Well last week kind of sucked huh? I’m going to try to be positive about this here, the ACC title berth and a New Years six bowl game are still very much on the table. Tigers fans have gotten fat and happy, making the playoffs six consecutive years, once even with Kelly Bryant at the helm in a clear transition year. That harvest is almost certainly over. Two losses in September shut that door quickly. But a bump in the road happens to programs not named Alabama, and really this happens to Alabama when Nick Saban isn’t in charge. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong it still sucks, but no one is crying for us.
We’re not going to beat around the bush by talking about the past. The offense is awful right now. I will spare you the footage and instead link you some statistics for roughly the same reason reporters tell you what the autopsy found instead of showing you the body. Clemson’s offense currently ranks in the hundreds in every one of the unadjusted drive metrics used to make FEI. This means Clemson’s offense is one of the thirty or so worst in the country right now in terms of points generated and yards gained per drive, among other things. What is buoying the Tigers ranking overall is nothing that they have done, they’re boosted by strength of schedule adjustments because Georgia, NC State and to a lesser extent Georgia Tech have very good defenses.
What worries me is that many of the issues tanking the team, and really just the Tigers offense, are continuations of long trends. The subpar offensive line play, reliance on generationally talented quarterbacks, the aversion to creativity and staking your success on simply just having better talent? Those have been there for years. This isn’t a new recipe failing, it’s the process that Clemson rode to the playoffs and It’s just not working. Maybe this month is a blip in the scheme of things and maybe this is the canary in the coal mine fainting, I can’t tell you yet.
Anyways we are onto Boston College and Clemson could absolutely lose this game. BC fans understand that their best seasons can only happen at the expense of many larger ACC programs and have fully embraced that their best outcome is being a looter in a riot. Look around, NIU is currently ahead of Clemson in the ACC. It might be time to start looting.
The Eagles have managed to stay undefeated despite losing star QB Phil Jurkovec by pivoting towards a run first attack based on Pat Garwo III and strong offensive line play. The short story here is that BC runs the ball more often and more effectively than almost every team in the country besides the service academies. Meanwhile, the Tigers are without both starting defensive tackles and their starting middle linebacker has been banged up.
The Boston College running game consists of little more than inside zone, duo and outside zone. At least one and often two tight ends will be used to help set the edge, there’s usually motion incorporated pre-snap and QB Dennis Grosel is a good enough athlete to punish defenses on the ground but at the end of the day offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti is going to run outside zone as many times as he can.
This works as well as it does because the Eagles offensive line is excellent, every skill player on the field blocks and Garwo is good enough at reading blocks and cutting back to turn zone runs into misdirection plays in their own right. Backup RB’s Alec Sinkfield and Travis Levy are no slouches either. Grosel’s ability to make timely plays on the ground means Cignetti can mix in zone read looks and screens off them.
Cignetti is a Boston College ass coach. I cannot explain exactly why it feels right that this team’s offense be coached by a guy who got fired from the St. Louis Rams, but it does and you know it. Cignetti has been coaching quarterbacks and/or offensive coordinating at the college or pro level for decades. He spent a year as part of the “McCarthy Group” which sounds half like a career rejuvenation project and half a collection of men whose wives needed them to get out of the house more often.
I have to give the man credit, Cignetti has absolutely crafted his offense in Boston to his quarterbacks strengths. Last year with Jurkovev under center the Eagles passed as well and as often as any team in the ACC. This year, Jurkovec goes down during the first game and Cignetti is able to pivot the entire offense around the strengths and weaknesses of a former walk-on on the fly.
This year the maroon and gold run the ball like hell, operate at one of the slowest paces in the country, and set up Grosel with short to medium throws off of play-action. Often times they get Grosel on the run, where he’s significantly better at handling pressure than in the pocket. Take this play for example, where jet sweep motion (a play the Eagles do not run well) and Grosel rolling out serve to draw attention away from the eventual target.
There are two significant weaknesses to Grosel’s game.
One, he has a cap gun arm that limits his ability to push the ball downfield, and two, sometimes he simply does not know what to do if pressured in the pocket. Yes, Grosel is hit as he throws but this receiver is absolutely not open.
Cignetti’s goal is to get the ball in the hand of what he refers to as his “perimeter players” (think skill players) to create explosive plays especially water-bug quick receiver Zay Flowers and the aforementioned Garwo III. What the offense lacks in complicated concepts it makes up for by being able to execute them at a high level (likely due to practicing this short playbook over and over and over again) from a variety of formations.
SP+ thinks Clemson should win this game by a little under two touchdowns. Vegas thinks Clemson is favored by a little over two touchdowns. I think the Tigers should win, but I can see a way for the Eagles send Clemson’s season off the rails quickly in Death Valley more easily than ever before.