CLEMSON, S.C. — Boston College football quarterback Dennis Grosel looked downfield from the Clemson 36-yard line with 1:48 left on the clock. BC was down by six. He needed a perfect drive.
Alec Lindstrom snapped the ball, and soon it was in Zay Flowers’ hands at the 49-yard line. On the next play, Grosel hit Travis Levy, who quickly darted out of bounds. Then he did it again, and again. Five completions later, Grosel found himself on the 11-yard line with a first down. Lindstrom snapped the ball, but this time it sailed through Grosel’s hands and landed on the turf. A few confusing seconds later, the refs signaled back downfield and Clemson had possession. Death Valley erupted in an 80,000-strong wall of noise as a destitute BC walked off the field, helpless without any timeouts remaining. The scoreboard flashed 19–13, Clemson.
“We had a chance to take it in the fourth,” BC head coach Jeff Hafley said in his postgame press conference. “Certainly I could have coached a better game. I’m proud of our players. We’re a team—we win as a team, we lose as a team. There’s no point in pointing fingers.”
BC (4–1, 0–1 Atlantic Coast) had chance upon chance throughout Saturday night’s game at No. 25 Clemson (3–2, 2–1 Atlantic Coast). On the drive prior to the one that cost them the game, the Eagles had possession with 1st-and-10 on the 37-yard line. Instead of pushing downfield, the Eagles marched themselves upfield. An ineligible receiver downfield and two back-to-back false starts saw BC suddenly facing 1st-and-25 back at midfield.
“It was loud,” Hafley said. “As much as I thought we prepared for the noise, this is the first time in two years that we’ve been in an environment like this. We need to do a better job of preparing, and that falls on me.”
That drive eventually ended in a turnover on downs, but the Eagles miraculously got another chance.
BC’s defense stepped up as it did all game, using all three timeouts and stopping Clemson on 3rd-and-3, which forced a punt. The Eagles failed to capitalize, but their defense kept them relevant throughout the evening.
“We definitely feel like we’re one of the best defenses in the country,” Brandon Sebastian said after the game.
Clemson’s offense might lack its firepower of years’ past so far this season, but it is still the strongest offensive attack the Eagles have encountered. Still BC’s defense held Clemson to just 19 points on a touchdown and four field goals.
The Tigers totaled 438 yards—207 through the air and 231 on the ground. Those numbers appear troublesome from a defensive standpoint, but BC’s performance on third downs rendered Clemson’s productivity on first and second down almost irrelevant. In 14 tries, BC only allowed Clemson to convert on three of its third downs. The Eagles also stopped the Tigers on their one fourth down attempt.
“Overall, what a great effort by the defense,” Hafley said. “Holding them to the field goals after sudden changes—I’m proud of those guys, and I think the defensive staff did a terrific job.”
BC’s defense did not just get stops, it got stops at the right time. In the second quarter with the game tied 13–13, Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei delivered a 33-yard pass to Kobe Pace, who Jaiden Woodbey took down at the BC 43-yard line. The Tigers were marching downfield and needed just one more first down to get within field goal range and take the lead. Clemson fought for a 2nd-and-5, but BC only allowed the Tigers one more yard on their next two plays. Instead of taking the lead, Clemson was forced to hand the ball back to the BC offense, which promptly turned it back over.
This pattern repeated itself throughout the game, with each of BC’s defensive stops and ensuing drives foiled by a Clemson stop or BC turnover.
The Eagles turned the ball over a total of three times, two of which came on interceptions and one that marked the game-deciding fumble. Despite his turnovers, Grosel played his most statistically impressive game of the season Saturday night, recording 311 yards on 23-of-40 passing.
With Grosel’s yardage came a slew of receiving help. Seven different Eagles hauled in passes, five of whom finished for over 35 yards. Trae Barry led the BC receiving attack with 82 yards on seven receptions. Barry’s performance Saturday was the most BC has used a tight end since Hunter Long last season. Fellow tight end Joey Luchetti also tallied yardage on two receptions for 58 total yards. Flowers also contributed to the air attack, averaging 14 yards per reception for 70 total yards on five catches.
BC’s run game that dominated the first four games of the season was quiet on Saturday. Hafley did not shy away from pounding the turf, but the collective run game lacked production. Pat Garwo III totaled 57 yards on 12 carries, but the ground game as a whole tallied just 46 net yards thanks to Grosel’s four sacks.
Alongside his yardage, Garwo’s biggest contribution to Saturday’s game was his effect on momentum. When he ran three yards into the endzone at the start of the third quarter, Death Valley went silent. A “let’s go Eagles” chant from BC’s small visiting fan section was the only audible noise when BC kicked off, and the Eagles forced a quick three-and-out. Clemson fans took their seats for the first time all game. The momentum eventually fizzled, but Garwo had tied the game at 13.
Of BC’s 357 yards, only 140 came in the first half, while Clemson’s first half featured 261 yards. BC’s first half also saw a more even split between running and passing, with only a 32-yard differential in favor of passing. The Eagles leaned more on their air raid as the game progressed, finally ending up with a drive that required passing to conserve time at the end of the fourth quarter.
Up until the game-ending fumble, Grosel nearly completed the perfect drive that he needed. He completed four passes in a row, each setting the receiver up to dart out of bounds and stop the clock.
“We do that a ton [in practice],” Grosel said. “You guys wouldn’t believe how many times we do that. … I’m glad it showed and we worked at a high level. It’s really unfortunate that we didn’t put a shot in the end zone.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Hakim Wright Sr. / AP Photo