It’s difficult to replicate the speed and athleticism of Jalen Hurts, but Tajh Boyd gave it a try. The former Clemson quarterback practiced with the Tigers in their lead up to Monday’s national championship, giving the Tigers defense a taste of what defending Hurts is like.
“Man, I actually took a couple shots,” Boyd said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney, laughing. “I pulled my hamstring on Thursday. I’m getting up there, man. That’s what happens when you don’t do squats in a year.”
Boyd starred at Clemson from 2010-13 and holds program records for passing yards (11,904) and passing touchdowns (107). He was also a dynamic that with his legs.
“I’m just trying to give them an edge competitively,” the 26-year-old said. “I can still make all the throws, I can still run. So (I’m giving) them as close of a look as I can. Coach Venables is real stout about who he wants to run the scout team. He doesn’t let any of the backups do it because he said they all don’t move at a tempo fast enough. So he starts to take over and he just can’t throw the damn football the way I can, so I need to get out there.”
Clemson (13-1) is coming off a 31-0 shellacking of Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Tigers looked shaky for much of the season, winning six games by seven points or fewer, but they seem to have turned things around.
Why did this team struggle so much earlier in the year?
“I think it was expectations,” Boyd said. “I think coming into the year, coming off of the year they had last year and coming so close to beating Alabama, there was this sense in the air that they wanted to go out and score 80 points a game. Everybody was claiming they’re going to be the best offense in ACC history, that they’re going to be prolific, that there’s not going to be one close game this year. But the thing is, that target on the back gets a lot bigger the more you win, the more you’re successful. I really think they were just pressing a little bit too much – not going out there and doing the routine things, not doing the things that got them in a position where they were at last year. I think it was really just them trying to calm down and really get a sense of who they are.”
There’s also the camaraderie factor.
“There’s a lot of talent on that team,” Boyd said. “There’s a lot of ego on that team, but it’s not an individual team. There’s not one player on the team that’s greater than another. So to understand that and to understand the mission as a team, as a unit, that you need to go out there and do everything you can for that guy beside you, you get the best results. I think that’s something they had to figure out along the way. I think they picked it up. Obviously there is a thing as peaking too soon, and I think that they hit their stride at the right time. After (losing to Pitt), those guys picked it up, started to trust one another and really had to look each other in the eye and say, ‘I’m here for you.’ This is why they’re in the position they’re in right now.”
Clemson will have a clear advantage at quarterback Monday night. Deshaun Watson is a two-time Heisman finalist, while the aforementioned Hurts is a freshman making his first start under an offensive coordinator not named Lane Kiffin.
Steve Sarkisian will call plays against Clemson.
“You can’t change the whole dynamic of it (in a week),” Boyd said. “The one thing I’m interested to see, though, is how the players respond to Sark, how the players respect Sark in that huddle. What’s the message being relayed? What’s the tone of the team? The players believed in Lane Kiffin, they believed in the play calls that he put together, and they respected him as a leader. Sark in this new role, you’re going out there relatively new with this group of players. They haven’t been to the battlefield with him before. I don’t know if I would have made that move because if adversity does hit and he doesn’t know how to deal with it, then this team can crumble underneath him. And especially since you got Jalen Hurts out there, a freshman. Very composed, very great demeanor, unbelievable talent. But essentially as a quarterback, you’re an extension of the coach on the field, so if Sark isn’t on his game, if he’s not up to par mentally, then that reflects negatively on Jalen Hurts, too. So it’s a whirlwind. We’ll see how (he) handles (it).”
Boyd, a sixth-round pick in 2014, also weighed in on North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Boyd, however, isn’t sold on the Ohio native.
“There’s things I like about him, there’s things I don’t,” Boyd said. “Obviously this quarterback class is kind of weak, so it’s a good year for him to come out, but I don’t think he has enough starts under his belt to go out there and be a complete NFL quarterback. Yeah, he has the upside, he has the physical (attributes), but he doesn’t have the experience, and I think that’s (more important) than people give it credit for. He’s a smart kid. Don’t think he had the best outing in his last game. He had some good throws, made some bad decisions. But again, I think you’re taking a risk. He’s 6-3, 6-4, 200-something (pounds), can run. But again, I just don’t see the franchise right now.”