Courtesy of the Clemson University sports information office, the following is an interview with senior quarterback (and Heisman Trophy frontrunner) Tajh Boyd.
Boyd and the No. 3 Clemson Tigers (6-0, 4-0 ACC) will host No. 5 Florida State (5-0, 3-0 ACC) in Death Valley on Saturday night in what is shaping up as the biggest football game in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
In a game like this how do you manage the difference between being as good as you need to be to win it versus pressing?
TAJH BOYD: You know, this game is performance-based. Obviously for us it’s all about going out there and just playing to our capabilities. Honestly, the stakes are high, the pressure is here, but at the same time that’s when you step up and you perform to your best abilities. I think we’ve been in every position you could possibly imagine playing this university in the past three years, and that means you’ve got to love playing in games like this.
What does the fan support, especially in a match?up like this, what does it mean to you as players?
BOYD: It means everything, just to see as much as we’ve grown as a team and as a program, we’ve grown that much as a fan base, as well. I mean, it’s a big deal. You see the tents out there. You see everybody getting ready for the game and getting geared up for it. As much as we’re ready to go out there and show, the fans are the same way. You just love the whole group of things that comes together when a game like this comes around.
The fact that it’s a nighttime game, does that contribute to the atmosphere you’re talking about?
BOYD: Yeah, the only thing that’s kind of bad about a night game is you have to wait around all day to play. You love just to wake up and go and put your gear on and get ready to play. You know, you just have to sit around and just keep on thinking about the game. You kind of overplay things in your head sometimes because instead of just going out there and just reacting, you have to wait the whole day to get ready for it.
In the time of the game when you’re not on the field, how conscious are you of what’s happening with the other offense?
BOYD: I’m pretty involved in the game. But at the same time I’m more worried about what we’re doing as an offensive unit. Same thing about the defense; I’m there supporting, I’m there paying attention to the circumstances, because in the game anything can happen on any play so you have to be alert and be ready, but at the same time it’s about making those adjustments, making those corrections. If it calls for me to go out there and keep uplifting my teammates on the offensive side of the ball, that’s what it takes.
Other than that, I’m pretty involved in just paying attention and being a fan of the game sometimes.
Coach talked about how every week is the biggest game for you, and I’m sure from a coaching standpoint they prepare and try to get you guys ready the same way. As a player in the locker room I’m curious what this game means, the significance, the winner of it, as well. Is there a difference when you guys are talking, a sense of urgency this week? Do you feel a difference?
BOYD: Not necessarily. I can honestly say that the mindset doesn’t really change, and again, I think that shows that the team has grown up because when you make one game more significant than the other, I think that’s when you can have a lack of focus. This game does mean more in a sense because it puts you in the driver’s seat. It actually puts you in a sense where you can do the things that you want to do.
You know, it’s a top five match up, and you know, when you lose it’s not as big as far as you dropping so much, if you lose a game like this or you win a game like this because you’re going to be in the same area regardless, but at the same time we’re all about our goals. The next goal for us is to win the division. This sets the line for us to do that. The goal after that is to win the conference. That sets the line to do that.
I mean, it kind of puts things in perspective in the front of you when you have a game like this.
Are you surprised that Clemson is an underdog?
BOYD: Am I surprised? Not necessarily. It just comes with it, man, sometimes. It seems like every time we play one of those major top 10 opponents, you’re an underdog. You have some people that have us as favorites, and I guess the line is, what, three points at home or something like that? It’s give or take. But again, you have to go out there and play the game at the end of the day.
I know you’re a fan of great quarterback play. What have you seen of Jameis Winston and who does he remind you of?
BOYD: You know, he’s like a – he’s just like a player that’s older than – he plays older than he is. He’s a red-shirt freshman. His teammates back him. They support him. He handles himself in a more mature way when he steps out on the field.
And you know, the thing is it will be different for him here, but we’ll see how he handles it. I was in a similar situation and I was a year older as a red shirt sophomore, but going to play in different venues is always fun and always exciting. You never really know how it is until you actually step in that arena. I’m anxious to see how he handles it, but the coaches are going to prepare him as best as possible. But at the end of the day, you really just have to go out there and make plays because regardless of what you did before, in a game like this you have to go out there and just be prepared for this game.
Is there a sense that you’re battle tested, the fact that you played Georgia and were in the fourth quarter and had to make a play; last week you were in the fourth quarter trailing and had to make a play? Maybe they haven’t been battling tested the way you are. Is there an advantage to that?
BOYD: We’ll have to see. Personally I love being in those situations where the ball is in your court, it’s in your hand. You have to go out there and make a play when the game is on the line. It’s kind of always been me. That’s kind of why I love to play the position.
Growing up I wanted to be a quarterback because I wanted the ball in my hands. When it comes down to making a play late in the game when you need it, when you have to have it, that’s always been my thing, regardless of the outcome. You’ve got to love being in that position. As a program we’ve been in that situation a few times this year. We’ve been in that situation numerous times throughout my career here. You know, it’s something that they haven’t really had to deal with so far this season, but again, they have guys who have played there for a while now and they understand the circumstances and situations and how big this game is for them, as well.
We’ll just have to go out there and wait and see.
Your receivers have had a lot of open room to run over the last few weeks against the zone. Florida State, they like that man defense, so they’re going to challenge your receivers at the line of scrimmage. How do they have to deal with that physically and mentally?
BOYD: You just have to go out there and beat your guy. At the end of the day, this game comes down to really who wants it more and can you beat that guy in front of you. Comes down to that for our O line, comes down to that for our D line, for our receivers, our DBs, et cetera, et cetera. You know, again, this has always been a physical game. It’s always been the match up.
They’re not going to do a lot of complicated things. They feel like they can come, bring pressure with what they’ve got and cover you on the back end. It’s a challenge for us as an offensive unit. It’s a challenge for us out there on the perimeter at receiver. I feel like my guys are confident. I know they’re ready for it.
Last year in some situations they got the better of us. It’s all about going out there and responding and beating the guy in front of you.
Sammy Watkins, does it still stick with him?
BOYD: I haven’t really talked to him about that particular thing. I know it still resonates with him. At the end of the day you want to go out there and perform and prove that you’re that type of player, you’re that caliber player. Sammy feels like he’s the best receiver in the country, and I feel like that, as well. You know, at the end of the day you’ve just got to go out there and perform and prove it.
Winston has played on the road before but hasn’t experienced anything like what he’ll experience Saturday in the Valley. Do you remember your first experience like that in a hostile environment, maybe at Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech, your first year as a starter? What do you remember about it?
BOYD: Yeah, I guess it was my first big game on the road. It was a little different for me. It was a homecoming for me. So walking out there and being a captain for that game and getting booed when they called your name, I just loved it. I thrived in it. I felt like I was right at home.
Again, it’s different for everybody. Everybody has different ways that they deal with it. But again, for me and how I deal with it, I’ve usual got to love it and embrace it. It’ll be something we’ll see how it goes, we’ll see how he adjusts. I think in a way, for me, after a while it all gets blocked out because all it comes down to is you performing that particular play every time you step on that field.
But again, it’s different here. I’ve seen situations where I feel like the crowd has actually won it for us. Florida State game a couple years ago, Auburn game when the guy threw the pick, it was just that loud in here. But again, it’s different for every quarterback in every situation.
Can a crowd like that weigh on you if it just continues to keep getting to you?
BOYD: Oh, for sure, most definitely. Again, I think that the more you’re in those situations, the better you become at it. You know, some of it last year when we went down to Florida State. We did some really good things. They got a kickoff, returned it to about the 2 yard line or something like that, and the crowd just erupted. Again, being in that situation you have to kind of weather it. You have to make sure your teammates understand it. But it all comes down to you, it all comes down to the quarterback because if they see you’re composed and you weather it the right way, they will, too.
Jameis hasn’t seen this situation yet. You’ve seen this exact situation game one, Saturday night, top five team, everybody is watching this game. Sounds just like a game you played to open the season. How do you maybe lean on that a little bit and say, this is something we’ve already been through and we came through it? Is there an advantage that you’ve already played Georgia in almost an identical setting?
BOYD: Very similar setting. Again, the stakes are a little bit different, but I mean, really, it’s really just performance based. The crowd is a factor. The atmosphere, the intensity of it. But essentially it just comes down to who really makes that many more plays. Again, against a team like Florida State there’s really not a lot of room for error. You don’t have to be perfect, don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day you have to go out there and have those details of the game that you’re focused on and not put yourself in situations where it can come back to haunt you.
You said it seems like in every one of these top tier games you guys are the underdog. Why do you think that is, and did you guys maybe not change perceptions as much as was thought at the time?
BOYD: That’s not really for me to say. I mean, again, our expectations have grown and I’m not sure why in particular we’re the underdog, but we don’t really think anything of it. It’s not really disrespect or anything like that. It’s just people’s perception, what they think. Again, it’s up to us to go out there and change what they think, but at the end of the day you just have to go out there and play.
Going back to the summer when Clemson was picked to win the ACC by a very big margin, the Florida State guys were like, that’s cool; we’re the defending champs, let them have all the pressure. Can it swing back the other way, where things are now?
BOYD: Maybe so. Again, I think that comes to the leadership of both teams, how they handle it, how they talk to their teammates. I’ve heard some of the stuff that they’ve said, they treat it like a regular game, and at the end of the day you have to. You can’t let the game get bigger than what it really is because it’s all about going out there and just making plays, playing football and doing things that you’ve been doing for a long time as a kid.
They’ve got some great leaders over there. Joiner is a guy who I’ve had a chance to have a conversation with, and just kind of the way he views football is very similar.
From a standpoint of over there, they’ve got guys who have been in these situations, played in that arena. For me I’ve had an opportunity to do it. It’s really for the leadership of the team, of both teams, to kind of make sure that the game isn’t getting too big. I’m sure they’re over there talking to Jameis trying to make sure he’s calm, relaxed, poised. Same with some of the young guys here, I have to kind of make sure they understand the situation.
You were first recruited five years ago. Can you reflect on how far this program has come in your time here?
BOYD: Yeah, this is kind of what we wanted. That’s what was intended when Coach Swinney got the job. I think it all shows back to his workmanship, his attitude, just the way he carries himself, and just his vision. One of the things that he envisioned for this program was for us to be a consistent winner. I think we’ve done that, and we’ve been in situations where we’ve put together games we weren’t technically supposed to win, won those games, and now we’re in a situation where we’re considered a top team and a contender every year. That’s what we wanted to do.
Games like this, we relish it. We love it. We live in these moments, because that’s what we wanted.
Can you talk about Sammy’s play this year and how does having him on the field give you a comfort level in terms of experience?
BOYD: Sammy is a mature guy. He was mature the day he stepped on this campus. He was an older guy even though he was a younger guy at the time, if you kind of catch what I’m saying. His production has been really good. He does a lot of things outside of just playing that makes him great, you know, the way he blocks, the way he leads, the way he talks to his guys. He comes back to me sometimes, we’ll talk about things on the field, and just our relationship has grown, as well.
Again, leadership is big in this game. Leaning on those older guys are big in this game. We’ve got some younger guys at receiver who haven’t been in these situations, guys who haven’t exactly been in these premier situations, but we’ve got guys who have done it, we’ve got guys who have been here, and I feel like our guys are ready.
Speaking of Sammy, he shared with us recently that there’s more trash talk in this game than any other game of the season. Have you experienced that in this series?
BOYD: Talking on the field?
BOYD: Oh, always. You love it. I love it. That’s always the competitive nature comes out of you. I think it makes the game that much more fun. When we step on that field, you want to compete, you want to be the best player on that field. So however you’re going to get it done, performing, talking, by any means necessary, you’ve got to go out there and get it done so you’ll catch it in all phases of this game.
Who chatters the most out there?
BOYD: For our offense?
BOYD: You know, I talk a little bit, but I have heard that Sammy talks a good bit out there. I’m not really on the edge out there too much. I’m not fast enough to get out there and listen to what he has to say, but he does a great job, and guys always come back to me from opposing defenses and talk about how much he talks. He’s been backing it up. He’s been proving his worth, and you’ve just got to love a guy like that.
Anybody else stand out as being a talker?
BOYD: Yeah, they all talk, honestly, man. When you’re underneath that pile you can’t particularly catch a number, but they’re all talking and saying stuff. You just get up and clap your hands and it’s like, let’s go.
Dabo said he had to turn off the film last year because the defense didn’t do so well. How differently do you feel about the defense this year?
BOYD: Very excited for them. They’ve been doing a great job this season. They’ve been performing outstandingly, and you can just see the growth of this team, the growth of this defense. It gives them another opportunity, another platform to prove how special of a unit they are in a game like this. I think they’re ready to go out there and just show what type of unit they are, what type of team we are, and I’m just excited to get a chance to watch them play this weekend.
You’ve been here on campus a long time. You’ve obviously heard the shots that the ACC football has taken over the years. How good does it feel to have this kind of a spotlight game reflecting on the league, and do you take some pride in being able to kind of get the league back into a national picture like this?
BOYD: Oh, for sure. You know, it’s good to be in a situation like this where the spotlight is on the ACC. You’ve got three teams in the top 10. The U is finally back. We’ve been waiting for this for five years, man. It’s good to have those guys in the top 10, have us and Florida State in that same situation. It’s been really good, so it’s really good for the conference. Virginia Tech jumped back up in the top 20. So it’s good for those guys, good for us as a conference, and you’ve just got to love it at the end of the day.
Does it feel even better that Clemson is being spotlighted nationally on “GameDay” twice in one year coming to Death Valley?
BOYD: It’s about time, man. It’s about time. Again, I think that Coach Swinney did a great job of recruiting and putting his stamp on this program, putting his mark on it. You know, again, it just all comes down to his vision, kind of what he expected for this program, to see it come to life has been really good.
Game one of the season until now, you mentioned the growth of this program. How have you guys grown this season offensively and defensively?
BOYD: I think it’s just a confidence level, a confidence factor, just the expectation that we know what the defense is going to do, that the defense knows what we’re going to do. And if one or the other is down for a little bit, you know it’s not going to be for long.
Just understanding that they have our back and vice versa has been really good. Again, I think that you’re seeing this team grow right before our eyes. As we lead the country in sacks, like No. 2 in tackles for loss, I mean, it’s been really good. It’s been a product of hard work. A lot of the guys didn’t necessarily get credited for the type of work that they put in in the off season, and to see just the transition from that going into the season has been awesome. It’s been a blessing to watch because I feel like it was much deserved.
You put the ball on the ground four times the first half last week. Any added sense of urgency to take care of the football? I know it’s always there, but was that maybe just a good reminder, guys, we may have been able to get away with it this week but we’re not going to be able to any added sense?
BOYD: Yeah, you know in situations, in games like this, the room for error is small. We know that we can’t have balls bouncing here and there because those can be critical in a game like this, can be critical in any game really, but especially in a game like this. Of course we focus on detail that much more. We have to spend a little bit more time on it. But it just comes with the game. Sometimes stuff like that happens, and you’ve just got to learn from it.
As the season has gone on, obviously the production has been there for the defense, but have you noticed an extra sense of swagger and confidence and edge about the defense even during practices?
BOYD: Oh, for sure, and that was the thing, just to see it come to life, because I know what type of unit that we have. I know what type of unit that we had, going from the spring, watching those guys in workouts all winter, all summer, and just understanding where they came from, the leadership that’s presented on that side of the ball, just to see it come full circle and see is translate to the game has been has been great to see.
It’s been a process, but people now see the work that was presented, the work that was put in over the course of a year, and it’s finally come to the scene.
Pics: Travis Bell Photography