SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Quarterback Tajh Boyd played a big role when Clemson beat Ohio State 40-35 in the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2013 season.
Three years later, he’s still playing a role for the Tigers against Ohio State, though a much smaller one.
Boyd has spent some time imitating OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett on Clemson’s scout team in a few practices in the build-up to Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl match-up between No. 3 Ohio State and No. 2 Clemson.
NCAA rules allow teams to use former players in practice as long as they do it only occasionally and do not publicize their participation in practice in advance. Former Buckeyes like Bobby Carpenter, Zach Boren and Brian Hartline have participated in some OSU bowl practices.
Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins were two of the big reasons OSU ended its 2013 season with a loss to Clemson after seeing its national championship hopes shattered by a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game.
Boyd completed 31 of 40 passes for 378 yard and five touchdowns against an Ohio State defense that struggled in pass defense all season long. Watkins might have made himself some extra money in the NFL draft with 16 catches for 227 yards and a pair of TDs.
Clemson jumped out to a 20-9 lead just past the midway point of the second quarter before Ohio State ran off 20 unanswered points to go up 29-20 with 5:50 left in the third quarter.
But Clemson turned two Ohio State mistakes into touchdowns on back-to-back possessions to erase that lead by the end of the third quarter.
First, Corey Brown fumbled a punt at the Buckeyes’ 33-yard line and Clemson needed only three plays to score. Then Braxton Miller threw an interception and Clemson used only four plays to get a touchdown that regained the lead for the Tigers at 34-29.
OSU went back ahead, 35-34, on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Carlos Hyde with 11:35 left in the game.
Clemson took the lead back with six minutes to play at 40-35 with a 75-yard scoring drive. Despite giving up 576 yards of offense, Ohio State still had a chance to win when C.J. Barnett intercepted Boyd and returned it to Clemson’s 48-yard line with a minute and a half to play.
But after throwing an incompletion on OSU’s first play, Miller threw an interception on the next play and the threat ended.
Miller suffered a shoulder injury during the game but continued to play. After the game he said the pain he felt was a 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10.
At the time, no one knew he would never throw a pass in a game again for Ohio State. The late interception was the final pass he threw at Ohio State and his final completion was to Devin Smith for a two-yard loss.
When Miller reinjured the shoulder on a short pass in preseason practice for the 2014 season, Barrett became Ohio State’s starting quarterback.
Maybe the other big change that came out of that game was that Ohio State made drastic changes in its pass defense. Going into Saturday’s game, the Buckeyes rank first nationally in pass defense efficiency, sixth in interceptions (19) and first in interceptions for touchdowns (7). It has allowed only 10 touchdown passes this season.