Our Boston Globe style look at tomorrow’s game between Clemson and Boston College.
Boston College (1-2 overall, 0-1 ACC) at #2 Clemson (3-0 overall, 1-0 ACC)
When: 3:30 PM EDT, TV: ESPN 2
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC (81,500)
Line: Danny Sheridan opening - Clemson by 32 1/2, The Book - Clemson by 35.3
Series history: Clemson leads 15-9-2 , in Clemson - Clemson leads 6-3-1
Last game vs BC: Clemson 56 at Boston College 10 - 2016
Last game at Clemson: at Clemson 34 Boston College 17 - 2015
Last BC win: at Boston College 16 Clemson 10 - 2010
Series Win Streak: Clemson 6
My 2017 record vs the Vegas spread: 3-0
My 2017 record straight up: 3-0
Last week: Clemson 47 at Louisville 21, Notre Dame 49 at Boston College 20
When Clemson Runs:
Clemson run offense: (2017) 248.7 ypg, 19th in the nation, (2016) 169.7 ypg, 71st in the nation, Boston College run defense: (2017) 279.0 ypg, 126th in the nation, (2016) 108.5 ypg, 8th in the nation
This offense has some of the same look as Clemson 2016, but with less reliance on the pass and more focus on the run. CU doesn’t have the yet headliner back they had in Wayne Gallman, but has spread the wealth out among four running backs and QB Kelly Bryant to actually account for almost 80 yards more per game than a season ago.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, like we saw with Notre Dame, Wake and Northern Illinois, the QB run is an integral part of the Tiger attack. Bryant, who is Clemson’s best option on the goal line (5 rushing TDs), has run the ball twice as much as the next leading ball carrier, both by design in QB draw and read option looks and has breakaway 4.4 40 speed.
SO Tavien Feaster is averaging over 9 yards per carry and FR Travis Etienne out of Louisiana is averaging an other worldly 12.8 ypc on just 14 attempts.
The Tiger offensive line, is big and experienced and actually rated a tick ahead of Notre Dame in the pre-season rankings.
Clemson will spread you out with talent at the receiver spot and that is something that exposed BC over the past two seasons to QB draws and simple A gap runs, something the Tigers do extremely well.
BC has struggled to control that A gap and with Connor Strachan out, both playing disciplined gap control and attacking run situations has become a problem.
When Clemson Passes:
Clemson pass offense: (2017) 271.0 ypg, 42nd in the nation, (2016) 333.9 ypg, 7th in the nation, Boston College pass defense: (2017) 150.0 ypg, 22nd in the nation, (2016) 205.6 ypg, 34th in the nation
This feels an awful lot like Notre Dame part II, except from a passing standpoint, Clemson has more experienced receivers, more depth and a better design in the passing game to take advantage of Kelly Bryant’s strengths.
There is a ton of movement and window dressing that acts as eye candy, particularly with play action and that tends to freeze a defense which could be deadly against this team.
In replacing Deshaun Watson, through three games including two against top 20 opposition, Kelly Bryant has done an excellent job managing the game, avoiding turnovers and making most of the throws he’s required to, completing nearly 69% of his throws. He has at times looked like he has missed some easy attempts and in most cases missed high, but not high and over the middle.
In Ray-Ray McCloud, Hunter Renfrow and Deon Cain, the Tigers have experience and security. McCloud had a 79 yard TD last week, he and Cain provide a big play option, while Renfrow that security blanket matched in the slot against linebackers and safeties.
Clemson also has five star true frosh Tee Higgins who at 6’4 and 200 lbs is considered by some to have as much talent and potential as any receiver in Tiger history.
As good as the offensive line is in run blocking, the chink in the armor could be in pass protection. RT Sean Pollard has shown issues with speed rushers and at times the line has looked confused handling blitz packages. In the first three games of the season, BC has blitzed 50% of the time. Bryant though, has completed 58% against the blitz.
That said, the run will set up the pass, so if the Eagles can’t control first and second down, this may not matter and it may be another case where an opponent’s passing game looks mediocre, but only because the run was so strong.
When Boston College Runs:
Boston College run offense: (2017) 158.3 ypg, 76th in the nation, (2016) 149.1 ypg, 96th in the nation, Clemson run defense: (2017) 91.0 ypg, 16th in the nation, (2016) 129.6 ypg, 24th in the nation
The Eagles need to shorten the game. Trying to run 100 plays at warp speed not only is unlikely to work, but also will leave a rapidly depleting/depleted defense on the field far too long. It is unclear whether Addazio will abandon his new philosophy or not. Either decision is likely to be controversial. Run at tempo and there is a good chance for quick three and outs. Don’t play the way you have been and the team sees it as a lack of confidence in them.
That said, a week ago, there was improvement in the BC run offense, at least sporadically. BC ran for a season high 185 yards and 4.2 ypc against a good if not great defense in Notre Dame. Jon Hilliman showed flashes of his 2014 form, gaining 122 yards and averaging over 5 1⁄2 yards a pop.
Consistency though has been a problem. Whether it be a penalty, missed assignment, etc. BC hasn’t been able to string together consistency through series or certainly through games and unlike Clemson, has been their least effective running the ball in the fourth quarter, averaging only 2.5 ypc.
The interior of the Clemson front is scary, led by Springfield, MA native, Christian Wilkins. The 6’3 310 lb JR is a force against both the run and the pass and will be a handful for C Ben Petrula, who did a very good job against Notre Dame in place of Jon Baker.
The Clemson LB crew loses 2nd team All America in Ben Boulware, but returns five of their top six players, including SR Dorian O’Daniel, who leads in tackles.
One key here could be the Clemson punt game which was exceptional in pinning Louisville inside the 10 last week to start drives. BC needs plus field position to operate.
When Boston College Passes:
Boston College pass offense: (2017) 189.7 ypg, 101st in the nation (2016) 143.8 ypg, 120th in the nation , Clemson pass defense: (2017) 132.3 ypg, 14th in the nation, (2016) 181.9 ypg, 14th in the nation
One figures that the Eagles will need to throw the ball in this game and that puts the pressure back on the offensive line and QB Anthony Brown.
Brown already has thrown 6 interceptions, placing him #122 in the country. He’s gotten little help from his receivers although Charlie Callinan came alive in the Notre Dame game with 7 catches, 2 for TDs.
The problem though will be holding up against a Clemson front that already has 16 sacks on the season, all in the last two games. 11 vs Auburn and 4 last week against Louisville.
Pass protection has been spotty at best and when it has broken down, so has Brown’s accuracy. The Eagles have added a bit of a screen game to the arsenal this year and using backs as receivers to slow the Clemson rush, will help.
This is another area where using Brown’s legs is important. Clemson did a good job vs Lamar Jackson, but he still threw for 317 yards and 3 TDs, because they were more concerned about the run. Brown of course, isn’t Jackson, but has mobility that hasn’t been utilized a great deal to date.
Boston College Keys To Victory:
1. Run Anthony Brown by design - We know that the Eagles have issues containing the quarterback, but BC also has a mobile QB themselves in Anthony Brown, who doesn’t really carry the ball. No, I don’t want to see him take hits and no, he’s not Lamar Jackson either, but I do believe Brown will be able to make some yards against a stout front, unlikely to spy him and keep drives alive while eating clock.
2. Control First Down Defensively - Kelly Bryant has been solid so far, but when allowed to throw on offense friendly down and distance, it does make a difference. The Clemson offensive line has been good, but at times has looked suspect in pass protection. If Clemson lives in 2nd and 5 or less most of the day, it will be very difficult.
3. Big plays, big plays, big plays - Whether it’s the offense or defense, BC needs some and Clemson has gotten some. It is well chronicled that in the Notre Dame game, the Irish had 7 runs of 30 yards or more, 6 of which resulted in TDs within 2 plays. Against Louisville, Clemson had three offensive TDs from outside 30 yards (39 yard and 81 yard run and 79 yard pass) and a 44 yard INT return. The Eagle linebackers in particular, must maintain discipline.
Clemson Keys To Victory:
1. Avoid a Louisville hangover - Yes, a week ago for the Notre Dame game this said, Avoid a Georgia hangover, but there are a lot of similarities, particularly a semi-inexperienced, yet talented quarterback and coming off a game that the team and the country pointed at as a measuring stick of the team’s national standing. In general, especially at the lines of scrimmage, Clemson is a mature crew, who had a big game just a week before against Auburn and fared fine coming off that at Louisville. Will they take BC lightly, perhaps, but Clemson has an enormous margin for error in this game regardless of whether they do or don’t. A year ago, the BC game followed the Louisville game and Clemson was more than fine. The BC game though was on the road and may have gotten their attention. It was the week after BC when Clemson faced NC State where the Tigers nearly tripped.
2. Spread ‘em out - Even going back to 2015 and earlier Don Brown led defenses, the Eagles have had troubles with teams spreading them out, in particular defending the run. Doing so has just exposed the middle of the field and backs or quarterbacks getting past the line have made hay with the linebackers pulled out of the middle. With the BC linebacker corps depleted and challenged already and the spread set something Clemson does by default already, this is a natural.
3. Get After the QB - BC figures to be in a lot of second and third and long situations. The Tiger D has 16 sacks in their last two games, including 5 against Lamar Jackson last Saturday. Whether it’s sacks or just pressure, it can establish field position and momentum. Pressure has also impacted Anthony Brown and his receiving corps, with 5 INTs thrown in the last two games.
A year ago in Chestnut Hill, Clemson put an epic beat down on the Eagles, 56-10. The Tigers may have lost QB Deshaun Watson, RB Wayne Gallman and WR Mike Williams to the NFL, but there is still a massive talent disparity between the two teams.
Outside of the unheralded star in WR Hunter Renfrow and LG Taylor Hearn, the rest of the starting 11 on BOTH sides of the ball, were rated in the top 70 in their position coming out of high school, with 13 of them rated in the top 20.
Conversely, BC has no starters rated in the top 20 period.
Now it’s not all about talent, but when the spread is now up to 34 1/2 , the largest anyone can seem to find records on in at least recent Eagle history and quite possibly one of the biggest spreads in an ACC game in recent history, it’s clear there is disparity at every level.
I do realize that Clemson lost their kicker to a season ending knee injury, but that assumes the game comes down to kicking, I don’t believe we are at that point.
Last year the Tigers came into Alumni after the emotion of the home win over Louisville and rolled. This year, provided Kelly Bryant comes even remotely close to doing what he’s done in replacing Watson, this one won’t be close either.
Clemson 44 Boston College 7