It certainly was a sweet, sweet victory over the hated Wolfpack last Saturday night. The score was closer than the actual game. Now, the Tigers have cleared was appears to be the biggest hurdles on the way to the ACC Championship Game, however, there is still work to be done and plenty of potential potholes on the road to Charlotte. Boston College was my preseason choice for a game that could sneak up on Clemson. The Eagles have been a tough out for the Tigers the last two outings and even 2017’s game was closer than you wanted it to be until a Travis Etienne explosion in the fourth quarter put that game away. This is also Boston College’s “Red Bandana” game where they honor the late Wells Crowther and typically play one of their best games of the season. I vividly remember them beating No. 9 Southern California in a “Red Bandana” game back in 2014.
What worried me about this game preseason was how it fell between the big Wake Forest and NCSU matchups and the trip to Tallahassee to face Florida State. While Dabo Swinney’s teams have typically avoided big “letdown” games like we saw routinely in the Tommy Bowden era, it is still human nature to not be as sharp and focused coming off a game with the stakes of last week’s win. Meanwhile, Boston College (like everyone Clemson plays) will put everything they have into this game knowing anything less will lead to a bad beating.
Clemson offense vs. Boston College defense: I’m really happy with the progress the Clemson offense has made this season. The best part for me is how this offense has won in different ways. They ran the ball all over La Tech, then threw it all over Wake Forest, then had a nice mix of both in a methodical performance vs. NCSU. DJU has been the catalyst with his ever-improving pocket presence and decision making. He’s beginning to take a few more chances in ways we just didn’t see him do last year when he often took sacks or just threw the ball away. The best example was the throw to Will Shipley on a converted wheel route to set up the pivotal TD to end the second quarter. That takes trust in his teammate and himself, which is where we saw Deshaun Watson excel during his time in Clemson.
DJU isn’t going to be confused with Lamar Jackson as a runner, but he has definitely been dangerous enough to keep defenses honest and make them pay when they aren’t (like we saw last week). Blake Miller’s progress, especially as a run blocker, has been very noticeable and I predict we will see more stuff where they pull him to join Jordan McFadden and Marcus Tate on runs to the left.
The tight ends continue to impress and I’m no longer envying teams (like Boston College) who historically exploit their tight ends to great advantage. BC has been a heavy cover 3 defense which is typically weakest in the flats. I think we will see the Tigers attack that with the tight ends, running backs, and some wide receiver screens. It is nice that all three of those position groups are now threats in that regard.
The Eagles are in the bottom third in the ACC in total defense, scoring defense, and rushing defense. This is a definite step down to NCSU on this side of the ball and the Clemson OL should have their way with them up front.
Clemson defense vs. Boston College offense: It was great to see Clemson’s defense get back to what we expected last week after a terrible performance by the cornerbacks in particular at Wake Forest. NCSU is one of the few teams in the ACC who had the chance to hold up with their OL vs. the Tiger DL and it was mismatch all night favoring the Tigers. While Boston College has perhaps the best WR in the league in Zay Flowers, a capable RB 1 in Patrick Garwo, and a QB with some NFL size/arm talent in Phil Jurkovec, the Tigers defensive front should make life miserable for them the way many of BC’s early season opponents have.
The formula from last week should be the one for this week. Stuff the run and keep BC’s WR in front with a big mix of zones and cover 2 man under concepts. Let the front four do their work and blitz just enough to keep BC guessing. Don’t allow them just to go full max protect and take shots against cover 1 or cover 0. Jurkovec is not a guy who has shown to be a patient QB. He hunts big plays and will hold the ball and put it in jeopardy to try to make them. He can be dangerous when he’s hot, as we saw in the early part of the 2020 game, but I don’t think he is on Leary’s level to make plays like Leary made last week on that early third down when KJ Henry buried him as he delivered a strike to Thayer Thomas.
BC is more likely to take big shots down the field than NCSU was last week. They have Flowers, of course, and a QB who loves to do it. They probably know they can’t just put 8-10 play drives together against this defense, so they are going to need chunk plays to make this a game. The Tigers need to build on last week where they rarely if ever let the State skill guys behind them.
Clemson fans are still waiting on this defense to have its full compliment of players. Bryan Bresee won’t be playing this week, but there is an increased chance that Xavier Thomas will make his long awaited season debut. Sheridan Jones and Malcolm Greene are on the depth chart and hopefully can play as well. You can never have too many great pass rushers and cover guys.
Special Teams: Even though BT Potter missed his first kick of the season, the Tiger special teams units were solid against a dangerous NCSU unit. NCSU tried and failed to block a punt and Thayer Thomas’s return impact was neutralized. Any Tiger fan who has been around a while will painfully remember special teams costing Clemson huge in a loss to Boston College in 2006. Hopefully that will continue to be a performance that gets further and further in the rear-view mirror without any sequels. As I always say, upsets almost always feature some big play or mistake at the expense of the favored team.
Overall: I’m not as worried about this game as I was preseason, mainly because I’ve seen BC’s offensive line be mostly terrible. That is the last place you want to not be good against the Clemson defense. Wes Goodwin and his staff have gotten the screen defense issues ironed out as we saw last week, and the staff was much more willing to play softer in the back and rely on the dominance of the front four and the recovery speed behind it. This approach can give up higher completion percentages but obviously severely limits the opponents’ explosive plays.
However, BC is coming off its best performance of the season by a mile and have the “Red Bandana” vibes going for them. I actually think that works against them here as the more atmosphere the game has, the more likely the Tigers are to be dialed in. I think BC hangs around for a little bit but the Tigers will take this one going away.
Clemson 35-BC 17