CLEMSON -- As a youth, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and his father traveled to quarterback camps all over the country, and the message was the same -- get the ball out in three seconds or less.
To quicken his release, Boyd's father developed a drill where his son stood perpendicular to a wall in their Virginia Beach, Va., home and held a football above his right shoulder, placing the point of the ball against a wall. The awkward starting position was designed to shorten Boyd's throwing motion, cutting out any looping motion.
The sophomore practiced the motion over and over.
And with good reason.
College quarterbacks have just 2.9 seconds from the time the ball is snapped to throw a pass. That's the average amount of time it takes for a defense to record a sack on a standard pass attempt.
Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele knows the time well. It's so important that Steele uses a stopwatch each week when scouting video of opposing quarterbacks to determine whether they can get a pass off in 2.9 seconds or less on a standard five-step drop.
If the ball is gone in 2.9 seconds, Steele is less likely to blitz because his defenders won't be able to get to the quarterback. If they are slower, expect a more aggressive game plan.
Why is Clemson 7-0? How has the offense improved from 88th in total yards last season to 15th this fall? The improvement begins with how quickly Boyd releases the football. Boyd and Clemson are beating the 2.9-second clock.
Begin with the release.
Tenths of seconds are precious when playing quarterback. A quarterback's release is where valuable time can be saved.
To explain what a release means for a quarterback, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney stands before a reporter, separating his hands roughly a foot apart to indicate the throwing window he says Boyd can target.
"For Tajh, this is open," Swinney said.
Swinney then extends the space between his hands to a width of five feet.
"For some other guys, that (is the space) that has to be open," Swinney said. "For some guys, if they throw into that (smaller window), it's intercepted, but for Tajh, that's all the space he needs because of his trigger, and not only his quickness of release but the velocity. It's from point A to B in a heartbeat.
"He's blessed with a great right arm and mechanics. He has the whole package."
Elite NFL quarterbacks like Green Packers star Aaron Rodgers can unleash a standard throw -- from trigger to release of the ball -- in 0.3 seconds.
In 2010, NFL analysts were skeptical about Florida star Tim Tebow's ability to make the transition to the professional level because of his long, looping delivery. Scouts were concerned about the tenths of seconds Tebow's delivery added to snap-to-throw times.
Boyd has a lightning-quick release, averaging around 0.4 seconds
"I feel like I do have one of the quicker releases from the guys I've seen on TV," Boyd said. "My arm strength is there as well. I feel my arm is just as good as some of these other guys in the country they have been naming."
Steele noticed Boyd when the young quarterback was on the scout team at Clemson in 2009. Steele said the coaches were reviewing film of Boyd to see how quickly the ball was coming out of his hand.
"The guy is amazing."
Two years later, that quick release has helped Boyd become the ACC leader in passing yards per game (287.4). The release and velocity has given Boyd a greater margin for error. He has thrown for 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
The release is the physical, the mechanical, the God-given part of the clock-beating formula.
But processing information and having an accurate internal clock are also critical. Coaching Boyd to get rid of the ball quickly, to make the right decisions quickly, is perhaps where first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris has done his best coaching.
"We pretty much have a clock in our head that goes off," Morris said. "Usually when you are getting hit, I say you are holding the ball too long."
Beating the clock and handling pressure is a priority in practice at Clemson.
"One of the things we do every week is we have blitz answers and we practice it hard," Swinney said.
The drills are paying off. Clemson has allowed just 13 sacks in seven games.
Boyd, as an untested starting quarterback in early September, expected to see blitz after blitz. But it didn't happen.
In Boyd's first road start at Virginia Tech, the blitz-happy Hokies rarely went after Boyd.
Why the lack of pressure?
On five-step drops, Boyd was firing off passes in 1.9 to 2.8 seconds.
Boyd was beating the clock.
Quarterback release time on passes based on trigger to ball release (in seconds).
Elite - Aaron Rodgers: 0.31
Above average - Tajh Boyd: 0.37
Average - Sam Bradford: 0.46
Slow - Tim Tebow: 0.56
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