Sports, Football

Previewing 2021 Football: at Clemson

Coming into the season, the ACC was widely viewed as the weakest Power 5 conference: a muck of rebuilding and mediocre teams fighting for second place, while Clemson walked to another conference championship. To fix the conference’s parity problem, one of two things had to happen.: The Tigers had to take an unprecedented step back from the upper echelons of college football, or the sleeping giants of the conference had to show that they had anything more to their name than the moral victories of top recruiting classes. Whether or not the conference has solved its overall quality problem remains up in the air as North Carolina, Miami, and Florida State flounder, but Clemson has certainly taken a step down from its pedestal and entered the fray. 

After falling narrowly to an elite Georgia team in Week 1, the Tigers have followed up by eking out a win over Georgia Tech and dropping a double- overtime decision to NC State. Like a group of kids lining up to punch the bully who lorded over it for so long, BC will have the next shot to prove that No. 25 Clemson’s reign of terror will at least be cut off for a year. 

Who is BC playing?

Clemson

When is BC playing?

Saturday, Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m.

Where is BC playing?

Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.

How to Watch:

The game will be broadcast on ACC Network and the ESPN app.

How to Listen:

Audio coverage of the game will be available via Learfield on WEEI 93.7.

Series History

While BC’s all-time record against the Tigers of 9–19–2 is more favorable than some teams can claim, the matchups between the two programs in the ACC era have not boded well for the Eagles. BC has won just four of the yearly matchups between the two programs since the Eagles joined the conference in 2005, and the Eagles have not beaten the Tigers since an ugly 16–-10 victory in 2010. 

The Tigers’ run of 10 straight wins has matched Clemson’s trajectory against most of the ACC: small victories in the first half of the decade as the Tigers made their way up, followed by periodic blowouts when Clemson established itself at the top of all of college football. Before last season, Clemson had won the last five games against BC by an average of 32 points, a stretch highlighted by a 59–7 domination of BC in 2019 in which Dennis Grosel went 3-of-14 for just 53 yards. 

What to expect from Clemson:

Offense 

College football fans who grew accustomed to watching the prolific Trevor Lawrence- and Travis Etienne-led offense have had a rude awakening watching this iteration of the Tigers’ attack. The top-level talent is still there—DJ Uiagalelei and Justyn Ross are back—but the results have just not been. The Tigers have not scored more than 14 points in regulation against an FBS opponent yet this season, and they rank a dreadful 124th nationally with just 3.7 yards per play. The struggles on the offensive line that emerged at times last year have fully come into the light this season. After performing well in Lawrence’s absence last season against BC, Uiagalelei has looked lost and overwhelmed as he runs for his life with the fate of the entire offense on his shoulders. His passer efficiency rating has plummeted from 145 to 103, as he has completed just 56 percent of his passes for 5.2 yards per attempt and an equal number of touchdowns and interceptions. 

The run game is even bleakermore bleak. Dixon seemed to be the heir apparent to Etienne coming into the season but clashed with coaches throughout the opening weeks and entered the transfer portal after Week 3. Star freshman Will Shipley stepped up into the bell cow role with Dixon in the doghouse, but hurt his leg in overtime against NC State and will miss Saturday’s game. Kobe Pace is the next man up in the backfield and will be spelled by a pair of seldom-utilized upperclassmen and a freshman who may have his redshirt ripped off due to the Tigers’ desperate need at the position. 

Defense

While Clemson’s offense has waned, the Tigers’ defense has been its usual dominant self and appears recovered from the minor cracks that it showed last season. The Tigers have allowed just four yards per play, a stat all the more impressive given that some of Clemson’s opponents have looked like offensive juggernauts against most anybody else. After beating the Tigers 10–-3 in the opening game of the season and gaining only 250 yards, Georgia has scored 156 points over its other three games. Georgia Tech’s offense could not reach the endzone against Clemson and then promptly ran all over North Carolina and dropped 45 points. 

Clemson’s pass defense has led the charge, giving up a paltry 5.3 yards per play on the back of strong play from cornerbacks Andrew Booth Jr. and Mario Goodrich, as well as star safety Nolan Turner. The Tigers have been particularly effective at containing big plays both through the air and on the ground, allowing just eight pass plays of 20-plus yards on the season and no runs of over 30 yards.

Several of the key players in the Tigers’ dominance will miss Saturday’s game, however. Former No. 1 overall recruit and defensive tackle Bryan Bresee is out for the season after tearing his ACL, and fellow defensive tackle Tyler Davis is also out. Longtime starting linebacker James Skalski is expected to start after missing some time against NC State.

Outlook:

After years of blowouts at the hands of the Tigers, the Eagles showed a blueprint last year on how they can be competitive with Clemson, as they racked up a three-score halftime lead and Uiagalelei’s arm had to carry the Tigers to a narrow victory.

A year later, that blueprint may not be particularly useful. The Phil Jurkovec-less Eagles have nowhere near the explosive offense that put up 28 points in the first half, and Clemson’s once-dominant offense has turned anemic through a struggling Uiagalelei and a porous offensive line. The Tigers may still have to rest their entire fate on Uiagalelei, but it will be more out of a lack of other elite options as they try to cobble a quality offense.

BC may also have to rely on what is at best an imperfect passing solution. Running back Pat Garwo III and the offensive line have looked much improved over the last couple of weeks, but the run game is still untested against a quality defense, and the Tigers, even with the loss of their defensive tackles, will provide that and more. BC fans have become accustomed to the endless oscillations of Dennis Grosel. If Grosel can be the quarterback that matched BC’s single-game passing yards record against Virginia, rather than the one that put up a dismal performance against Temple, BC might have a chance to win. 

Featured Image by John Morgan / USA Today via ACC Media

October 1, 2021

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