Riding Three-Game Win Streak, Addazio Prepares for Heavyweight Clemson

When Boston College football cracked the AP Poll for the first time in a decade on Sept. 16, head coach Steve Addazio didn’t address the national ranking with the team. The same was true five weeks later when the Eagles reentered the poll. In his eyes, the number next to BC’s name was nothing more than distraction. But when the Eagles boarded their flight home on Saturday night after defeating Virginia Tech for the first time since 2014, Addazio made an announcement on the plane’s intercom system.

“[For] the second time in the history of the school, we’re going to be on primetime ESPN [College] GameDay 8 o’ clock prime game Saturday night versus Clemson,” the sixth-year BC coach said, per Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond. “That’s your hard work men, making it a meaningful game playing the No. 2 team in the country with the primetime crew. It’ll be a hell of a night in Chestnut Hill, enjoy.”

Whereas a ranking flip flops every week and is somewhat arbitrary, a College GameDay featured matchup—a staple of the sport since the late ’80s—is a true sign of a team’s success, especially in November. Addazio isn’t worried about his players getting caught up in the atmosphere. According to him, they’re very much aware of Saturday night’s implications.

“I don’t think this is one of those games where you have to play the motivation game,” Addazio said during his Monday weekly press conference. “I think this game speaks for itself.”

Hands down, No. 2 Clemson (9-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast) is one of the most talented teams in the country. Week in and week out, the Tigers dominate all three phases of the game. Yet the majority of their NFL prospects can be found of the defensive side of the ball, specifically up front.

The combination of Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence, and Christian Wilkins—all of whom could conceivably be selected in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft—is the driving force of the unit. The four defensive linemen have racked up a total of 104 tackles, 29.5 of which have been behind the line of scrimmage, and 14.5 sacks. Keep in mind, if Clemson wasn’t outscoring opponents by an average of 34.5 points per game, the four-headed monster that is the Tigers’ starting D-Line would be playing more snaps, and hence, even more impressive numbers. As a whole, Clemson ranks second in the nation with 32 sacks and sixth in the FBS in rush defense, only allowing 99.8 yards per game on the ground.

For an Eagles offense that is built on the run game and play-action passing attack, those numbers are a bit staggering. But No. 17 BC (7-2, 4-1) is sticking to its guns. While Addazio plans to incorporate a few wrinkles here and there, he doesn’t want to play a chess match. That said, it’ll be a little harder to follow the script if A.J. Dillon is a no-go. The sophomore running back—who retweaked his left ankle in Blacksburg, Va., which he originally injured against Temple in Week Five—is once again a game-time decision.

“I saw him yesterday and was bouncing around, a good smile on his face,” Addazio told reporters. “He’s dinged up—it is what it is.”  

Addazio said that both the training and coaching staff will monitor the injury day-to-day. Regardless of if Dillon plays, the Eagles have a host of running backs ready to go. Travis Levy, Ben Glines, and David Bailey have all rushed for more than 75 yards and a touchdown in a game this season. In fact, just this past weekend, Levy took over for Dillon and made the most of the opportunity, recording two scores on the ground in the back half of regulation.

Whether or not BC can run the ball effectively will likely come down to play design and the Eagles’ offensive line. BC has rushed for 200 or more yards in all but two of its games this season and has only given up 14 sacks, good for 37th in the nation. There’s no denying that if the Eagles are to have a chance on Saturday night, they’ll have to put up a fight in the trenches.

That goes for the defensive side of the ball too. Clemson knows a thing or two about running the ball, as well. Actually, the Tigers are averaging 41.5 more rushing yards than BC. Travis Etienne leads the charge with 999 yards and 15 touchdowns to his name. What’s even more impressive is that the Heisman Trophy candidate is averaging 8.6 yards per carry. He posted a similar statline last year against the Eagles, rushing the ball just nine times for 113 yards and a pair of scores. It’s worth noting, though, that 91 of those 113 yards came in the fourth quarter—at which point BC’s defense, having been on the field for most of the day, was gassed.

Then, of course, there’s the Clemson aerial attack. For the third-straight year, the Eagles will be facing a different Tigers quarterback: Trevor Lawrence. Although the 6-foot-5 gunslinger is a freshman, he’s as polished as a college quarterback gets.

“This guy is going to be a first-round draft pick,” Addazio said. “This guy is accurate. He’s got size. He’s got some savvy. This guy is an outstanding player.”

After winning the starting job from Kelly Bryant in Week Four, Lawrence has established himself as one of the ACC’s premier quarterbacks. The Cartersville, Ga. native has logged a conference-best 18 touchdown passes this year, all while only throwing three picks, the fewest of any starting signal caller in the league.

Addazio has coached against a lot of good Clemson quarterbacks (Tajh Boyd, Deshaun Watson, Kelly Bryant) and a handful of elite teams, both in the ACC and in the SEC when he we worked with Urban Meyer at Florida. But this iteration of the Tigers is different.

“I will honestly and candidly tell you that this may be the best team I’ve seen in my career,” Addazio said. “It’s certainly the best team I’ve seen since I’ve been at Boston College.”

Featured Image by Mark Wallheiser / AP Photo

November 5, 2018