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Game 8 Preview: Clemson Hosts Boston College for Homecoming

NCAA Football: Clemson at Boston College Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The story this season has quickly turned from what the Tigers are actually doing on the field to the media narrative and AP poll comedy which has ensued. We not only have seen the Tigers drop all the way to fourth despite continuing the nation’s longest winning streak, but we have also seen analysts claiming to reveal the “easy” way to beat Clemson and Trevor Lawrence. We will see how well Boston College is able to employ these “easy” strategies on Saturday night.

Clemson offense vs. Boston College defense: While this side of the ball should offer the same level of mismatch we saw last week against Louisville, the Eagles do have the feel good story of Clemson graduate Richard Yeargin on defense. There are some excellent stories out there on Yeargin, including this one from David Hale. Much like Wake Forest, Boston College has shifted from a defensively strong team to a much better offensive team since the departure of Don Brown to Michigan. The Eagles currently have the worst defense in the ACC in yards per game, giving up a whopping 460.4 yards per game. BC has had some great linebackers over the years, though, like Luke Kuechly and Mark Herzlich, and the current star of their defense is linebacker Max Richardson. Richardson currently leads the league in tackles and tackles for loss. Otherwise, the Eagles haven’t been that effective. I certainly won’t miss seeing Zach Allen, who gave Tremayne Anchrum probably his worst night as a Tiger last year.

While we are certain to see some Etienne vs. Richardson meetings in the hole, there isn’t much to make you think that the Eagles can hope to keep the Tigers down unless they produce the kind of turnovers that kept Louisville from getting blown out in the first half last week. I’m sure they will just rush three and drop eight all game, since the code has been cracked, right? There is certainly going to be a game coming where the offense plays at peak level, so maybe this is the week it happens and we see 30-40 dropped in the first half.

Clemson defense vs. Boston College offense: So here is where this game gets interesting. The Tiger first team defense was outstanding last week against a way above average Louisville offense. Hawkins eventually got loose for over 100 yards, but not before the game was decided and the mass substitutions had begun. Now the Tigers will face even more 12 personnel formations and a pair of giant power backs in AJ Dillon and David Bailey. They just got done chewing up NCSU’s defense for over 400 yards rushing. The Tigers are still leaning heavily on the 3 DT rotation of Tyler Davis, Nyles Pinckney, and Jordan Williams when the game is in doubt, and those three have improved more and more. This game will be a very good test for them, as well as the Tigers’ strength in their traditional 4-3 front.

One guy who probably has had this game circled is safety Tanner Muse. We usually see the very best of Muse against Boston College as their style allows him to do what he does best, which is come downhill to attack the running game. Clemson has been very effective against AJ Dillon the last two years, holding him to 3.2 and 2.4 yards per carry respectively. That, however, was when Clemson featured the Power Rangers up front, so we will see what Brent Venables has in store this week to try to match the power game of the Eagles. With any big back, the key is making them go sideways or getting them before they get their momentum rolling. It is a lot like what it must have been like for teams that faced the Raymond Priester led Clemson teams of the 1990s.

It is very likely that Venables will trust his corners to play straight man on the outside with just a single safety for help, if one at all. It will be important to not lose sight of tight end Hunter Long, who is leading the team in receiving and averaging a whopping 20 yards a catch, which is unheard of for a tight end. Long might get a steady dose of Clemson’s do everything werewolf Isaiah Simmons.

The last real question for this Clemson defense is how it will match up with an offense built like Boston College’s. As more and more teams move to 11 personnel spread attacks, you wonder if playing tight gap power football will come back around as more defenses get smaller and faster to cover all that space. Then again, we may very well be reminded why most of college football migrated away from that old style if Clemson’s speed and ability to bring numbers to the box overwhelms the Eagle run game yet again.

Special Teams: Clemson survived a test in this phase last week with Louisville, though not unscathed. The kick return unit gave up a good return beyond the 35, Derion Kendrick muffed a punt inside the 10 that nearly led to disaster, and the first team kicking career of Steven Sawicki might have lasted all of one kick. The bright side was B.T. Potter rebounding with an impressive 51-yard field goal and Joseph Ngata looking more and more dangerous with kick returns. Amari Rodgers had a big day returning punts last year vs. Boston College, including taking one to the house that put the game to bed. We will see if Eagle punter Grant Carlson will morph into Ray Guy. Opposing punters are averaging 45 yards a punt against Clemson, with only Florida State’s Tommy Martin averaging below 40 against the Tigers this year. That is ridiculous.

Overall: It is hard to say I worry about this game considering this is a team that got blown out by Kansas at home. However, this BC squad has made the Tigers grind out wins most of the time during the Addazio era, with the last two games not being decided fully until the fourth quarter. I maintain a team who isn’t at least above average on defense has no real shot to upset Clemson, but if the Eagles can play the slow down game that UNC played and eat up time of possession, they can hang around. Clemson doesn’t have the kind of depth up front that it has had in recent years and could get worn down under the right circumstances. We’ve seen the drop off when Clemson subs outside of the DE’s and safeties enough to tell me we won’t see subbing with a game not in hand.

Clemson’s ability to cover a 34-point spread will depend on how fast the offense starts off to make BC have to play from behind. After last week’s miscues, I’m thinking Lawrence and the gang will be sharp, though I think BC will find some success on the ground to score some.

Clemson 48-Boston College 18