranked Tigers beat the seventh-ranked Buckeyes 40-35 at Sun Life Stadium.
For the first time in program history, Clemson (11-2) notched back-to-back 11-win seasons. It also marked its first BCS bowl victory and consecutive top-10 finishes since the 1980s.
The senior tied Rodney Williams for most wins (32) and set the record for most victories (8) over ranked opponents. His 107 career passing and combined 133 touchdowns are both Atlantic Coast Conference records.
Boyd, who went 31-of-40 with 378 passing yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, added another 127 yards and a score on the ground. He recorded his 18th career 300-yard passing game to tie Phillip Rivers’ ACC mark. Boyd left his stamp on the bowl series, too, racking up 505 total yards, the second-highest total in a BCS game.
"You know, this is a very special night," Boyd said. "Again, just the significance of this game, not for me particularly, not for this team particularly, but for the university, for the fans that support us day in and day out. … I couldn’t pick a better way to go out as a senior."
His top target on Friday — junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins — earned MVP in possibly his last game. That is, should he decide to leave for the NFL.
Watkins, from Fort Myers (Fla.) Barron Collier High, broke Orange Bowl records with 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns. The 16 receptions also set a BCS mark.
Not only did he become the program’s all-time leader in catches (240) and touchdown catches (27), but the Biletnikoff finalist also did so in just three years.
"I knew it was going to be a tough game and I knew I was going to have to make a lot of plays and Tajh was going to have to make a lot of plays," said Watkins, who broke the school’s single-season mark with 1,464 yards. "I think for the offense we stepped up and did a good job."
Clemson took advantage of bubble screens and yardage after contact throughout the game against the Buckeyes (12-2).
Ohio State showed soft coverage, and the Tigers’ offensive line blocked guys on both the line and perimeter to open up space.
"I don’t know all the receivers in the country, but I can’t imagine any better than that guy," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
After winning the coin toss, Clemson elected to receive the opening kickoff and set the tone for the rest of a memorable bowl.
It took just 2:10 for Boyd and the Tigers to find the end zone, as he ran 48 yards up the middle for a touchdown on third-and-2. It was the longest rush of his career by 21 yards. It surpassed his season-high 17-yard run.
Swinney said the gameplan all along was to win or lose the game through Boyd and Watkins, who caught touchdowns of 34 and 30 yards.
Boyd’s go-ahead 5-yard connection to Stanton Seckinger with 6:16 left to play stood as the game-winning play. It helped the 2013 senior class finish with 38 wins, the most since the 1991 group won 39.
This one might mean the most after what happened two years ago when West Virginia routed the Tigers, 70-33, in their first trip to the Orange Bowl in three decades.
"All these seniors, they changed Clemson," Swinney said. "And how do they impact the people there? How they do they impact the place that they are at? They’ve changed this place. We didn’t quite get to the top of the mountain like we wanted, but we can see it."