WHAT WE ARE HEARING: Preview and Prediction for #2 Clemson at #17 Boston College
- 2018-11-09 15:27:03
Welcome to the season’s first Orange Britches edition of What We Are Hearing!
This is the time of year when the Tigers shake the dust off the Orange pants, which Dabo began reserving for championship games and bowls only back in 2009. They wear the pants when they are playing South Carolina for a state championship, a division-clinching game, an ACC Championship Game, a bowl or a National Championship Game. With a win at Boston College on Saturday night, the Tigers will clinch their 4th consecutive Atlantic Division title. It would also be their 8th straight 10-win season, tying them with Miami and Virginia Tech for the fourth-longest streak ever. ESPN College Gameday will be in Chestnut Hill, and it should be the most electric atmosphere Alumni Stadium has seen in quite a while—maybe since the Matt Ryan days when BC was ranked as high as the Tigers are now, #2 in the nation. Matt Ryan was quite a thorn in Tommy Bowden and the Tigers’ sides, depriving them of 3 division titles—two of them in overtime and the third with a last-minute touchdown. In 2005—the first ACC meeting between the two schools—it was the second-hottest game I’ve ever attended, a noon kickoff in early September. Matt Ryan made his first career start in place of injured starter Quinton Porter. David Dunham knocked Ryan’s helmet clean off his head, but Ryan had the last laugh with the overtime win in Death Valley. The next year, Ron Cherry famously missed a text-book block in the back three feet in front of his face, giving BC a kickoff return for a touchdown. Jad Dean’s PAT was blocked in double overtime, and the Tigers lost 34-33. In 2007, it was a late November primetime showdown in Death Valley between the two teams with a spot in the ACC Championship to the winner. The atmosphere was one of the best and loudest I’ve seen, and the Tigers led the entire game until a scrambling Matt Ryan launched a 43-yard touchdown pass on 3rd and 7 to take a 20-17 lead with 1:46 left. It looked like the Tigers would have an answer, but Cullen Harper’s pass fell off the hands of Aaron Kelly—the all-time Clemson reception leader at the time—inside the 10-yard line. Mark Buchholz missed a 54-yard attempt to send the game to overtime for a third straight year, and a first appearance in the ACC Championship would once again elude Tommy Bowden and the Tigers. Those were just a few of many more heart-breaking losses and flukes that plagued the Tommy Bowden era, and I often said early in Dabo’s tenure that perhaps all the bad luck under Tommy Bowden was fate steering toward Dabo’s ascension to head coach. I believe that now more than ever! After losing those first three ACC meetings with BC in heart-breaking fashion, Dabo and Clemson have won 9 of the last 10 and 7 straight.
Of course, Saturday will be exactly 10 years and 9 days from Dabo’s first win as a head coach, which fittingly came at Boston College. I was at that game, too, and it was a blistering cold All Saint’s Day, just like it will be on Saturday night, with a low forecast of 34 degrees. I asked Dabo on Tuesday if traveling to Chestnut Hill always brings back special memories for him, and he said it does indeed. I know I remember it like it was yesterday. As a young alumnus, I made the trip to Boston with some fellow Clemson MBA’s, and we all wore Halloween costumes that Friday night as we hit the bars in Boston. Mine, ironically, was the costume of a generic Clemson football coach, but I had a bag over my head with a question painted on it. I was Clemson’s next Head Coach—whomever that may be. It was bitterly cold in Chestnut Hill for the game the next day, and we were in the upper deck with the wind blowing in our faces. There was still an impressive Clemson contingent, though, as the Tigers have always traveled as well as anyone. The Tigers jumped out to a 17-0 lead, but the Eagles rallied with 3 unanswered touchdowns to take a 21-17 lead in the 4th quarter, and an uneasy feeling came over all of us as BC had all the momentum. Fortunately, C.J. Spiller saved the day with a 64-yard kickoff return to the BC 15, and Cullen Harper found Aaron Kelly for a touchdown to quickly retake the lead. Buchholz added a field goal, and the Tigers won 27-21, giving Dabo his first career victory on All Saint’s Day. I remember celebrating in the stands with the other Clemson fans and watching Dabo run up and down, high-fiving those in the front row. 109 wins and a national title later, Dabo has rocketed to one of the most revered coaches in all the land, supplanting Danny Ford, Frank Howard and John Heisman as the greatest Clemson coach of all time.
Enough strolling down memory lane. The Tigers are on a march toward destiny, having played perhaps their best month of football in history. It has been an ACC Atlantic onslaught, with Clemson and ACC records being set in each of the last four games. Their 77-16 win over Louisville was the second-largest margin of victory in 65 years of ACC football and the most points the Tigers have scored against an ACC opponent. They beat Wake Forest 82-24 in their 1981 National Championship season. The Tigers also recorded the third-largest margin in their 63-3 win at Wake Forest a month ago, so in the last 4 games, they have posted the second and third-largest margins of victory in ACC history! Their 11.6 yards per play against Louisville was the most since 1903 when John Heisman was the head coach, and it was the most points the Cardinals have allowed since 1932. This, of course, followed the Tigers’ historic 59-10 win at Florida State, in which they scored the most points ever in Doak Campbell Stadium and handed the Noles their worst home loss ever, tying their worst loss anywhere with the 1973 Florida team. That was also the first time an ACC team has beaten FSU in 4 straight years. The week before that, the Tigers dominated a top-15 NC State team, 41-7. That was tied for the Tigers’ second-largest margin of victory over a ranked team. All of this began when Trevor Lawrence made his second start after being knocked out in the first half of his first start with a neck injury. Since the Tigers gutted out that Syracuse game with former third-string QB Chase Brice, the Tigers have outscored their opponents by an astonishing score of 240-36. That’s an average score of 60-9 for the mathematically challenged. And these aren’t FCS opponents we’re talking about. Florida State, NC State, Louisville and Wake were all bowl teams last year. Wake beat Texas A&M in its bowl! If not for Alabama’s similar dominance, albeit against lesser competition, the pundits would be debating where this Clemson team ranks among the all-time greatest teams. We’ll have to table that discussion for later, as Clemson and Alabama are on a collision course for their fourth straight meeting in the College Football Playoff—perhaps with both teams undefeated for the first time! Clemson has been ranked in the top 4 of the CFP Rankings for the past 20 straight releases dating back to 2015. Only Alabama has been ranked in the top 4 of the CFP more often than Clemson. Despite Alabama’s impressive 29-0 shutout in Baton Rouge last week, the Tigers are still more impressive than Bama on paper. Clemson is #4 in scoring offense and #4 in scoring defense—the only team in the top 5 for both. The Tigers are also #3 in total defense and #7 in total offense—the only team in the top 10 for both. The Tigers have two wins against currently ranked teams—Syracuse and NC State—and Bama has just the one win over LSU. The Tigers’ opponents have a much better win-loss record than Alabama’s as well, giving Clemson a better strength of record. Sure, the Tide was impressive last week at LSU, but who’s to say Clemson wouldn’t have won just as convincingly? After all, the Tigers beat Louisville worse than Alabama did, and the Cardinals’ quarterback was making his first career start against Alabama. None of the data seems to matter to the pollsters or the committee, though, and it seems the Tigers will likely be firmly in the #2 spot until we get the seemingly inevitable showdown in what would be one of the most hyped National Championship Games of all time. Of course, the #1 team has yet to win the national title after four years of the playoff, and the Tigers were #2 when they beat #1 Alabama for the national title in 2016, so the superstitious are just fine with the status quo.
The Tigers, of course, still have work to do if they are to fulfill their destiny, and it starts with this Atlantic Division showdown, which was my second-most dangerous game on the schedule back in August, behind the Texas A&M game. Before I dive into this week’s game, I want to remind you that basketball season is now underway, and the Tigers host NC Central Friday night at 7:00 in Littlejohn. The Tigers hung a new Sweet Sixteen banner in Littlejohn on Tuesday and got off to a 1-0 start, beating The Citadel 100-80. It was the first time the Tigers have scored triple digits in the Brownell era and the first time since 2009. Eli Thomas started the game after missing nearly two weeks with an ankle injury, and he scored 15 points with 9 rebounds in just 24 minutes played. It was the 150th win for Brownell at Clemson. So head over to Littlejohn if you can, and cheer on the #22 Tigers! You can read my recap of the game and watch our post-game interviews with Brownell and players HERE.
On to the good stuff…..
Clemson is 16-9-2 all-time against Boston College, but the Tigers have won 7 straight and 9 of the last 10 in the series….This will be the 19th appearance on ESPN College Gameday for Clemson. The Tigers are 11-7 in those games and 1-0 this season…A win Saturday would give Wilkins, Bryant, Hyatt, Renfrow, Huegel and the rest of the senior class their 50th win, tying the school record set by the seniors last season…Dabo is 9-0 for the third time in the last four years. It had previously only been done twice: by Frank Howard in 1948 and Danny Ford in 1981….Clemson is 18-1 in its last 19 true road games….Clemson has won a school-record 25 consecutive Saturday games. That is the longest such streak in the nation….Clemson is 27-1 in last 28 ACC Atlantic games….Clemson is 31-2 in its last 33 ACC games…. Clelin Ferrell’s 23 career sacks is 7th on the Clemson all-time list and 3rd among active players in the Power Five.....The Clemson defense has created a turnover in 17 straight games and has 7 interceptions in the last 5 games after no interceptions in the first 4....Sophomore Travis Etienne is already tied with Sammy Watkins for #8 on the Clemson career touchdown list with 29…..The Tigers have not allowed a first-half touchdown in 11 of their last 14 games….Hunter Renfrow has caught a pass in 37 straight games. He needs one touchdown to tie Jacoby Ford, Derrick Hamilton and Terrance Roulhac with 16 career TD's, 10th on the all-time Clemson list…Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 53 weeks. Next is Georgia at 22….Clemson has been ranked in the top 4 of the College Football Playoff Rankings for 20 consecutive weeks since the Tigers were #1 in the first release of 2015....
At 7-2 and 4-1 in the ACC, Boston College is off to its best start in years. You have to give credit to the BC administration for sticking it out with Head Coach Steve Addazio. Many schools would have made a change after he went 3-9 in his third season with an 0-8 record against the ACC. I have always thought he was a good coach, and he has certainly turned fortune in their favor at a place where it is difficult to recruit. Dabo said on Tuesday that BC is built much like Clemson in the sense that they have an identity and know who they are. Dabo also said BC is similar to Georgia Tech in that the Tigers have to have a certain mindset every time they play BC, just like they do against Tech. That is because Boston College is always one of the most physical games the Tigers will play each year. On both sides of the ball, the Eagles play with that hard-nosed, northeast personality of their tough head coach. They are typically very tough in the trenches, and they with multiple tight ends—sometimes three at a time! That can cause serious mismatches for some teams.
Offensively, it all starts with their preseason All-American running back, AJ Dillon, who took the ACC by storm as a freshman last year, rushing for 14 touchdowns and 1,589 yards, which would have broken Wayne Gallman’s record at Clemson. Dillon missed two straight games against NC State and Louisville in October after injuring his left ankle. That probably cost the Eagles their only ACC loss at NC State in a 28-23 game. He had a mammoth comeback game against Miami two weeks ago, rushing for 149 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries against a good defense. He rushed 24 times for 96 yards and another touchdown in their win at Virginia Tech last week, but he left the game hobbled and did not play in the 4th quarter, leading to rampant speculation on his status this week. I would be shocked if Dillon doesn’t start the game on Saturday night, but whether he is 100% or will play the entire game remains to be seen. He is a powerful back with speed and a load to tackle at 6’0 and 245 pounds, but the Tigers held him to just 57 yards on 18 carries last year—one of the few teams that had success containing him. Dillon is averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season—which would rank him 5th on the Tigers’ team—and has 8 touchdowns. He is #2 in the Power Five in yards per game and #1 in the ACC in yards after contact. They don’t throw to him often—he has just 6 catches this season—but he did have a touchdown reception in the opener against. UMass.
Sophomore quarterback Anthony Brown is having a fine season in second year as the starter. He is 121-209 (57.9%) for 1,567 yards and is tied for 2nd in the ACC with 16 touchdowns against 5 interceptions. He is not the most athletic quarterback the Tigers have seen. He has rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown this season, averaging 2.1 yards per carry.
6’5, 260-pound senior Tommy Sweeney (#89) is one of the best tight ends in the nation and leads the Eagles in receptions at 24 for 230 yards and 3 touchdowns. His last name sounds exactly like Dabo’s, but Clemson fans will hope they don’t hear it often on Saturday. Hopefully the size and athleticism of Isaiah Simmons will stand him good stead against the big tight end.
The Eagles’ leading receiver is 6’1, 200-pound sophomore Kobay White (#9), but he has just 20 catches this season for 314 yards and 3 touchdowns. 6’1, 195-pound senior Jeff Smith (#6) is a big-play WR with just 16 catches for 259 yards and 4 of them going for touchdowns. They also like to use him on jet sweeps. He has 17 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown this season. Junior Ben Glines (#19) is a big WR at 6’2, 220 pounds and is actually their second-leading rusher. He has 67 carries for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns. His average of 5.6 yards per carry is actually better than Dillon’s this season. Glines has just 9 catches for 123 yards, but 3 of them have gone for touchdowns.
Although Dillon rightfully gets all the headlines, backup RB Travis Levy (#23) is a capable back and had a big game in Blacksburg last week, rushing for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 11 carries. He also had 3 catches for 28 yards. He averages 4.4 yards per carry on the season. Unlike Dillon, BC likes to throw to Levy out of the backfield. He has 14 catches for 135 yards.
Boston College is #23 in rush offense (225.56 yards/game), #84 in pass offense (214.6 yards/game), #41 in total offense (440.1 yards/game) and #23 in scoring offense (37.2 points/game).
Defensively, the Eagles have a couple talented pass rushers at defensive end. 6’3, 255-pound senior Wyatt Ray (#11) is tied for 3rd in the Power Five with 9 sacks this season. 6’5, 285-pound senior Zach Allen (#2) has 5.5 sacks. As a team, Boston College is 8th in the Power Five in sacks. In spite of that, the Eagles’ defense has been very average. They are #56 in pass defense (221.8 yards/game), #54 in rush defense (151.78 yards/game), #49 in total defense (373.6 yards/game) and #47 in scoring defense (24.1 points/game). They are #51 on 3rd down, allowing conversions 37.24% of the time. However, they have some ball hawks in the secondary. The Eagles are 3rd in the Power Five with 14 interceptions this season. The Tigers, by comparison, have half as many. They have another preseason All-American in free safety Lukas Denis (#21). Corner Hamp Cheevers (#4) leads the team in interceptions with 5.
Senior kicker Colton Lichtenberg is 5-6 on field goals this season with a long of 38 yards. He has only attempted one from over 40 yards.
The Eagles are #6 in the Power Five in turnover margin at +0.89 per game.
As mentioned, the Tigers are in as good a place as anyone could have hoped, both physically and mentally. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them having this much fun while still maintaining a razor-sharp focus and edge each week. Several players like Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence have told me that this is the best they’ve felt physically this late in the season, and that speaks to the quality of depth the Tigers have this season. They have been rotating players across the board on both sides of the ball all season long, and of course, it helps that 7 of the Tigers’ 9 games have been over by halftime.
Trevor Lawrence only had to throw 12 passes last week, but he completed 8 of them with 2 touchdowns. That’s pretty efficient! He did have a bad interception in which he was well off target on a deep ball to Higgins, but the interceptions have been few and far between for him this season—it was just his third of the season and first since the Georgia Tech game. Trevor leads the ACC with 18 touchdown passes, despite having split time literally in every game this season. Otherwise he’d probably have around 28 to 30! He also leads the ACC in efficiency. It’s pretty remarkable that the true freshman leads senior Ryan Finley—who will be playing in the NFL next year—in both categories. Lawrence was named a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award this week—something not even Deshaun Watson did as a true freshman. Watson went on to win the award in 2015 and 2016—just the fourth player ever to win the award twice. Lawrence also broke Watson’s Clemson records for touchdowns and passing yards by a true freshman at Florida State a couple weeks ago.
Speaking of efficiency, Chase Brice has been even more efficient than Trevor Lawrence at times! He was 6-7 for 110 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions last week. Dabo didn’t even realize Brice had 3 touchdown passes after the game when I mentioned it in the press conference, and he was equally impressed. I asked Dabo how much of a luxury it is to have arguably the third-best quarterback in the ACC as a backup. The 59-yard touchdown pass Brice made to freshman Justyn Ross last week was a thing of beauty and a great catch as well. Of course, if something were to happen to both Lawrence and Brice, the Tigers would be in a difficult situation. As it stands, they hope to redshirt Ben Batson, who did not play last week to that end. Instead, the staff inserted true freshman WR Derion Kendrick, who played the position in high school an played it well. He would likely be the guy if catastrophe struck the Tigers’ first two quarterbacks.
Hunter Renfrow was named a finalist this week for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is an award for former walk-ons in their final year of eligibility. It seems to me that Renfrow ought to be a shoo-in for the award, given that no former walk-on has made as big an impact on the College Football Playoff as Renfrow, and he is as impressive off the field as on it. Dabo got a big smile on his face on Wednesday when I asked him to comment on that. As a former walk-on himself, it’s only fitting that one of Dabo’s players should win the award, and he said he’s been hoping for just that over the last few years. Renfrow has caught a pass in 37 straight games and with a catch on Saturday, he’ll tie Artavis Scott’s record for most consecutive games with a reception. He also needs one more touchdown to tie Jacoby Ford, Derrick Hamilton and Terrance Rhoulac for 10th on the all-time Clemson TD reception list.
This, of course, is the second homecoming game for Massachusetts native Christian Wilkins, who grew up rooting for BC and intended on playing there until he was swayed by Dabo and Clemson. I asked Steve Addazio what he remembered about Christian from his recruitment, and you can hear or read his response HERE. Wilkins had a big game up there 2 years ago, with a sack and a tackle-for-loss, and you can bet he will be playing with his hair on fire Saturday night. The game 2 years ago didn’t have nearly the significance of this one, and it would up being a 56-10 rout. Dabo said that he is sure Christian will be harassing everyone on the team in an effort to procure as many tickets as possible for family and friends. Wilkins told me that he will be bare-armed and hopes it’s as cold as possible and snowing on Saturday night—that is one guy who will not be phased one iota by the cold weather! How some of the other players—especially the younger ones from the south—will respond to the weather remains to be seen. Justyn Ross, for example, has never played in weather like this will be, and neither has Trevor Lawrence. He said the coldest game he has played in was probably the 50’s, so this will be about 20 degrees colder. I asked Jeff Scott if that was a concern at all , and Scott said he thinks Trevor will respond like he does to every new situation with which he’s faced, and that’s aces. Nevertheless, it will be something to keep an eye on. Tanner Muse said what gets him the most about playing up is how hard the turf is. It will be as hard as ever on Saturday night!
I asked Dabo on Tuesday if this is the best the offensive line has played since he’s been at Clemson, and he said that is probably accurate. Not only did the Tigers rush for 492 yards last week, they did not allow a single sack for the second straight game. One of those games was against a very good FSU front that included the national sack leader, Brian Burns. Moreover, the Tigers played short of a starter in each of those games. Center Justin Falcinelli missed the FSU game with a concussion, and defensive line convert Gage Cervenka filled in beautifully, being named Co-Offensive MVP of the game. Last week, starting guard Sean Pollard sat out with a back spasm, and the Tigers once again dominated the line of scrimmage. The Tigers are running the ball better than ever, and that has a lot to do with the offensive line play. The Tigers astoundingly have 3 of the top 5 running backs in the Power Five by yards per carry! True freshman Lyn-J Dixon is #2 in the nation at 11.15 yards per carry, just behind the national leader at 11.31. They are the only two players with more than 10. Travis Etienne is #4 in the Power Five at 8.6 yards per carry, and Adam Choice is #5 at 7.87! Tavien Feaster averages a “paltry” 6.26 yards per carry. The four backs averaged nearly 20 yards per carry against Louisville—something I have never seen. The Tigers had 3 backs rush for over 100 yards for the second time this season and just the seventh time in program history.
Dabo told me on Wednesday that Mark Fields has looked good in practice and will be ready to go. He suffered a groin injury last week and missed the Louisville game. Sean Pollard, as mentioned, also did not play last week due to a back spasm, but Dabo said he was ready to play against Louisville if they had needed him, and he will play Saturday as well.
The Tigers are #4 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. They are #3 in total defense and #7 in total offense. They are #2 in both sacks after a season-high 6 on Saturday and 5 the previous week at FSU. They are also #2 in tackles-for-loss. They are #6 in 3rd down defense, allowing conversions just 27.46% of the time. The Tigers have also had one of the most explosive offenses all season. They are currently #5 in the Power Five in plays over 20 yards, #3 in the nation in plays over 30 yards, and they are #1 in the nation in plays over 40, 50 and 60 yards.
Travis Etienne is currently 5th in the ESPN Heisman rankings. He leads the Power Five in touchdowns with 15, and 10 of them have come in the last 5 games. He has scored a TD in every game this season except at Florida State, when he played sparingly. As mentioned, Etienne is #4 in the Power Five in yards per carry, and he needs just 2 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. With 2 more touchdowns, he will tie James Davis and Lester Brown for the Clemson single-season rushing TD record. He needs just 530 yards to break Wayne Gallman’s single-season yardage record from 2015.
This is a tough one to predict because you never know how well a team can play when it’s riding all the emotion of hosting ESPN College Gameday with a raucous crowd at night. We saw that in College Station early in the season, and the crowd was definitely a factor in the second half. Alumni Stadium is not Kyle Field by a long shot, but this is the biggest home game the Eagles have had since the Matt Ryan era. And the conditions will be just the way they like them—cold and hard. BC will have to play its best game of the season to keep this one close, and it will have to catch a few turnovers or breaks to pull the upset.
On paper, however, this game isn’t close. The Tigers are among the best in the nation in just about every category on both sides of the ball, and in my opinion, Clemson is the best team in the nation right now. We saw what Alabama did to a good LSU team in Baton Rouge last Saturday night, and I think it will be a similar outcome in Chestnut Hill. Christian Wilkins and the rest of the leadership will have this team playing with a laser focus and will dominate the less talented Eagles on both sides of the ball, just like the NC State game a few weeks ago. With an Atlantic Division title—the second goal on their list—within their grasp and donning the Orange Britches for the first time this season, the Tigers will take care of business with a fifth straight resounding win, and the collision course for the Tide and the Tigers will continue on schedule. Wilkins wears the leather helmet, and the Tigers take home the O’Rourke-McFadden trophy for the 8th straight year and 10th time in the last 11 meetings for Dabo.
The Prowl toward a 4th consecutive ACC Title, a 4th consecutive College Football Playoff and a 3rd National Title continues…..
CLEMSON 38 Boston College 13
Never miss the latest news from CUTigers!
Join our free email list