Tajh Boyd didn't have much room for error.
Clemson and Georgia traded punches for most of Saturday night's game, neither team leading by more than seven points until the Tigers started to pull away late in the fourth quarter.
Every throw could have changed momentum. Every hit he took could have made him shy away from the next one. But he kept coming right at Georgia's defense and didn't falter throughout the game. Except for a few minor missteps, Boyd was as efficient as Clemson could have hoped for in the biggest game of its season.
What went right for Boyd, and where can he improve going forward? Let's take a look.
Boyd's stats: 3-7, 1 sack, 1 touchdown, 1 dropped interception, three scrambles
In Saturday's game, Boyd was under pressure 11 times by my count. His numbers in that situation are above. A few traits Boyd displayed consistently were strength, proper eye level and the ability to change his arm slot under duress. Notice how often Boyd was under pressure and yet he was sacked just once. He proved tough to bring down and managed to get himself back to the line of scrimmage or farther in a few instances. Helping the offense not go backwards is a valuable skill to have.
Boyd is an interesting player to watch because of how often he is asked to run by design. That does some crazy things to his eye level (that is how often he keeps his eyes downfield before dropping them looking for a place to run). Considering how often he's asked to run, Boyd showed an impressive ability to go through reads before taking off with the ball.
Height is an issue people often bring up as a negative in Boyd's game, but he can change his arm slot under pressure to make a variety of throws. Take his touchdown throw in the first quarter to Sammy Watkins as an example.
Notice the messy pocket and how Boyd still steps into his throw. He shortens his motion and adjust his arm slot to fit the ball into a window. Watkins is coming open at the bottom right of the screen. Boyd throws the ball behind him to help him hit the open field. Watkins did the rest.
On another play where Boyd was pressured, the result wasn't quite as lucrative. This time pressure comes from the interior. Instead of recognizing the blitz before the snap, Boyd is thrown off by it and fails to elude it. His eyes immediately drop and he checks the ball down. Meanwhile, a receiver was coming free on a corner route. Let's have a look.
Here comes the pressure up the middle. Not an ideal situation for Boyd, but he does have some room to move around if he feels the pressure early enough.
As soon as Boyd drops his eyes, the pass rusher has won. Boyd has a receiver breaking free on a corner route, but he doesn't have a chance to see him because he's tipped the pass rusher off as to which direction he is going. The result is a pass that sails high and out of bounds.
Overall, Boyd handled pocket pressure well in this game. A few other things I picked up on; he does a nice job of rolling to the left and making accurate throws on the move, almost better than he does when rolling right. He also is truly at his best when standing in the pocket going through his reads.
Screen passes: 11
Boyd will end up running a much different offense once he's in the NFL. In Saturday night's game, Boyd was often asked to run by design and he threw a high number of screen passes (11 by my count). Add in throws made within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and that number goes up.
But Boyd shouldn't have any trouble transitioning to the NFL in terms of pushing the ball down field. He has the arm strength and anticipation to deliver the ball to all areas of the field with appropriate timing. This touchdown throw is a prime example.
Boyd has his inside receiver running a post pattern, with a wheel route coming out the backfield. He hits the wheel route down the right sideline.
His receiver is covered, but he throws the ball to an area with some anticipation. The result is a touchdown.
That being said, Boyd still has to show some improvement in his deep passing game. A lot of his throws are made to standing targets without a lot of anticipation required. He also relies on Watkins' ability to make plays on 50-50 balls a bit too often. It works in college but won't in the NFL. Part of this is Clemson's play calling, and part is Boyd's comfort level in delivering the ball to all areas of the field.
It's also worth noting that Boyd had at least five catchable passes hit the turf on Saturday night. That number should improve.
Boyd was impressive enough on Saturday to warrant the No. 1 senior quarterback rating we gave him in the preseason. He's not quite on Teddy Bridgewater's level (more on him later), but he has enough traits that fit NFL offenses to be a highly regarded prospect.
He needs to continue to get better at throwing the deep ball, sensing pressure pre-snap and making throws with anticipation. That being said, playing the way he did in a win over Georgia was not a bad start to Boyd's senior season.
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