Previewing 2020 Football: At Clemson
Sports, Football

Previewing 2020 Football: At Clemson

Who is BC playing?

Clemson

When is BC playing?

Saturday, Oct. 31, 12 p.m. 

Where is BC playing?

Memorial Stadium, Clemson, South Carolina

How to watch?

The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC.

How to listen?

Audio broadcast of the game will be streamed via BCEagles.com.

Matchup 

Boston College will face its greatest test of the year, heading to Death Valley on Halloween to square up with the top team in the country. The Eagles (4-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast) look to hand Clemson its first loss of the year, and their first ACC loss at home since 2016. This matchup is the 30th meeting between the two programs, with the Tigers posting an 18-9-2 series record. The Eagles are 31-point underdogs to the No. 1 Tigers, and although it’s humbling, such a spread comes as no surprise, as Clemson has outscored BC 176-31 in the last four meetings. 

Dabo Swinney’s elite squad comes into this weekend’s contest with National Championship aspirations, while the Eagles look to play spoiler and snap a nine-game losing streak against the Tigers. Despite this year being Jeff Hafley’s first season as a head coach, his experience as defensive coordinator at Ohio State will prove highly valuable to the Eagles’ effort of slowing down the Tigers’ dynamic offense. In last year’s CFP semifinal between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State, the Tigers only narrowly—and not without controversy—escaped Hafley’s top-ranked Buckeye defense. Hafley looks to exact some sweet revenge on Swinney and Clemson with a win that would smear their untarnished resume. 

What to expect from Clemson:

Offense

Clemson ranks among the nation’s best in nearly every offensive statistic, an expected result for a team with a star-studded depth chart. Clemson’s roster includes Heisman frontrunners Lawrence and Travis Etienne, star receiver Amari Rodgers, and an entire cast of blue-chip recruits who give even the country’s toughest defenses fits. 

But because Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, the offense will look a little different this week. Lawrence has thrown for 1,833 yards over six games—enough for fifth-most in the nation—despite his absence from the field in the second half of most conference games. With Lawrence out, true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei, who usually serves as Lawrence’s relief, will step into the starting role. Standing in Uiagalelei’s way are BC DBs Josh DeBerry and Brandon Sebastian, who have made serious strides under Hafley and aim to combat Clemson’s talent with stingy coverage downfield. 

Even without TLaw, stifling Clemson’s other Heisman candidate, Etienne, could prove just as challenging. Etienne has racked up an impressive 816 all-purpose yards, scored nine touchdowns, and has averaged 6.3 yards per carry over six games. In a press conference earlier this week, Hafley emphasized Etienne’s talent, calling him “the most underrated football player in college football.” Linebackers Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie, two of the nation’s top tacklers, will be crucial in containing Clemson’s championship-level offense. Look for these two, along with defensive linemen Luc Bequette and Chibueze Onwuka, to be significant in Hafley’s effort to fill the gaps and slow Clemson on the ground.

Defense

Clemson entered this season with one of the best defensive recruiting classes in history, more than replacing a number of core defensive players lost to the NFL Draft last year, including eighth-overall pick Isaiah Simmons. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has done an especially impressive job coaching this group of young and inexperienced recruits considering the lack of preseason preparations. Graduate student James Skalski will be absent from Saturday’s showdown with a minor surgery. Although Clemson surely has the young talent to fill his shoes in their front seven, his leadership will be tough to replicate. Look for true freshman Myles Murphy and Bryan Breese to pressure Phil Jurkovec early and often, forcing him out of the pocket and into tight windows.  

If there is one weakness to this Clemson defense, it’s that the secondary that is still adjusting to life without Simmons. With BC reinventing its offensive brand in favor of passing, Jurkovec ranks just one spot below Lawrence at sixth nationally in passing yards, with 1,671. Creative play calling from offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti could give the Eagles the spark they need to compete with this dominant Clemson defense. In order for BC to hang with college football’s best, the Eagles will have to minimize sloppy penalties and avoid the careless turnovers that thwarted any threat of an upset against Virginia Tech.

Outlook

Yes, BC is a 31-point underdog, and Clemson hasn’t lost at Memorial Stadium since Nathan Peterman worked some highly improbable magic, but this is a highly improbable season, and the Eagles should not be entirely counted out. Hafley’s prowess with defensive adjustments was clear against Georgia Tech, a necessary bounceback performance following the disappointing trip to Lane Stadium. The Eagles will definitely have their work cut out for them, but if they can establish the run game early like they did against GT, they’ll rely less on Jurkovec, giving him a sense of comfort and flexibility when under center. If the Eagles play with discipline, and Hafley is able to execute his full schematic capacity, then they should be able to give Clemson more than just a scare on Halloween. 

Featured Image by Richard Shiro / AP Photo

October 29, 2020

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