Most quarterbacks fear blitzes. Their eyes get big at the sight of linemen and linebackers alike charging toward them with the intention of pummelling them into the ground. They can’t take the heat, especially against a front seven like Boston College’s that boasts elite talent in Harold Landry, Connor Strachan, and Matt Milano.
Not Deshaun Watson. No, the Heisman Trophy contender feasts on blitzes.
On Friday night, the star Clemson quarterback put on a show under the lights at Alumni Stadium, throwing for four touchdowns in a 56-10 rout of the Eagles (3-3, 0-3 Atlantic Coast). It is BC’s worst home loss against an AP-ranked opponent in school history.
The Eagles, which entered the game as the nation’s No. 1 defense by some measurements, brought heavy blitzes against the No. 3 Tigers (6-0, 3-0) and it backfired terribly. In the first half alone, Watson completed 4-of-4 passing for 128 yards and two touchdowns against BC’s blitzes. In comparison, Towles went 1-for-3 for 13 yards against the blitz. Since last year, Watson has tossed 22 touchdowns against the blitz, most among Power 5 quarterbacks.
Watson’s most impressive connection came in the first quarter, when he felt pressure coming from the right side and stepped up to deliver a lofty pass to receiver Mike Williams. Initially, it appeared as if the deep ball would be out of reach, but Williams leapt full extension and somehow secured it for a 56-yard completion.
Here’s what else stood out from Friday night’s blowout loss:
The Eagles’ first red zone trip was an absolute gift, as John Johnson recovered a muffed punt at Clemson’s 9-yard line just two minutes into the game. But Addazio squandered the incredible field position with a predictable run-run-pass series that forced a field goal attempt. Mike Knoll drilled the 22-yarder to give BC an early 3-0 lead. But against the No. 3 team in the country, those kinds of opportunities need to be converted into seven points.
At the beginning of the second quarter, the Eagles pieced together one of their best drives of the season, marching 79 yards down the field and chewing over six minutes of clock. On second and goal from the Tigers’ 3-yard line, Davon Jones bulled his way forward to the 1-yard line to set up third and short. Towles tried to keep it for a quarterback sneak, but was stopped just shy of the goal line thanks to a spot that head coach Steve Addazio disagreed with. On fourth down, Towles fumbled the snap and Clemson recovered, yet BC was afforded another chance because of an offside penalty. This time, Towles mishandled the snap again and fell short of the endzone for a turnover on downs.
The Eagles finally shook their red zone demons late in the third quarter when Addazio switched up and called for a play-action pass on third and goal. Towles found fullback Bobby Wolford for a two-yard score to cut the Tigers’ lead to 42-10. But by then it was too late. If BC had executed better in the red zone in the first half, the team could have been looking at a 21-14 halftime deficit instead of 21-3.
While the Eagles suffered through two frustrating red zone trips in the first half, Clemson never even made it past the BC 10-yard line. That’s because Watson, Williams, and Wayne Gallman burned the Eagle secondary with big plays, including three of 50+ yards. BC’s corners couldn’t run with the Tigers’ electric playmakers, as evidenced by the 277 yards passing allowed through the air. Watson linked up with Williams on a fade pass over Gabriel McClary in the first quarter. McClary was late to react to the throw and, had he had his hands up, could have broken up the touchdown pass. Later in the quarter, Watson found tight end Jordan Leggett wide open in the middle for a 56-yard touchdown on broken coverage.
Things didn’t get better for Eagle corners in the second half, either. On back-to-back possessions in third quarter, McClary got beat by wide receiver Deon Cain. First, the former wide receiver failed to turn his head and find the ball on a beautifully thrown fade pass, and Cain created separation for an easy 29-yard score. On the next drive, Watson once again targeted the junior defensive back, firing a quick pass to Cain, who easily beat McClary and waltzed into the end zone from 16 yards out.
There are times, like Williams’ diving snag in the first quarter, when you can only tip your cap to your opponent for a great play. But other times, like McClary’s missed tackle above, are simply inexcusable for this defense against a team as good as Clemson.
If you don’t know, now you know: Harold Landry is a bona fide beast.
The ACC’s best pass rusher entered Friday night’s matchup with 20 QB pressures on 82 rush snaps, and continued his success even against the Tigers’ offensive line. In the second quarter, Landry pushed his way past a Clemson tackle and blindsided Watson, forcing a fumble. The Tigers would recover, but Landry’s effort garnered praise from Watson himself.
“He’s a great player, and he did a great job of creating pressure,” Watson said.
When he wasn’t forcing fumbles or recording sacks, he was still affecting plays and rushing Watson to throw.
If Landry can keep up his dominance, he won’t just be attracting attention from opposing scouts, but NFL scouts, too.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor