Coming off a 45-10 win at Louisville, the 7-0 Tigers come home to Death Valley to welcome old friend Richard Yeargin (who has a great comeback story) and the Boston College Eagles (4-3, 2-2 in the ACC). To help us preview the game and get some more information on coach Steve Addazio’s team this year, we connected with Niraj Patel from BC Interruption. You can give him a follow on Twitter here.
STS: Boston College is typically known for its strong, physical defense, especially under head coach Steve Addazio. Even last season, the Eagles managed to hold what was then a white-hot Clemson offense to 27 points (seven of which came via an Amari Rodgers punt return for a touchdown).
This season, however, appears to be a different story, with BC’s defense yielding more points and yards than we’re accustomed to seeing. The low point of the season so far was allowing Kansas to pile up 48 points and 567 yards in Chestnut Hill on Sept. 13. So what’s the deal with BC’s defense this year? Is it simply a personnel issue? Does Addazio not have enough guys who can be dudes?
BCI: The biggest thing is the personnel turnover. Not only did BC lose a lot of starters and nearly all of its statistical production on the defensive end, the team also lost an excellent defensive backs coach in Anthony Campanile to Michigan. A lot of dudes had to take on bigger roles, especially in the secondary, and, well…it hasn’t worked out. I think it’s also a little bit of schematics and simply bad tackling. The team really needs to rely on bringing extra numbers to generate pressure, but when that doesn’t get home, the soft coverage played on the back end in critical situations is picked apart. Third-down stops have been hard to come by. Despite being such a run-heavy team, the tempo the team plays with on offense, along with the sometimes peculiar play calling, has resulted in poor time of possession that puts an already vulnerable defense out on the field more often than it should be.
STS: When Clemson has the ball, which individual and/or position group matchups give you the most concern? And which, if any, give you some optimism?
BCI: Oh man, which one doesn’t concern me? I’d have to say it’s the stud wide receiver corps. Ross, Higgins, Rodgers. Heck, I know how much Dabo loves Joe Ngata. Been churning them out for years, and despite a promising performance last week, BC has zero shot at stopping them, especially the big physical receivers. Travis Etienne’s ability to break tackles will also surely be a nuisance. If he’s catching passes, he’ll have a field day because of the bad angles BC takes on tackles. Not much cause for optimism, but I suppose oddly enough it’s Trevor Lawrence. I mean, how many turnovers does the guy have? Unlike years past, this defense hasn’t done a great job generating turnovers, so getting one or two would be a huge boost.
STS: On the other side, when Boston College has the ball, which matchups give you the most concern? The most optimism?
BCI: I guess Clemson hasn’t done a good job stopping the run at all. That being said, it’s pretty clear they know that’s priority number 1, 2, and 3, so I’d expect it to be a point of emphasis. That also being said, NC State was seen as excellent against the run and knew the same thing heading into last week’s game, but still allowed over 400 yards rushing from two big-time backs. So that’s going to have to be both my optimism and concern. If BC can’t run, there are going to be some problems. BC has an array of tight ends as well. I’m not sure how Clemson is against the tight end, but that’s one of the strengths of the offense, especially with how well a lot of them can block too. Hunter Long is the main man there. The offensive line has been stellar to date, so this will pose a great challenge.
STS: Redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Brown’s season-ending knee injury that occurred against Louisville on Oct. 5 was a crushing blow for him and the Eagles. To their credit, though, they managed to post 45 points against a bad NC State team (is that redundant? I kid, I kid) this past Saturday in a convincing victory at home. The offensive output largely came from the rushing attack, which totaled 429 yards, while sophomore quarterback Dennis Grosel completed only six passes for 103 yards. How are you feeling about what Grosel and this offense can do for the rest of the season?
BCI: Well played. You know, it’s really up to a guess. The narrative coming off the win was that they didn’t plan on changing anything with Brown out and Grosel in, but because of how dominant the run game was, they just stuck to it and let the backs eat, because why not. I can’t say I’m expecting all too much, I just don’t want him to feel the pressure of having to make big-time throws and play hero ball. I’m hoping for gadgetry and a quick passing game, and especially for him to run the ball himself.
STS: Speaking of that rushing attack, most casual ACC observers probably know about star junior tailback A.J. Dillon, who already has 968 rushing yards this season. However, sophomore running back David Bailey has 510 rushing yards of his own, including 181 in the game against NC State. He’s also averaging 6.3 yards per carry. What can you tell us about Bailey’s game and what makes him effective?
BCI: He’s weirdly slippery and hard to bring down. I think it definitely helps that he’s a big back who comes in and spells AJ. He’s not a change of pace, but the same pace. That can wear a defense down, and that’s the ultimate goal. Power on power.
STS: The Eagles have managed bowl berths in three straight seasons (they still get credit for last year’s canceled game) and five out of the past six under Addazio’s watch. At 4-3 heading into this weekend’s game, what do you think their chances are of getting back to a bowl game this season?
BCI: Eh, maybe 55/45 after last week. Addazio is colloquially referred to as “seven-win Steve.” I think it’s Newton’s fourth law. With games against Florida State, Syracuse, and Pitt remaining, I think getting to a bowl game will happen because it’s just meant to be, but from the neutral perspective, it’s leaning towards being more of a toss-up.
STS: Boston College faces a tall order in coming to Death Valley for a nighttime (7:30 PM) game against the No. 4
(and perpetually down-sliding for no real reason) Tigers, who will be ~34-point favorites. What can the Eagles plausibly do to keep things interesting and at least give themselves a chance at pulling off a monumental upset?
BCI: *Undoes cross out.* It’s kind of stupid. Don’t worry, I always rank you guys higher in the SB Nation Fan Pulse. If y’all didn’t have Wofford coming up, I’d say it’d be marginally more competitive with the whole trap game narrative. The upset won’t happen, but they’ve made it interesting sometimes for maybe half the game in the past few years. If those turnovers pop up, and BC can win on the offensive line, things could be interesting. I’ll be looking for Clemson grad Richard Yeargin to make a splash as well in his homecoming after a few years since he last played at Memorial Stadium.
We hope you enjoyed this Q&A. A big thanks goes out to our guest, Niraj, for answering our questions. Again, please consider following him on Twitter (@niraj_patel7), along with our host, @tom_dianora.