Previewing 2019 Football: At No. 4 Clemson
Sports, Football

Previewing 2019 Football: At No. 4 Clemson

Clemson has dropped one spot in the AP Poll each of the past three weeks, but Boston College football head coach Steve Addazio sees the Tigers as the No. 1 team in the country—and understandably so. Clemson has maybe the best NFL quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, leads the ACC in both offense and defense, and is the reigning national champion.

The No. 4 Tigers (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast) have won 22 straight games and 40 of their last 41 games at home. So it comes as no surprise that BC (4-3, 2-2) is a 34-point underdog heading into Death Valley with a backup quarterback whose making his first career road start. Last year, the Eagles were in position to challenge Clemson for the Atlantic Division title. On Saturday, they’ll have a chance to stage the biggest upset of the season—just a 2 percent chance according to ESPN’s Football Power Index—and throw a wrench in the Tigers’ College Football Playoff plans.

Who is BC playing?
Clemson

When is BC playing?
Saturday, Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m.

Where is BC playing?
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.

How to Watch:
The game will be aired on ACC Network Extra.

Series History:

Clemson leads the all-time series, 17-9, and recently it hasn’t been all that close. The Tigers have won eight straight games against BC and have posted a 20.7-point average margin of victory in their six matchups versus Addazio’s Eagles. Although the scores might not indicate it, though, the last two meetings between BC and Clemson have been much more competitive.

In 2017, the Eagles’ defense held Kelly Bryant and the Tigers to just seven points through three quarters of play. But then a Clemson rushing attack led by Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster broke loose, turning a 7-7 tie into a 34-7 blowout. Last year, of course, saw BC host Clemson for a College GameDay, top-20 matchup in Alumni Stadium. At 7-2 and No. 17 in the country, the Eagles had a legitimate shot to beat the eventual national champions. Yet Anthony Brown went down on BC’s first possession of the night, and Clemson—leading just 13-7 at intermission—once again pulled away in the second half. That said, the Eagles held the Tigers’ offense to just 20 points, the fewest the unit scored all season.

What to expect from Clemson:

Offense:

Lawrence entered 2019 with the highest expectations imaginable for a 20-year-old. He was coming off a year in which he beat out Bryant for the starting role a third of the way through the regular season before guiding Clemson to its fourth consecutive ACC championship and third national title, all while tossing 30 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Through seven weeks of this season, though, Lawrence has experienced a sophomore slump of sorts.

He’s already doubled his interception total from last year, throwing a pick in all but two of Clemson’s games. Not only that, but his completion percentage has dipped 1.5 points. Even so, he has still shown the ability to beat any secondary over the top, and most are just waiting for the underclassman to snap back into true form. It could be at any time. After all, Lawrence has all the weapons a quarterback could ever need. 

With a trio of wide receivers—Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, and Amari Rodgers—that have NFL written all over them, Clemson is lethal in the air. All three have 18 or more receptions and 250-plus receiving yards on the year. Higgins and Ross make freakishly good catches on a game-to-game basis, and Rodgers—who ran back a punt for a return at BC last season—racks up yards after the catch. Just last week, Ross bailed out Lawrence at the end of the first half with a 25-yard reception in the back of the end zone, where he adjusted mid-air and plucked the ball in between two Louisville defensive backs.

If Lawrence is struggling, the Tigers always have something to fall back on, and that something—or someone, rather—is Travis Etienne. The junior is averaging 8.0 yards per carry this season, and is coming off a performance against Georgia Tech where he rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns on a mere 12 carries. Lyn-J Dixon has also received his fair share of touches, running the ball 52 times this year for 300 yards and three scores. With Clemson’s loaded offensive line—which has also only allowed five sacks all year—the Tigers’ 10th-ranked rushing offense is nothing short of dominant.

Defense:

Clemson will be going up against an even better run offense on Saturday night, as BC currently ranks first in the ACC and sixth in the nation in rushing (278.3 yards per game). Luckily for defensive coordinator Brent Venables, he might just have the talent to stunt one of the country’s best running back duos.

The Tigers rank 25th nationally in run defense, holding their opponents to an average of 111.9 rushing yards per game. Venables’ unit has been pretty consistent, too. No Clemson opponent has scampered more than 157 yards on the ground in 2019. It all starts with the defensive line, which plays host to the likes of Jordan Williams, Tyler Davis, and Justin Foster. After losing Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Austin Bryant, a drop-off in the trenches was expected, but Williams, Davis, and Foster have held down the fort. In addition to wrecking havoc against the run, they have teamed up to tally a combined 11.5 sacks. They aren’t the only pass rushers, though.

Isaiah Simmons, arguably one of the best defensive players in college football, has already recorded six sacks this season—one fewer than BC has logged as a team. If AJ Dillon and David Bailey reach the second level on Saturday, they’ll be hard-pressed to get by Simmons and fellow Tigers linebacker James Skalski, who have teamed up to compile 98 total tackles this season.

Following the Eagles’ Week 8 rout of North Carolina State, Addazio acknowledged that BC will have to be more balanced in Death Valley. The problem is, the Tigers have the third-best pass defense in the country. They are only conceding 144.1 yards per game through the air and just 5.26 per pass attempt. No Clemson opponent has completed more 57.1 percent of its passes this season—and Dennis Grosel enters with just a 39.1 percent clip.

Outlook:

Some weeks BC feels like one of the better teams in the Atlantic Division. Others, it appears to be one of the worst. On Saturday, it’ll have to play as if it’s one of the ACC’s best. In the Eagles’ last three matchups against Clemson, they have scored just two offensive touchdowns. This time around, BC doesn’t have the defensive talent to play a game of field position with Clemson. Instead, Dillon and Bailey will have to get going early and wear down Venables’ defense. On the other side of the field, Lawrence will inevitably have time to throw—it’s just a matter of how much damage he will do. BC will have to bend but not break and force a few turnovers. If the Tigers stake themselves to an early multi-touchdown lead, this could be another primetime rout. 

Featured Image by Richard Shiro / AP Photo

October 25, 2019
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