Sports, Football

Notebook: Eagles Show Cracks in Foundation Against Clemson

Three years in a row, Boston College football has made the trek down to Death Valley to take on Clemson. Three years in a row, the Eagles have faced a cacophony of noise at one of the loudest stadiums in the country. Three years in a row, they’ve taken the long plane ride home with a devastating loss looming over their heads. The 2021 iteration saw a last-minute miracle drive turn into a third year of heartbreak on the road thanks to a simple fumbled snap. Clemson (3–2, 2–1 Atlantic Coast) has made a habit of toppling BC’s high hopes, and the Tigers kept it up, taking home a 19–13 win over BC (4–1, 0–1).

Breaking the Line 

Through BC’s opening four games this season, the Eagles allowed just two sacks. BC’s offensive line returned all five starters from last year, and it’s shown so far in the Eagles’ success up front. Against Clemson, the players in the trenches looked like an entirely different unit. One of those starters, Tyler Vrabel, left the game during the second quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return. After the offensive line allowed just two sacks through the first four games, Clemson took BC quarterback Dennis Grosel down in the backfield four times. 

The run game, which had averaged 220.5 yards per game prior to Saturday’s matchup, went quiet for the first time this season. Pat Garwo III, the Eagles’ leading rusher this season, recorded 57 yards on the ground, but four sacks for a total loss of 33 yards meant the Eagles only finished with 46 yards. 

Add in the fact that center Alec Lindstrom struggled on snaps in the fourth quarter, culminating in a muffed snap that resulted in the game-sealing fumble, and the Eagles’ offensive line looked like a shell of its former self.

Holding the Line

While BC’s ever-dependable offensive line faltered, the Eagles made up for it on the defensive side of the ball. In addition to stopping the Tigers on 11 of their 14 third down attempts, the Eagles forced Clemson to settle for field goals on four of its scoring drives, and its only touchdown came on a 59-yard run. Though Clemson was efficient on first and second down as it marched down the field, BC’s defense locked down every time the Tigers entered its territory. Though Clemson converted on both of its red-zone chances, BC held Clemson to field goals in both instances. The Tigers’ only touchdown came early in the first quarter, when Kobe Pace exploited a missed read by BC linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley and raced down the right sideline. 

Progress, But Far From Perfection

Grosel is no stranger to stepping into a starting role in the middle of the season, as he’s now done it in each of the last three seasons. Still, his presence in the backfield is far from perfect in the Eagles’ scheme. Before Phil Jurkovec went down with an injury early in BC’s second game of the season, BC had built the beginnings of a pro-style offense that exploited Jurkovec’s strong arm and the speed of the Eagles’ receivers. With the ground game struggling against Clemson’s front seven, offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. looked to Grosel, who had an abysmal stat line of 7-of-15 passing for 59 yards just two weeks ago against Temple

Grosel took a marked step forward against an arguably much stronger defense than Temple, throwing for 311 yards on 23-for-40 passing. Still, the performance was far from perfect, particularly on deep balls. He consistently overthrew his receivers, and one of his two interceptions came on an underthrown deep shot to Zay Flowers. The other was an overthrown pass intended for CJ Lewis.

The Daily Special 

With BC’s sole touchdown coming on a rush from Garwo, the Eagles had to once again rely on their special teams. After a standout debut last week against Missouri with field goals from 49 and 31 yards, freshman Connor Lytton got the nod to take field goals against Clemson. He added two more field goals to his record, with a chip shot from 22 yards and another from 34 with 19 seconds to go in the first half. 

Grant Carlson was another bright spot for the Eagles’ special teams. Clemson forced BC into six punts, and Carlson averaged nearly 50 yards per punt. His longest against Clemson, a 72-yard rocket pinned Clemson at its own four-yard line. Altogether, four of his six punts pinned the Tigers inside their own 15-yard line, giving the Eagles’ defense some room to breathe. 

Featured Image Courtesy of AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.

October 3, 2021