CLEMSON — Tajh Boyd so desperately wants everybody to leave the 2012 Orange Bowl in the past.
But even Clemson’s well-stated senior quarterback couldn’t help himself, slightly alluding to the bowl game debacle in terms of how poorly the Tigers — then ranked No. 3 — opened Saturday night’s showdown with Florida State.
When West Virginia thumped Clemson, 70-33, two Januarys ago in South Florida, Andre Ellington’s fumble on the goal line (which the Mountaineers returned 99 yards for a touchdown) was followed by Boyd throwing an interception and losing a fumble, all contributing to 35 WVU second-quarter points.
On Saturday, the Seminoles — who moved up from No. 5 to No. 3 in the AP poll — won easily, 51-14, thanks to two early Tigers turnovers, resulting in 14 FSU points.
“It was almost West Virginia-esque,” Boyd said. “Ellington trying to get in there, they scored, the momentum shifts heavily. But we have an old enough team to understand that we can respond from that. We didn’t do what we needed to as the older leadership part of this group, and (FSU) capitalized on that.”
Boyd was the epicenter of Clemson’s demise, tallying three turnovers and throwing 20 incomplete passes, misfiring on more than half his throws for just the fourth time in 34 career starts.
His teammates have his back.
“Tajh is Tajh. Every quarterback is not going to be perfect,” senior tailback Roderick McDowell said. “Like I tell Tajh every play, you’re Superman to me. Superman don’t win everything. We can’t win them all, even though you want to.
“The road to Pasadena — or any championship — is not going to be easy. We took a bump in the road; we’ve got to come back next week and be ready for Maryland … we need Tajh and Tajh needs us. We’ve got to pick each other up.”
Boyd was at a loss for words to explain his performance, the lowest QB rating he’s produced (79.5) since his sophomore year.
“It was just some miscommunications,” said Boyd, who was wearing a walking boot to support a sprained right ankle. “I’ve just got to continue to get settled in. That’s something I continue to strive for. I work on that so much in practice, and you’ve got to take that to the game.”
Boyd didn’t believe he psyched himself out by overthinking the matchup or paying attention to his publicized individual duel with FSU freshman Jameis Winston.
“I don’t think so. The margin of error is just really small in a game like this,” Boyd said. “We made some uncharacteristic mistakes on offense. You can’t afford to do it in a game like this. You don’t have to be perfect, but you can’t shoot yourselves in the foot, and we did that a lot tonight.”
“He never looked comfortable, never looked like he was in rhythm,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “Thought he ran the ball well at times, but essentially you blink and you’re down 17-0.
“We all know what Tajh is capable of doing. We’ve seen him play here at a very high level. It was one of those nights.”
Morris also defended Boyd’s reputation in the spotlight; he fell to 7-5 against ranked opponents.
“You try not to think that, not with a veteran guy that he is,” Morris said. “He’s been in big ballgames and he’s performed extremely well at a high level in big ball games. So no, I don’t think that. I don’t.”
A couple of Clemson players begrudgingly admitted FSU was, and likely is, the better squad in 2013 based on Saturday’s one-game result. Not McDowell, who was asked if FSU could seriously contend for a BCS title.
“I’m not going to say that because I feel that we’re a national championship team, too,” McDowell said. “My hat goes off to Florida State. Those boys came in our house and took something that we wanted, a W. But it’s not over for us.”
That road to Pasadena is likely now a roadblock for Clemson, which even at 11-1 would be in the mix but holds no guarantees for a Fiesta or Sugar Bowl berth.
“Six of the top 10 teams got beat, so we’re not the only team out there in America who’s hurting,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Nobody wants to lose. We’re not used to losing. We don’t lose a whole lot. When you do, you take ownership, all of us. You stay together, be honest, evaluate what you’re doing, communicate well and go back to work.”
The Tigers (6-1, 4-1) can right themselves on the road the next two weeks, kicking off Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Maryland (5-2, 1-2), which has lost two straight, before a Nov. 2 trip to Virginia (2-5, 0-3.)
“I’m not going to throw our team or our staff under the bus because we had a really bad night at the office,” Swinney said. “We’re going to respond, and we’re going to finish this thing strong.”