When Boston College went up 18 late in the second quarter I started to worry. Contrary to years past, the Eagles took the fight directly to Clemson from the opening kick. They landed some big punches: a brilliant opening drive, a defensive touchdown, and a penalty inducing fake field goal formation that led to a juggling CJ Lewis touchdown reception. From there, BC went from the team with nothing to lose, playing fast and free, to a team with a white-knuckle grip on a steadily eroding lead.
Let’s say you weren’t watching the game and Halftime: Boston College 28 #1 Clemson 13 popped up in your notifications—you would probably assume that true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei was struggling in relief of Travis Lawrence, and BC was dominating this game. That wasn’t really the case, as Clemson led in time of possession, total yards, and first downs at halftime. Uiagalelei was 19/26 for 222 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT, and finished the game 30/41 for 342 yards 2 TD 0 INT. BC wasn’t dominating the Tigers, they were hanging with them offensively, which proved unsustainable for four quarters, and they held a sizable lead due to a 14 points swing on Brandon Sebastian’s 97 yard fumble return.
I don’t think Boston College played “not to lose” in the second half, rather, Clemson played a second half befitting a historically great football team. They continued to move the ball with ease, and scored on their first three possessions of the half. Their defense, which was uncharacteristically get-able in the first half, tightened up, and shut the Eagles out. BC didn’t take their foot off the gas pedal so much as they were overtaken by a faster car.
So while it wasn’t fun to watch a three score lead slip away, and everyone wants to avoid the “moral victory” angle, I can’t help but feel that this was another step in the right direction for this program. It is extremely difficult to put together two strong halves against a perennial title contender, and it was a hell of a lot of fun to give Clemson a good scare.
- That opening drive - 4 plays 74 yards that screamed We are not the same BC team of years past, and we command your attention. Also, Zay Flowers seems to make at least one brilliant play each game:
- Sebastian’s fumble return - With Travis Etienne lined up and the ball at the BC 3, Clemson tying the game at 14 seemed like an absolute certainty. Instead, it was a 14 point swing in BC’s favor, and a hot start by the BC offense turned into, “wait a minute, something is happening here.” The broadcaster (not Tess, the other guy), blamed Etienne for not presenting a pocket to Uiagalelei, which is true, but it looked like the young QB came in extremely high with the hand off. Probably not a mistake the seasoned Lawrence/Etienne combo makes, and really one of the few errors by Uiagalelei in this game:
- “Tessitore is under center!” - Not only was it extremely cool to hear BC alum Joe Tessitore call his son’s unexpected motion from holder to under center, but this play was huge. It seemed like Hafley was content to run down the clock, kick a field goal, and limit Clemson’s chances of adding a score before the half. So when John Tessitore broke towards the line, I was shocked, Papa Tess was shocked, and more importantly, so was Clemson’s field goal block unit. Matador Hafley deftly waved the conservative play flag in front of the Tigers before pulling it back and springing on the attack:
- Etienne - Etienne broke the record for most games with a touchdown (42) in FBS history, and he broke NC State’s Ted Brown’s 1978 ACC career rushing yards record, so you can excuse BC for their inability to contain him. However, at what point do you concede that your linebackers can’t cover him, and bring in a defensive back to shadow him on every play? Etienne was fine on the ground (20 carries for 84 yards and a TD), but he really killed the Eagles as a pass catcher (7 catches for 140 yards and a TD).
- Third down defense - This has been an issue for most of the season, however it should be noted that the BC defense improved on 3rd down in the 2nd half. Clemson converted 6 of 10 in the opening two quarters, and finished 7 of 16 for the game. Unfortunately, the Tigers were 3 for 3 on 4th down conversions in the second half, including a 30 yard touchdown run by Uiagalelei on 4th and 1.
- 2nd half offense - After an explosive first half, Boston College gained just 66 yards in the second. Jurkovec struggled mightily, and appeared completely out of sorts after taking a blow to the head on an interception that was called back for targeting, followed by a big hit on a questionable third down run (we should insert a tip of the cap to Dennis Grosel here, who entered for one play and converted on 4th and short). BC moved into Clemson’s half of the field late in the 4th quarter, but Jurkovec overthrew Flowers by a mile on consecutive plays.
- Whatever the hell happened here: