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Assessing the Threat: Boston College at Clemson

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NCAA Football: Clemson at Boston College Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

Heading into 2018, there was a lot of buzz surrounding Boston College given how well they’d played against Clemson in Death Valley in early 2017. It took a breakout fourth quarter from then-freshman Travis Etienne to propel the Tigers to a 34-7 win that was much closer than the score indicated. The last time Clemson saw Boston College, the Eagles managed to claw their way to the top of the Atlantic Division, hoping for an upset win to claim a spot in the ACC Championship. It was all for naught, however, as a dominant performance by the Tiger defense and an injury to quarterback Anthony Brown extinguished the upset threat.

Boston College wound up with yet another 7-win season, which is the fifth in head coach Steve Addazio’s six seasons with the program. Lightning delays resulted in the Eagles’ bowl game against a ranked Boise State team getting cancelled and with it their chance of an 8th win gone. While Boston College returns the bulk of its offense in 2019, they will be without several cornerstone players on defense that made everyone think they had the potential to challenge Clemson.

Offense:

One way to describe any Boston College offense under Addazio is predicatble. When Dillon’s in the backfield, you know what’s coming. Dillon, who rushed for 1,108 yards and 10 touchdowns, is a bruising, one-cut running back who can gain three yards and a cloud of dust behind what is usually a physical offensive line.

The passing game continues to be a struggle for the Eagles. While Brown improved his numbers with 2,121 yards, 20 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, the Eagles struggled to move the football when Dillon was not on the field. Their late season slide was tied to an ankle injury limiting AJ Dillon. Heading into 2019, one of the things Boston will (or should) be looking to do is managing Dillon’s load so that he can remain healthy as the season wears on.

During the offseason, Addazio hired offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, who recently served as the quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the last four seasons. Bajkian is returning to the college ranks after pit stops with Butch Jones in Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and Tennessee prior to joining the Bucs. Boston College is hoping Bajakian is the coach that can continue to improve Brown’s passing ability and make Dillon’s load a little lighter. Dillon’s injuries late in the year showed that one-horse backs simply won’t cut it, especially when they come against stiffer competition that stack the box and force Brown to make quick decisions in the pocket.

Much of the offense’s success will depend on the Brown’s progress as a passer. He’ll benefit from the return of leading receiver Kobay White (526 receiving yards). This will be especially important due to the losses of reliable lost tight end Tommy Sweeney and WR Jeff Smith (who led all receivers in 2018 with six touchdowns).

Defense:

Boston College has generally thrived with a physical defense, particularly at linebacker and defensive end. Zach Allen and Wyatt Ray, who combined for 15.5 of the team’s 33 sacks, have moved on from the program so the Eagles must re-establish their starters along the defensive line.

However, even with those factors, it became clear that former defensive coordinator Don Brown (who left for Michigan at the end of the 2017 season) was a diamond in the rough the Eagles wished they could’ve kept. The Eagles weren’t the same defensive team we’d grown accustomed to, especially given some of the games they had early on in surrendering 35 points to Wake Forest and 30 points in a three-score loss to Purdue.

Jim Thorpe award candidate Hamp Cheevers is gone this season, which is a huge hit for the the Eagles in the secondary. Outside of returning linebackers Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie, the Eagles will likely be dipping into a largely untested pool of freshman and sophomore for its defense. Richardson and McDuffie were largely responsible for aiding in pressuring the quarterback last season, and given Boston College’s penchant for blitzing last season, it’s likely that trend will continue.

Closing: If Boston College isn’t trending upwards and in position to seriously contend for the Atlantic in late October when they play Clemson, don’t expect the same narrative to surround them as last season (that position and pressure goes to the Syracuse Orange early on as Clemson breaks in a fresh front seven). While Boston College games are typically lower scoring and rather physical affairs, they’ve been a perpetual seven-win team that’s never managed to beat Dabo, who has won the last eight games. With a scheduled date of October 26 following an open weekend, Boston College will get a refreshed Clemson team that will likely continue their trend of defeating them by two scores or more.