If there's an observation to take away from the Boston College loss to Clemson, it's that the Eagles weren't anywhere near the Tigers' level. Boston College simply wasn't as athletic as their hosts, who used their skill to run away from a highly competitive football match.
The game itself was similar to what we've seen out of Boston College against teams like UMass. Last year, the Minutemen kept it close but ultimately ran out of steam in the second half against a team that was bigger, stronger, and more athletic. Against Clemson, the Eagles once again kept it close until experience won out.
Early on in the game, though, the Boston College defense played great. They caused turnovers and struck Deshaun Watson with a few big shots. Although they gave up a couple of big plays, they rose to the challenge in certain areas. One of those was an interception by Steven Daniels.
After Clemson scored to go up 17-7, Boston College went three-and-out but forced a Clemson punt to get the ball back. The Eagles proceeded to go three-and-out again.
Alex Howell punted the pigskin inside the Clemson 20 yard line, but the Tigers drove it out to midfield on the strength of three solid plays by Deshaun Watson. After BC forced a third down, Clemson lined up in a more traditional spread look against the Boston College defensive front. What ensued was a great play by a blitzing linebacker and a rushed throw that was picked off at a key juncture late in the second quarter:
Last week, I pointed out that the spread offense leaves substantial space between offensive linemen to allow for speed games both out of the wide receiver and out of the quarterback and running back. As a result, there are gaps for blitzing linebackers to get into the play. Normally, this is negated by an offensive player (either a tight end or a running back) waiting in blocking formation. At Boston College, this is the purpose of the H-back or Y-back.
Clemson's play design is to have the running back either stay in as a blocker or put a block on the blitzer before releasing for a quick play. If the block holds, Watson can go downfield. If it doesn't, then he can release to the flat and either get back to the line of scrimmage or get positive yards to salvage the play.
Unfortunately for Clemson, their running back runs into option 3: get absolutely blown up.
Matt Milano, coming full tilt through a hole between the tackle and guard, lights up the running back in an absolutely glorious disregard for another human being. Take a closer look:
I don't think anyone can really discount what exactly Milano did on this play. He took away an entire half of the field on Watson by destroying a blocker. because the running back is thrown backwards into the quarterback. Watson can't look left and take his time to make a good throw, and because he sees his blocker coming back at him like a blocking sled that's run off the tracks, he gets rid of the football as fast as humanly possible.
That type of play is something that can really get a quarterback hurt. A linebacker shooting the gap at a high rate of speed is a virtual jailbreak in the spread formation; that's how the Dallas Cowboys wound up with Tony Romo injured with another broken clavicle. In that play (embedding disabled), the linebacker blows up the left guard, allowing a second linebacker to shoot the gap. Romo has nowhere to go, no time to make a decision, and winds up hurt.
Luckily for BC, Watson threw it to nobody. He attempted to just get rid of the football by putting it in the direction of the receiver down the middle seam, but there was nobody present when he gets it away. It's actually a pretty decent throw, since there is a receiver in the area, but because of the hurried nature of the pressure, he underthrows it.
To his credit, Steven Daniels makes one hell of a play on the ball. He jumps up and grabs it, then rumbles back towards the Clemson end zone with the football. Daniels is an alarmingly large man who looks even bigger with a head of steam, and he manages to gain back some good chunks of yardage. It was a completely athletic play, one based on instinct, and it turned the field back in a key moment for BC—who got three points to pull back within a touchdown of Clemson.
While the game didn't turn out the way BC certainly wanted it (who wants to lose, after all?), it's a huge play by a couple of very good, athletic defenders. At a time when the Eagles needed another big stop by its defense, they got the job done. And although Clemson wound up pushing forward and overtaking BC with athleticism and skill, an otherwise tough day had some positives from which we can take some feedback.