A lot can change in a year.
Last year’s Clemson football saw its former five-star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei throw more interceptions than touchdowns, and Boston College football was one accurate snap away from deleting the Tigers off the map.
But one year later, No. 5 Clemson (6–0, 4–0 Atlantic Coast) incorporated a brand new approach to its offense thanks to first-year offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter. This year’s Uiagalelei averages 295.5 passing yards a game and has already thrown more touchdowns than he did all of last season. This year’s Clemson ran right through the Eagles Saturday night, handing BC its fourth loss of the season 31–3.
Like last year, the Eagles kept things close in the first half, and BC (2–4, 1–3) shut down Uiagalelei in the first 30 minutes of play. BC’s interior defense—led by Kam Arnold, who recorded six total tackles, and Josh DeBerry, who snatched his first interception of the year—left Uiagalelei irritated and looking lost in the pocket.
By the end of the second quarter, Uiagalelei had completed just 10 of 18 passes for 80 yards with one interception.
“I thought DJ has played better this year,” BC head coach Jeff Hafley said. “He’s a good player, he’s making better decisions, and then they’re running him a bit more in that game, but I think our guys did a really good job against DJ.”
Clemson’s one-year turnaround wasn’t just a representation of Uiagalelei’s improvements over the offseason. The Tigers’ defense also stepped up and limited the Eagles to three points across all four quarters. BC running back Pat Garwo III accumulated just 15 yards on 11 carries.
BC largely contained Clemson’s most dominant defensive weapon, K.J. Henry, who bore the brunt up front. But Clemson’s Trenton Simpson and Barrett Carter made up for Henry’s smaller involvement, combining for nine tackles and a sack. While quarterback Phil Jurkovec showed some flashes, finding receivers down the seams while using his feet more fluidly, he never found the end zone—the first time he’s failed to do so all season.
Saturday’s game marked BC’s annual Red Bandanna game, which honors Welles Crowther, BC ’99, who died in the Sept. 11 attacks after saving over a dozen lives. The Eagles donned custom Red Bandanna uniforms in tribute to Crowther.
“The atmosphere was incredible,” Hafley said. “I wish we could’ve given you a fight for four quarters, but it was awesome. [The fans] were great.”
The game also marked BC’s first contest against a ranked opponent this season, as Clemson, a National Championship contender, sits at No. 5 in the AP Top 25 Poll.
“All week we talked about how this is what we came to Boston College to play for—to play in big games,” Arnold said. “We want to play against big teams, so yeah we took it personally. We’re obviously the underdogs, so we just had a chip on our shoulder, and Coach Hafley was just adamant about the execution.”
On the first drive of the game, Clemson wide receiver Beaux Collins beat DeBerry on the out route for a 19-yard pickup, which got the ball rolling for the Tigers. Clemson finished its first drive of the game with a field goal to go up 3–0.
On Clemson’s second drive, Uiagalelei looked downfield, and DeBerry made a play on the ball, intercepting it, to set up the Eagles in red-zone territory.
Clemson got the ball back without any damage after Connor Lytton missed a 35-yard field goal attempt. But Vinny DePalma sacked Uiagalelei, forcing the Tigers to go three-and-out, and BC’s offense was back where it had started. On DePalma’s defensive play, BC exhibited sturdy coverage in man-to-man, giving DePalma ample time to track Uiagalelei down.
Back on offense, Jurkvoec got within the 10-yard line, and Garwo carried the ball for three yards but then dropped a loss of two, setting up fourth down. Lytton converted a 30-yard field goal attempt, tying the game at three.
The Tigers scored 28 unanswered points and BC’s offense never got a lick of the end zone. The Eagles were short-handed on offense on Saturday, with a slew of players, including running backs Alex Broome, Alec Sinkfield, and Cam Barfield, and tight end George Takacs out with injury.
“I’m ready for whatever, whenever,” Garwo said of having to step up with a lack of healthy running backs. “We have a good room, we all compete, and we’re ready to take the step up when we have to be in the position, so it’s no stress. It’s really just good to have the belief in you and you know you’re going to keep going.”
With under two minutes to go in the second quarter, Clemson opted for a hurry-up approach as it got inside the 10-yard line. Uiagalelei made a goal-line push to the 1-yard line on second down, and Will Shipley took the ball up the middle for an easy scramble on third down for a score. The Tigers led 10–3 heading into the second half.
On Clemson’s first drive of the third quarter, Shipley rushed for 11 yards, setting up the offense in scoring position. Uiagalelei found Collins streaking down the left sideline for a 21-yard pickup and then fired a rocket to Joseph Ngata, who caught the ball over his shoulder in the back of the end zone.
In the fourth quarter, Uiagalelei notched his second passing touchdown of the night on a 10-yard completion to Collins that put the Tigers up 24–3. Clemson recorded its final touchdown with just over four minutes to play on a 13-yard pass from Uiagalelei to Brannon Spector.
“They have a lot of depth, and they have a lot of really good players, and they kind of overwhelm you late in the game,” Hafley said.