CLEMSON, S.C. — As huge a game as Saturdays home matchup with No. 5 Florida State might be, its still a been there, done that experience for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Boyd, a fifth-year senior, beat a top-five team when the Tigers bested Georgia 38-35 in the season opener. He won an ACC championship in 2011, beating Virginia Tech at Charlottes Bank of America Stadium. He won a huge road game that same season, beating the Hokies 23-3 in Blacksburg, Va.
For all his talent and potential, Boyds Florida State counterpart, redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, has yet to do any of that. The third-ranked Tigers hope that gives them a bit of an edge in a toss-up game at Death Valley.
(Winston) is a special player. We need our crowd (noise) at an all-time high, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. It is different when you have all that (noise and distraction) against you. In Tallahassee last year it affected us.
Florida State thumped Clemson last season 49-37, gaining 667 yards offensively. The winner of Saturdays game stays undefeated (Clemson is 6-0, Florida State 5-0) and gains a huge advantage in the race for the ACCs Atlantic Division title and a spot in the championship game in Charlotte.
Winston has been exceptional in his first five starts: second nationally in passing efficiency, completion percentage (73.2 percent) and yards per attempt (11.7). He and Boyd are quite similar in that both are particularly accurate passers Boyd completes 66.5 percent of his throws who are also accomplished runners.
So if theres any edge for the Tigers, its probably Boyds three seasons as a starter and the din of 85,000-plus screaming for Clemson.
We definitely have the opportunity to rattle him, said Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey, a former star at South Mecklenburg. But he plays like an upperclassman or a senior.
Particularly so on first down, where Winston has completed 51-of-67 passes (76 percent) for 830 yards and 10 touchdowns. But in building their 5-0 record, the Seminoles havent played anyone close to Clemsons talent and experience. The Tigers defense is much improved from last season: nationally first in sacks per game (4.0), first in average tackles for loss (10.2) and 10th in points allowed (16.2).
Plus they have Boyd arguably as experienced as any quarterback in college football. Boyd revels in games like this.
I love being in this situation the ball in my hands, the game on the line. Thats always been my thing, said Boyd, the prize of Swinneys first Clemson recruiting class five years ago.
It all comes down to the quarterback: If they see you composed, you weathering it, they will, too.
Florida States defense is very good, as last weeks 63-0 blowout of then-No. 25 Maryland illustrated. The Seminoles dont do a lot of trickery; they have exceptional athletes in the secondary who play old-school NFL press coverage. They generally rush four and dare the quarterback to find an uncovered receiver.
The Tigers didnt handle that well last season. Star wide receiver Sammy Watkins, a Florida native, was coming off a suspension and then an illness and was a non-factor. Hes confident that wont happen again.
Tajh can throw any ball. Its really up to the wide receivers to make plays against press coverage, Watkins said. He will have enough time in the pocket to throw the ball. Weve just got to make the plays at wide receiver.
A projected high draft pick, this is probably Watkins last season at Clemson. He knows most of the Florida kids who play for the Seminoles, and gets extra hyped for this one. So expect Saturday night to be a happening.
Its going to be crazy, Watkins said. A lot of fighting, a lot of pushing, a lot of talking trash.
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129 Twitter: @rick_bonnell