Like Clemson, BC seemingly fields a top defense no matter the yearly turnover. Unlike Clemson, BC does so without elite recruiting. Many felt the Eagles defense might finally drop off after former coordinator Don Brown moved to Michigan this year, but BC currently ranks first in total defense once again.
Without a bevy of blue-chip players or the same esteemed coordinator, how are they still so good? Is it schedule inflating the stats? Not quite, since BC’s defense ranks 8th in S&P+ (Clemson checks in at 3rd, demoted from the top spot after letting Lamar Jackson run wild in the second half last weekend). Head coach Steve Addazio will deliver the typical coach-speak regarding his defensive success, but I wanted to look for actual reasons. Is it scheme? Overachieving or underrated players?
BC employs a 1 gap 4-3 predicated on line penetration. They like to keep 7 in the box against the run and will thus show a lot of cover 1 and cover 3 looks. As expected, a great defense always begins up front and that is once again where the Eagles’ strength can be found, led by defensive end Harold Landry; far and away BC’s best and most versatile playmaker.
Depending on the situation and personnel, BC will also alternate between throwing a nickel/Sam out to cover the slot (then bringing a safety into the box) or putting the safety out on the slot, keeping the front 7 intact. This is where Clemson (and VT) is able to hurt BC schematically: the flexibility and talent advantage afforded by its playmakers outside will either generate a numbers advantage in the run game should the nickel/Sam split out, or ensure 1 on 1 coverage outside should the safety split out.
This isn’t to say Clemson will find endless success outside, since BC is such an aggressive defense there will probably be a handful of negative plays on the perimeter too unless Clemson suddenly blocks well out there:
The Virginia Tech blowout exposed them against tempo, however, and you can bet Clemson will aim to replicate the Hokies’ success using much of the same base plays from a scarily similar offense. When VT went up-tempo, not only did they prevent BC from substituting, but BC also struggled to align in time for the snap.
Boston College is an overachieving defense which makes its living through aggression. Expect to see Clemson push the tempo more than usual and stretch the field both vertically and horizontally against a defense which likes to load the box and take away the inside run. There is talent in a few spots, particularly defensive end, which could give Clemson trouble; but much like last year, you can expect to see Clemson pull away when it connects on a deep ball or two.
This game will go one of two ways: Clemson will get out to an early lead and coast like in Atlanta two weeks ago, or labor through a quarter or two before pulling away like they did against BC last year. QB power and zone read are a necessity to move the ball on the ground against BC’s strong front and rarely undermanned box, but it’s the deep ball which will break this game open. Clemson’s offense has gotten better and better each week; the imminent explosion seems at hand.