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Clemson 34, BC 7: The Key Play

The fact that The Key Play wasn’t in the first quarter is a miracle in itself

NCAA Football: Boston College at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get into our weekly look at The Key Play, I just want to say that I’ve been trying to decide if this game was overall “good” or “bad” for BC for the last two and a half days since the game ended. Taking Clemson to the 4th quarter in a tie game was, frankly, impossible, but then we still managed to give up 4 touchdowns in like 12 minutes. Honestly that was pretty impressive, too, in its own special way!

In a vacuum, I guess the sheer impossibility of what they pulled off for three quarters was good. But the problem is, the season isn’t played in a vacuum. I’d feel a lot better about the game if we didn’t get pants’d by Wake Forest and Notre Dame the last two weeks. But we did, and now we’re sitting here at 1-3 with our record consisting of three blowouts and a bounce off the crossbar.

Anyway. Enough of my own personal existential crisis. Losing sucks; we can leave it at that.

1:05 remaining in the 3rd quarter
3rd & 5 at the Boston College 29

Anthony Brown pass complete to Jon Hilliman for 4 yds to the BC 33

So, there was a pretty narrow time frame that you can point to as being where BC lost the game. Obviously you could pick any of the four Clemson touchdowns in the 4th quarter — or at least the first couple, given that the last two were solidly into garbage time by then.

But the game was decided before those Clemson touchdowns. If BC was going to pull off the upset, you could play as many quarters of back and forth punts you want, but they needed to take the lead. They never did, and in the second half they only had one opportunity to do so: this drive.

BC finally got its game-tying touchdown on the previous drive, with Anthony Brown stringing together some nice plays to make it 7-7. Incredibly, with Clemson needing to wake up from its hibernation to get the lead back, the Eagles immediately forced the Tigers to go 3-and-out in what was probably to that point Clemson’s most important offensive drive of the game. That gave the Eagles the ball back late in the third quarter with momentum and a chance to actually go ahead against the defending national champions.

And what happened was... well, nothing. BC put up its own 3-and-out, capped off by this dump off to Jon Hilliman that doesn’t quite get the 5 yards the Eagles need to move the chains.

It’s been maddening to watch the Eagles attempt passes short of the line to gain all season on 3rd down. This wasn’t too bad, because I’m a big fan of dumping the ball off to the running back and putting them in space (and Brown looks like he doesn’t even glance at him until he makes the pass — good execution from the freshman).

But... they don’t convert, thanks to Clemson corner Ryan Carter, #31, who read the play very well, got off his WR, and came up to make a big time tackle short of the sticks.

Is there something BC, specifically the wide receiver (I can’t tell who it is), could have done to mitigate Carter’s participation in the play? I’m not sure, because he lines up more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and BC can’t just immediately go blocking him down the field.

Certainly, if the play was always going to be a pass to Hilliman, the WR needs to be aware of the play and get ready to block once Hilliman has the ball. But he just blows by Carter without much of an effort to do so, so that tells me it might have been a true check down to Hilliman after the primary play doesn’t open up.

In any case, Hilliman is taken down a yard shy, and BC has to punt the ball right back to Clemson. As it turned out, this was effectively the Eagles’ only chance at putting the game under their control. Had they been able to drive down the field (obviously not an easy ask against the Tiger defense, but still), they’d have had the lead and the narrative the rest of the game is very different — even if Clemson still takes over. But after that punt, Clemson found paydirt for four unanswered touchdowns, and our valiant effort turned into the blowout we all expected.