Column, Featured Column, Football

Defense Has Opportunity To Make A Statement Against Clemson

Following Saturday’s [insert your own adjective here!] loss to Wake Forest, Steven Daniels stepped to the microphone on the second floor of the Yawkey Athletic Center. Unsurprisingly, he looked pissed.

Daniels didn’t have to answer any questions explaining the performance of the defense in Boston College’s 3-0 loss to a Demon Deacon team coming off a 3-9 season. He and Don Brown’s defense had just held Wake to a mere 142 total yards—nearly half the amount that even the hapless Eagles’ offense managed. Rather, he fielded questions about team chemistry and how a defense that so consistently puts up brilliant performances can mesh with an offense that continually disappoints.

Of course, Daniels provided the answer he’d been trained to give. “Win or lose, we’re going to be there for those guys,” Daniels said. “Whether offensive or defense, we’ll pick those guys up because they’ll pick us up when we need them.”

A shrug and a point toward Steve Addazio would’ve sufficed. Unlike Daniels’ PC claim, this defense has never required a bailout this season. That might change when the Eagles travel to South Carolina to play No. 5 Clemson.

In a season of gloomy results for BC, we have largely focused on the bad. And there has been a lot of it. A couple of field goals, better clock management, and a healthy offense that had three of the most crucial Eagles on offense—quarterback Darius Wade and running backs Jonathan Hilliman and Myles Willis—might have resulted in the difference between 3-3 and 5-1 for Addazio’s team.

So sit back, relax, and take a moment to give praise to the sole reason this team has been worth watching: the defense, which is by far the best in the country.

Even if you take out the two FCS games, which shouldn’t represent a real challenge for a team in a Power Five conference, the Eagles are still the best. The only team that comes close is Michigan, and even Jim Harbaugh’s khaki-stained glare can’t match what Don Brown’s squad has done.

BC has allowed only 740 yards in its four games against FBS opponents (Florida State, Northern Illinois, Duke, and Wake Forest), compared to 1,088 in six games for the opponents of the second-ranked Wolverines (Utah, Oregon State, UNLV, Maryland, BYU, and Northwestern). That comes out to 185 yards per game for BC’s opponents versus 181.3 for Michigan. But before you bag on those ACC offenses, know that the Eagles have actually faced more difficult teams than Michigan. BC’s four opponents average to about 66th in points per game and 63rd in yards per game, compared to 86th and 90th, respectively, for Team Harbaugh. Brown’s unit has forced seven turnovers, one behind the Maize and Blue, but BC beats them by one in sacks (16 to 15).

Nothing is more telling than the points each team has allowed. Michigan edges out BC in total points and points per game—38 and 6.3 for the Wolverines, 40 and 10 for the Eagles, again removing those two FCS opponents. But you might want to look at how those points have been scored against BC.

Doing that will require a little math, so bear with this communications and history major for one second. For some inexplicable reason, ESPN penalizes BC’s defense in its rankings for the cumulative amount of points scored against it, disregarding how they were scored. Yet two touchdowns came when the defense wasn’t even on the field: one was a kickoff return for Northern Illinois and another was a fumble recovery for Florida State. That knocks to point total down from 40 to 26.

If you want to get even more technical, consider that two turnovers—Troy Flutie’s interception against NIU and Jordan Gowins’ fumble in the Wake game—put the opposition deep in BC’s red zone. Despite the fact that BC can handle those situations—after all, it does have a goal line stand from Duke’s game—when your opponent gets a free trip to the red zone, there’s a good chance they’ll come away with at least three. Those offensive miscues led to a touchdown and field goal, respectively. That’s another 10 points removed off the total.

That leaves us with 16 total points that are wholly the fault of the BC defense, including only one touchdown, over the course of four games. That, my friends, is ridiculous.

What makes them even better is their depth. To date, no significant contributor on BC’s defense has succumbed to a major injury. Unlike the offense, which has stumbled without its key pieces, Brown can employ a “next-man-up” mentality and slot in someone else. The defensive line runs at least eight deep, with freshmen Wyatt Ray and Zach Allen hungrily waiting behind Truman Gutapfel, Mehdi Abdesmad, Kevin Kavalec, Harold Landry, Malachi Moore, and Connor Wujciak. That unit has combined for 28.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. No one can run on them—BC allows only 41.7 yards per game on the ground, 19 fewer than No. 2 Boise State.

Although they haven’t gotten an overwhelming amount of interceptions, the secondary, led by John Johnson and Justin Simmons, has stifled passing attacks. And the linebackers have stood out in an unexpected way. Steven Daniels, Connor Strachan, and Matt Milano have been monsters on the pass rush, disrupting quarterbacks and offensive lines. From a numbers standpoint, they’ve got three sacks and 19 tackles for loss, with two picks for Strachan.

Yet in their way stands the one team that could convincingly knock them off that high perch: Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers. Led by future NFL Draftee Deshaun Watson behind center, Clemson has scored 35.4 points per game (32 if you just count FBS teams). The Tigers’ defense is even scarier, ranking 19th with 16.6 points per game allowed (18.25 with just FBS teams).The Eagles will not face a more well-rounded and dynamic team.

Considering BC’s defense is relying on an offense that has scored 24 points against FBS teams—for the record, that’s 43 points fewer than LAST ranked North Texas has scored against FBS squads. And the Mean Green just fired their head coach after losing 66-7 to Portland State, an FCS team.

But that’s why this weekend could be something special for the Eagles. If any defense has a shot at taking down the mighty Tigers, it’s Brown’s crew. And if they’ve got any sense about how the offense has played, the BC defense should try to do some of the scoring themselves.

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

October 14, 2015