Football

Welcome to the jungle: Syracuse tries to slow down Boyd, Clemson’s potent passing attack

Andrew Renneisen | Staff Photographer

The Syracuse defense faces an uphill battle in stopping Tajh Boyd and the No. 3 Clemson offense on Saturday.

Tajh Boyd is as smooth as they come. As polished a superstar as there is in college football.

But for 49 seconds on Tuesday he was rendered nearly speechless. He stumbled through his answer on the question that has dumbfounded coaches across the country for the last four years.

If you were a defensive coordinator, going up against your offense, what would you do to try to stop such an explosive unit?

Boyd’s response was a laundry list of stalling tactics. Four “you know’s.” Three “um’s.” Three “I mean’s.” Two “kind of’s.” He even threw in an “at the end of the day.”

“Umm…that’s a good question, man,” Boyd said. “Uh, um, I’m not sure, honestly.”

Frankly, Boyd had absolutely no idea how he would stop the Clemson offense.

But at the end of the day, that’s the task the SU defense is up against. The quarterback has thrown for 994 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions through four games. Teams devise elaborate schemes to stop him, but so far this season nothing has slowed the Heisman Trophy contender down. Syracuse (2-2, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) is next in line when it faces Clemson (4-0, 2-0) at the Carrier Dome at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Syracuse cornerback Julian Whigham called Saturday’s game — the Orange’s first-ever ACC tilt — the biggest game of the year “by far.”

But if SU is to slay a goliath for the third year in a row, it will need to stop Boyd and his arsenal of wide receivers, including Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant.

“He’s nice,” Whigham said about Boyd.

Whigham and the rest of the Syracuse defense have a plan, though. All they need to do, Whigham said, is play their game and execute on every single play.

Instead of zeroing in solely on Boyd and letting the rest of the Clemson offense run wild, SU’s approaching this game like any other and focusing on the Tigers as a whole.

But when Whigham was asked if Boyd has any noticeable weaknesses, he couldn’t think of any.

“He’s a good quarterback,” Whigham said, “because he doesn’t have many.”

So the game plan, Whigham said, is to apply as much pressure as possible and force the quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes into enough mistakes for Syracuse to win the game. The Orange needs to “throw him off guard,” and Whigham believes that’s something SU’s personnel can do.

The goal is to make the quarterback who epitomizes calmness in the pocket flustered. To get inside his head with constant, relentless pressure.

Syracuse defensive backs coach Fred Reed said that the main thing the Orange has to focus on is controlling what it can control. It’s a motto that head coach Scott Shafer regularly preaches, and one that’s never been more pertinent.

Reed pinpointed a 100-percent tackling success rate as a goal. He knows how explosive the Tigers’ offense is, so his team needs to slow it down as much as possible.

“They’re going to get some plays down the field,” Reed said. “That’s just going to happen. We’ve just got to make sure we do a good job at minimizing those plays.”

The Clemson offense has averaged 43 points per game and even dropped 38 in a win over Southeastern Conference powerhouse Georgia. In that game, Boyd and Watkins connected on a 77-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The duo teamed up again for a 64-yard touchdown strike last week in Clemson’s 56-7 bloodbath win against Wake Forest.

But Watkins isn’t impressed just yet.

“I can’t wait ‘til we actually get on a roll as an offense,” Watkins said.

Boyd added that Clemson is “trying to leave a legacy” this season. If it’s able to do so, it will be a culmination of continued immaculate play from Boyd.

He’s the crux of Clemson’s dynamic offense. From all the film Reed has watched of Boyd, one nuance of his game stands out as particularly impressive.

Reed recalls Boyd throwing the ball from one hash all the way outside the numbers and “putting it on a dime.”

Despite Boyd’s precision and composure, Whigham said Syracuse’s goal is to hold Clemson scoreless. That’s the goal every week, so this game is no different.

Whigham looked up, grinned and chuckled.

“We want to beat these fools.”

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