CLEMSON — Wake Forest’s defenders had to know what was coming. And yet it didn’t matter.
Their heels were backed up with the ball on its own 10-yard-line, and Clemson decided to go for it on 4th-and-2. The Tigers brought in two tight ends and two H-backs, with only Sammy Watkins split out on the short side of the field.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd took the snap in shotgun formation. Everyone in Memorial Stadium figured he’d patiently wait for a hole to clear, tuck his 6-foot-2, 225-pound husk and pound forward for the first down.
It’s exactly what happened. Boyd followed fullback Darrell Smith around the left edge, and easily picked up six yards on the draw to set up 1st-and-goal.
“Whether it’s going 3rd-and-1, or 3rd-and-5 or 6, I feel like I’m going to get it every time,” Boyd said. “That’s just naturally how it is. There’s not a time when I step out on that field and I don’t think we’re going to convert.”
Boyd’s been as automatic as it comes in short yardage. Syracuse actually cracked the code by stopping him three times Saturday, but following Clemson’s 56-7 win over Wake Forest, Boyd had converted 28 of 33 rushing attempts from 3 yards or less on third or fourth downs.
“We’ve got some young guys up front that are mixing in this year,” Boyd said, crediting the offensive line, “and the amount of confidence you have in those guys makes you that much more confident when you do run the ball.”
Go back to the Wake Forest situation, and it was the next play that continues to puzzle Clemson fans.
The Tigers led 35-7 at the time, on the opening drive of the third quarter. A fade pass would have made sense; so would handing off to any of Clemson’s four capable running backs.
Instead, Boyd kept the ball, raced to the left sideline, and stretched out trying to cross the pylon. Initially, it was ruled a touchdown, though instant video review ruled him down at the 1-yard-line, and C.J. Davidson punched it in one play later.
Boyd was bent awkwardly on the play, his legs grabbed by Demon Deacons linebacker Marquel Lee and hit in his torso by linebacker Hunter Williams.
Boyd was fine. But there have been more than a few plays the past couple of years his body’s been exposed to bigger, aggressive defenders on the goal line — and the four-touchdown lead in that particular moment would indicate it’s unnecessary for anything beyond padding his touchdown total.
In his Tuesday press conference — Boyd’s the first Clemson player in recent memory to have his own weekly session in the team meeting room, following head coach Dabo Swinney — Boyd was asked if he ever considers his health and long-term NFL draft stock when he puts himself in harm’s way.
“I mean, to an extent,” Boyd said. “But not to the point where it’s more important than this program.
“I mean, if I wasn’t going to give everything I have when I step on that field, there’s no use for me to be out on that field.”
After his press conference, Boyd added he took out an insurance policy in the first two weeks of this season.
The way the 23-year-old understands it, he wouldn’t get anything if a reasonably minor injury happened that merely affected his draft stock. But if he were to suffer a career-ending injury, the policy would kick in.
“If something that significant happens,” Boyd said, “my family would be covered.”
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and USC wide receiver Marquis Lee are other active college football players who have reportedly secured disability insurance policies.
The Tigers have run the ball 27 times on third or fourth down and less than four yards to go in 2013, and they’ve converted 21 times. Boyd personally is 10-for-14, including a couple of 3-for-3 efforts against Georgia and North Carolina State.
“For me, my main goal is to lead this team and do everything I possibly can for us to win the game,” Boyd said. “If it’s to throw the ball 40 times or run the ball 40 times, whatever it takes, no questions asked.”
Boyd doesn’t play scared. While he ran the football 17 times in the Wake Forest game, offensive coordinator Chad Morris said only “four or five” of those were designed calls, and the rest were Boyd’s decision to tuck and run.
“I think it depends on the player,” Boyd said, “but my mentality, and the way I was shaped and molded, was that every time you step on that field, is to give everything you got.”