CLEMSON — There is a risk-reward quarterback dilemma in today’s brand of college football.
Deploy a quarterback as a running threat and offenses essentially have a 12th player on the field — the quarterback is both a passer and a runner.
But a running quarterback will also absorb more hits, increasing his chances of injury.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris insists the rewards of a dual-threat quarterback are worth the risk.
In the Tigers’ season-opening 26-19 victory against Auburn, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd had career bests in rush attempts (19) and rushing yards (58). Take away the lost yardage from sacks, he rushed 15 times for 88 yards.
“Over the course of a season, your body can only take so many hits,” Morris said. “I think you have to pick and choose when you want to run him.”
Translation: Boyd is going to be more involved as a runner this season, but he does not figure to rush 19 times per game.
And when he does run, his coaches expect him to be smart about avoiding contact when possible. After absorbing major hits earlier in his career, Boyd appeared better able to avoid taking direct blows against Auburn by sliding before taking a direct hit.
“Sliding is big,” Boyd said. “I might have to go work with the baseball team. I woke up (Sunday) a little banged up, but at the same time, I feel like it is something we need in this offense.”
Having lost 20 pounds since the end of last season, Boyd is also more agile and better able to avoid taking the full brunt of contact.
“A couple of times he scrambled to get out of bounds (against Auburn),” Morris said. “We talk about getting down and picking your times to get down. It’s just being a veteran guy. You expect veteran guys to make (good decisions).”
Still risk cannot be completely eliminated. Maryland lost dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown for the season when he injured his knee in practice last month. Missouri’s James Franklin injured his shoulder last season and reinjured it this spring, requiring surgery to repair a torn labrum.
But Boyd is in the best shape of his career. And while he’s not a physical presence like former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who ran the ball 250 times in 2010, he’s leaner and stronger than a year ago
“I think when Tajh saw himself early last year opposed to later in the year, you sensed his frustration level that he wasn’t able to make the plays he was able to make earlier in the year,” Morris said. “He started putting two and two together that he wasn’t moving as fluently.
“He’s determined and we’re determined it will not get to that point. He’s at his best when he’s able to make plays with his feet.”
And Clemson is at its best when Boyd is mobile, a reward that the staff feels is worth the risk.