2012 Clemson @ Boston College--Game Preview

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After a tough loss that included a good offensive performance and a poor defensive performance in Tallahassee, the Clemson Tigers head up North and visit the Boston College Eagles. Here we discuss what we believe we'll see out of both squads and what Clemson has to do to return home from New England with a victory.

As usual, general information courtesy of CUAD.

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The biggest objective for this Clemson football team this week is to not allow last week's loss to cost them this week as well. We've seen this phenomenon many times in years past. We want to see Clemson come out with fire and to avoid feeling sorry for themselves or throwing the whole season away because of one loss. As we discussed here earlier this week, our Tigers can still complete many goals and achieve some good things but they have to take care of business against underdogs for the balance of this ACC campaign.

The basic statistics (courtesy ESPN):

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Boston College is led by '68 Penn State graduate Frank Spaziani. He began a long coaching career from a GA role at Penn State to Navy to Virginia through the Canadian Football League and finally as an assistant at BC in 1997. He gained a lot of praise during his time at UVa under Welsh and has gained a load of respect everywhere he's been since--particularly for his defensive strategies. He served as Defensive Coordinator for the Eagles from 1998 until he was named head football coach in early-2009. Spaz is 21-12 overall as head man at BC and 12-13 in ACC play through 3+ seasons. The Eagles were able to eclipse the 0.500 mark in his first two seasons, both of which included bowl losses. Last season BC ended the year 4-8, 3-5 in conference play and off to a 1-2, 0-1 record to this point in the '12 campaign.

Bill McGovern is a longtime associate of Spaz and Boston College's defensive coordinator. When Spaziani was promoted to head man, he quickly named McGovern (linebackers coach) as his replacement to run the defense. McGovern extended Spaz's defensive objectives that include simple, effective defensive strategies. Because of these common viewpoints, it is no surprise that Spaz has been solidly behind McGovern and, to his credit, McGovern has a great track record of developing linebackers and assuring they are in the correct locations on all plays.

Boston College will show you pretty basic looks. They like to line up and play 4-3 with C3/C4 in the defensive backfield. Traditionally, Spaz's teams like to try to make the opposition methodically drive without giving up the big plays and this strategy is shown with less aggressive blitzing schemes. Look to see mostly two-high safety looks, likely as shown below:

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They will not risk bringing a safety up because of the tremendous advantage our receivers have in this matchup, because they will want to try and make us run the football, and because this look is one that McGovern/Spaz are plenty comfortable playing. Obviously, with Clemson's offensive formations of choice, we expect BC to sub in a nickel at times to negate the extra receiving threat.

Against the look shown above, Clemson will want to take advantage of the six-man box created. This should be fairly self-explanitory as the previously shown illustration gives the offense five down linemen plus the TE/Hback inside/near the tackle box. A simple assessment reveals this is a six on six hat on hat matchup. Further, if you consider the QB/RB fakes and reads, you actually have an offensive mismatch by conflicting the end as he should be taken out of the play without even being blocked.

Clemson has to be able to run the football well. We thought after last year's game if Clemson could have run the ball between the tackles, the Tigers could have scored half a hundred just jamming the rock down their throat. Boston College is young up front and Clemson should be able to exploit this defensive line inexperience. I believe their two-deep is a bunch of freshmen and sophomores combined with one starting junior. I will say that Boston College's linebackers are good. These statements along with scheme explain how BC's linebackers have an insane number of tackles (Nick Clancy has 42 total through just three games including 24 in one game several weeks ago). I will point to a statement made last season that is still relevant regarding this topic:

What BC does best, and this is why they are always stout against the run, is gap control. We preach it here, but BC does it quite well every year, and it makes up for the lack of talent they sometimes have up front. Their line tends to slant and they put those big guys right into gaps and make you move them. That keeps the OL occupied so the LBs can make plays and get the headlines. I do not know it for a fact, but they do play like a 2-gapped front inside.

Boston College's secondary is nothing to write home about, though. This is another reason their defensive coaches will provide a lot of support deep and give our receivers plenty of cushion. With the exception of SS Jim Noel, all these guys are freshmen and sophomores, so inexperience likely contributed to some of the negative items I saw out of this group during film review. It goes without saying, Clemson's pass catchers are more talented and, frankly, better football players than BC's DBs. All of these items make me reiterate that the Eagles will be content to try and just keep the game in front of them and avoid giving up quick points to Clemson via long pass plays. The flip side to this is Clemson and Tajh Boyd must remain patient and not allow BC to lull the Tigers into silly mistakes. They will give up the little 5-8 yard stop routes and short zone beaters all the way down the field, the key is patience. Keep in mind that even though I believe BC is typically one of the better coached tackling teams we face each year, our skills players are very good. So good that if most any of them gets even a sliver of open field, a little six yard catch suddenly turns into a big gain.

A good summary for what the Clemson offense will need to do this week is stay patient and stay committed to running the football. I don't necessarily think you have to get as cute as last week with wide receivers throwing bombs downfield or touching the ball in all sorts of running scenarios. You do have to be committed to running the ball when facing a six in the box scenario. Tajh will again need to make good decisions and avoid trying to force the ball for big plays. BC is set up to avoid giving up the big gainers, so you don't want to play into their hands unless you just flat out have them beat.

Given that Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, and Kalon Davis will all be unavailable this week, the pressure will shift to Tajh Boyd, DeAndre Hopkins, Andre Ellington, and David Beasley to step up and go the distance. Watkins has an abdominal virus, Bryant a groin injury, and Davis a hamstring injury. Losing two wide receivers is damaging no doubt--particularly when one of those players is Watkins. However, I am much more worried about the guard position. Davis' loss thins out a line that has given the coaches relatively little confidence from the backups. In fact, only six linemen have significant playing experience against one of the real teams we've played. Any injury here puts Clemson on edge. Here is an analysis of Clemson's offensive line play to date that illustrates that point.

Offensively, Boston College has a new look this season in Doug Martin. He is the third offensive coordinator since the Eagles opened last season. Martin played quarterback at Kentucky, then spent over a decade at East Carolina before becoming Kent State's offensive coordinator in 2003. The following year, he was named the head football coach--a position he maintained through the 2010 season. He spent 2011 as OC at New Mexico State and is in his first season with Boston College.

Martin's offense is unmistakably multiple. Like FSU last week, there aren't many formations that this team cannot use. You will see them under center, out of the gun, two backs, no backs, spread out, in pro sets. You will also see this team mix up their tempo. They will huddle and take their time then speed things up. The increased tempo will muck up substitution patterns and the multiple formations will (A) make it even more difficult for the defense to get properly aligned in a short period of time and (B) cause issues if they can catch you with the wrong personnel on the field. All in all, more issues for the struggling Clemson defense to try and overcome.

The good item for the Clemson defense is that Boston College is not a very good running team. The bad item is that Boston College can throw the ball around pretty well. Junior Chase Rettig has been impressive to date, throwing for 951 yards, 6 TDs, and 1 INT through three games. His best performance of the year was in the season opener against Miami, thowing for 441 yards, 2 TDs and completing close to 63% of his passes in that game. Alex Amidon is his favorite receiver with 25 grabs for 366 yards. Amidon has two 100 yard games (10 catches for 149 against the U and 9 catches for 118 against Northwestern), though I did see him drop several very catchable passes on slant/post routes against Miami--both were on the money and hit his hands.

An item I am concerned about is their offensive line vs. our defensive line and our ability to put pressure on Rettig. From our earlier article comparing the teams' two deeps, here are the basics on their linemen:

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These guys are much bigger than our folks--particularly our defensive linemen. I am very skeptical of how our defensive line will perform against this kind of size. There is no evidence that we can be effective here based on performance to date.

Boston College likes to throw simple routes often in combination form. A good example of this is a route combination of "All Hooks" or the old slant/speed out combination. With deeper drops, you'll see the standard layered routes with at least one receiver going across the middle. Rettig is alert and anticipates where to throw the ball out of cuts well. He is very capable and can zing the ball around well, looks comfortable in the pocket, and is perfectly capable of moving around in the pocket. Something else to watch is play action. It should not be as effective as you would expect because of the relative lack of success but always is a tool to use and Rettig looks familiar with the fake. He likes to use PA to try and freeze the backers and get the ball into the seam.

Again, I believe you'll see a good bit of Travis Blanks this week--which I really like. Dabo has been wishy washy discussing where the defensive backs will play--especially Brewer. After seeing his play this year, I fully expect to see Xavier Brewer at the corner spot for the rest of the season. He just leaves me with a ton of questions and a lot of head scratching when I watch him play safety. This slides Rashard Hall back onto the field for the majority of FS snaps.

Based on their lack of success running the ball so far (287 yards on 96 carries with just one TD) and their relative lack of success throwing the ball this year, I fully expect BC to focus on attacking Clemson through the air. We likely won't get any pressure on Rettig based on Clemson's four games so the onus lies on the defensive backs doing something they haven't done most of the year--make some plays. Fortunately, BC's receivers should not out-athlete our guys but they will kill us in blown coverage situations.

All in all, this game is a potential trap for Clemson and the Tigers will be challenged without Bryant, Davis, and Sammy. While I think Clemson has more than enough firepower to pull away from BC, there is still concern when you don't have all your weapons available. We will be interested in how the defense responds to last week's embarrassment and if we see improvement. I heard Dabo give himself a lot of blame for not substituting enough, so cognizant substitution patterns (particularly on defense) will be interesting to watch. If Clemson doesn't come out ready to play, BC will bring the war. If Clemson come out firing, the Tigers will be cruising halfway through the 3rd quarter.

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