WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.1 CLEMSON vs. BOSTON COLLEGE
- 2020-10-30 17:32:49
Welcome to the Halloween edition of What We Are Hearing!
Well, Saturday is Halloween, and Clemson Nation was the recipient of the scariest trick imaginable on Thursday night; the news they’ve been dreading to hear since the season began! Clemson released the bombshell on the nation that Heisman front-runner Trevor Lawrence is the latest icon to test positive for COVID-19. Dabo said that Trevor has mild symptoms and is in isolation. He will remain isolated for at least 10 days, per ACC policy and will obviously be unavailable for Saturday's game against Boston College. Of course, the first thing Clemson fans and college football fans across the nation asked is whether Trevor will even be eligible to play in the big top-5 showdown at Notre Dame—a game that has been billed since the preseason as one of the biggest marquee matchups in the entire nation this season. Although it is theoretically possible that Trevor could play, given the 10-day quarantine protocol, I will be shocked if he does. Given that Trevor is symptomatic and the team has to travel to South Bend, Indiana, where it is much colder than Clemson, there is just too much stacked against his playing safely 8 days from now. I expect Dabo and the staff to err on the side of caution and hold Trevor from that epic game. Fortunately, the Tigers have a bye after Notre Dame, and hopefully Trevor will be 100% healthy and ready to play at FSU on November 21. Assuming DJ Uiagalelei does not also test positive—a real possibility that no one seems to be talking about—the true freshman will get the start on Saturday. If DJ does test positive when Friday’s test results come back, Dabo will have to decide whether to start Taisun Phommachanh, who has been practicing with a broken bone in his left, non-throwing hand that he suffered against Georgia Tech, or freshman walk-on Hunter Helms, who spelled Taisun in Atlanta and was impressive, becoming the first Clemson walk-on QB to throw 2 touchdown passes in a game. We likely won’t know for sure if DJ is negative and will get the start until 2 hours before kickoff on Saturday, so be sure to check HERE at about 10:00 Saturday morning!
For now, No.1 Clemson must soldier on without its field general, so let’s get to Saturday’s matchup with BC!
This is the 125th season of Clemson Football….The Tigers look to win at least 10 games for the 10th straight year under Dabo Swinney, joining Alabama and Florida State as the only programs ever to do so….Clemson is the only program to have won 5 consecutive outright ACC titles and the only program in the nation to win 5 consecutive conference championship games….If Clemson goes 14-0 this season (they play one less regular season game than normal), the senior class will tie last year’s group at 55-3, the best record of any senior class in history….At 75-5, Clemson has the best record in the nation since 2015; 4 wins better than Alabama and 13 wins better than Ohio State. Clemson is 2 wins behind Alabama for the most wins since 2011….Clemson has the most wins versus Power Five opponents since 2013; 11 more than Ohio State and 8 more than Alabama….Dabo now has the nation’s best active win percentage at .814. Nick Saban’s is .791. Dabo also holds the best all-time win percentage in ACC games at .837. Bobby Bowden’s was .813. Dabo’s overall .814 win percentage is 7th all-time among head coaches that coached at least 150 games. Urban Meyer’s .854 win percentage is atop that list, followed by Switzer, Osborne, Yost, Neyland and Wilkinson….Only 6 times has a team won 12 or more games in a season against Power Five opponents. Clemson, FSU and LSU are the only programs to have done it, and 4 of the 6 times were by Clemson, which remains the only program ever to win 13 games against Power Five opponents in one season, accomplished in 2018…..Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban are the only head coaches in history to reach No.1 in the AP Poll in 6 consecutive seasons….Clemson has played in the 15th most games (20) as AP No.1. If the Tigers remain No.1 until the National Championship Game, they will pass Michigan for 12th most games played as No.1….Dabo is tied with Jim Tressel for 17th most games coached as AP No.1 and 3 games behind Urban Meyer and Lou Holtz. If the Tigers remain No.1 until the National Championship Game, Dabo will tie his childhood hero Bear Bryant for 9th most games coached as No.1. Dabo is the only multiple recipient of the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year Award, winning in 2015, 2016 and 2018….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 84 weeks, the third-longest streak all-time. Clemson has been ranked in the AP Top 5 for 47 consecutive weeks, by far the longest active streak and sixth-longest streak all-time. The next-longest active streak is Georgia at 14 weeks. Ohio State had 14 consecutive weeks before their exclusion due to the Big Ten’s season postponement. If Clemson remains in the Top 5 all season, it will pass Miami for the second-longest streak all-time. If the Tigers remain in the Top 5 from now until the ACC Championship next season, they will pass Alabama for the longest such streak all-time….Clemson’s run of 5 straight top-5 finishes is tied for the sixth-longest streak all-time. One more, and the Tigers will tie Oklahoma; two more and they will tie three other schools for the second-longest streak. FSU has the record at 14 straight top-5 finishes under Bobby Bowden….If Clemson finishes in the top 2 of the AP Poll this season, it will join Miami as the only programs to finish in the top 2 in 5 of 6 seasons…..Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive 12-win seasons (5) since Penn in 1892. One more would move Clemson ahead of Alabama, which won 11 games last season….Clemson has won 26 straight home games dating back to 2016, the longest active streak in the nation. Only 9 fifth-year seniors on the 120-man Clemson roster have experienced a loss in Death Valley. The Tigers are an FBS-best 45-1 at home since 2014….Clemson has won 38 straight non-bowl games, passing Nebraska for third-most all-time. One more will tie Miami for 2nd. Oklahoma holds the record at 45….Clemson has won 27 straight games against ACC opponents, the third-longest streak all-time. FSU holds the record at 29 straight….Clemson has won 49 straight Saturday games, the longest such streak of all time…..If the Clemson makes the College Football Playoff for a sixth consecutive year, it will be the first program ever to do so, and Dabo Swinney will join basketball legend John Wooden as the only coaches in any sport to make a Final Four playoff 6 years in a row…..Clemson leads the all-time series with Boston College 18-9-2, and Clemson has won the last 9 meetings….Dabo Swinney’s first career win as a head coach was on November 1, 2008 at Boston College. CJ Spiller was MVP of the first-ever O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy game….
When most of us think of Boston College, we think about the hard-nosed, blue-collar, ground-and-pound rushing offenses that were endemic of Head Coach Steve Addazio for the last several years. However, it’s a new regime at BC under new head coach Jeff Hafley, who was Ohio State’s defensive coordinator last year, and the Eagle are slinging the football all over the field now with new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, who has a deep NFL background. It’s an air raid form of attack that couldn’t be more of a contrast from what we’re used to from BC. At the helm of the Eagles’ new passing attack is sophomore QB Phil Jurkovec, a 6’5, 226-pound transfer from Notre Dame. He has completed 62.5% of his passes this season for 1,671 yards and 12 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. He is also deceptively effective with his legs and had his best game running the ball last week, rushing for 94 yards on just 7 carries in the Eagles’ 48-27 win over Georgia Tech. He also had 2 TD passes and no interceptions in that game. The Tigers will need to have a linebacker spying Jurkovec on all pass plays, especially when the defense is in man coverage, because Jurkovec will not hesitate to take off and run for 15-20 yards if he sees green grass in front of him.
The Tech game last week was easily the Eagles’ best game offensively. It’s taken some time because of the new coaching staff, a transfer quarterback and additional installation challenges due to the pandemic, but I believe BC is just beginning to hit its stride offensively. RB David Bailey (#26), who impressively augmented superstar AJ Dillon in the BC backfield for the last couple years, had his best game of the season last week as well, rushing for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 13 carries. He has 8 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown this season. The 6’0, 236-pound junior is a big, bruising back with a punishing running style. Incidentally, he is a Maryland native like Clemson freshman phenom Bryan Bresee, who told me that his high school team almost played against played against Bailey’s team when he was a sophomore, so he is well familiar with the BC back and looks forward to finally going up against him at the line of scrimmage.
BC also has one of the nation’s best tight ends and 3 talented wide receivers that seem to be coming into their own at the right time. 6’5, 253-pound junior TE Hunter Long (#80) leads the team with 38 receptions. In fact, that is top-10 nationally and leads all tight ends. He also has 3 touchdowns to go along with his 38 catches. The ACC is the deepest conference in the nation at the quarterback position, and you can probably say the same about the tight ends. Brent Venables and the Tigers have gone up against many great tight ends, and Hunter Long will be as much of a matchup challenge as any they have seen.
The Eagles have a trio of dangerous receivers, led by 5’11, 178-pound sophomore Zay Flowers (#4) in the slot. The Florida native only had one catch for 11 yards last week, but he rushed 3 times for 36 yards and a touchdown. Watch out for him on jet sweeps and reverses this Saturday. On the season, Flowers has 29 catches for 473 yards and 4 touchdowns. He had a career day against Pitt with 6 catches for 162 yards and 3 TD’s. On the outside, BC has 6’3, 217-pound sophomore CJ Lewis (#11). He had his best game of the season last week with 4 catches for 58 yards and 2 touchdowns. Lewis was one of the highest-rated dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation coming out of high school in Connecticut and is starting to blossom as a receiver. Finally, there’s 6’0, 195-pound sophomore WR Jaelen Gill (#86), a transfer from Ohio State. He had 6 catches for 104 yards and a TD in their loss at Virginia Tech a couple weeks ago. TRICK PLAY ALERT: Don’t be surprised to see at least one trick play from the Eagles on Saturday. As mentioned, CJ Lewis was a prolific quarterback in high school, and both he and David Bailey threw touchdown passes last season. Zay Flowers also attempted a pass last year.
Junior Danny Longman (#37) was the Eagles' starting place kicker in the season opener against Duke, and he was 2-2 on a couple short field goals. However, senior Aaron Boumerhi (#41), a transfer from Temple, has been their field goal kicker ever since. He has made 7 of his 9 field goal attempts this season with a long of 41 yards.
BC is ranked No.60 in scoring offense (27.5 points/game), No.91 in rushing offense (99.17 yards/game), as bizarre as that seems, No.26 in passing offense (278.5 yards/game) and No.68 in total offense (377.7 yards/game). The Eagles are No.35 in scoring defense (25.0 points/game), No.59 in rush defense (165.33 yards/game), No.37 in pass defense (217.3 yards/game) and No.42 in total defense (382.7 yards/game). They have forced 11 turnovers, which is just 2 behind Clemson and tied for 9th nationally. However, they have also turned the ball over 8 times, which is tied for 71st out of 102 FBS teams. BC has 6 interceptions this season, which is tied for 14th nationally, so DJ better be careful with his decisions! The Eagles have 2.83 sacks per game this season, which is 34th nationally.
Obviously, the biggest storyline in all of college football this weekend will be how the Tigers’ offense performs with true freshman DJ Uiagalelei at the helm. I and others have written and talked about his talent and potential ad nauseum since he arrived on campus last spring, and we have seen a few flashes of that talent in mop-up duty this season, but the offense hasn’t exactly scored at will under his command. DJ is 12-19 passing for 102 yards and has yet to throw a TD pass in his college career. Ironically, freshman walk-on Hunter Helms threw 2 TD passes in his second appearance at Tech a couple weeks ago. However, the Tony Elliott has utilized DJ’s size and running ability, and DJ has rushed for 32 net yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 carries. The key question is how will Dabo and Tony Elliott put together a game plan for DJ in his first career start? What we have seen from him thus far is heavy quarterback power, similar to what we saw when Tajh Boyd was under center with his powerful build. DJ is even bigger than Tajh, and so we have seen a heavy dose of designed runs for him. However, you’d have to expect that Jeff Hafley and BC will be expecting that, as well as a heavy reliance on Travis Etienne, so DJ will have to be prepared to prove his readiness to throw the ball all over the field. We know he has tremendous arm strength—even stronger than Trevor’s—but he’ll have to show the ability to make accurate passes with touch, make the right reads and work through his progressions. Those are things that take time for all quarterbacks, regardless of how talented, and now school is in session for the freshman with all the pressure in the world on his shoulders.
DJ has two very big advantages working for him: Travis Etienne and the Tigers’ defense. DJ is bound to make some mistakes and have some three-and-outs on Saturday, but he won’t have to be perfect. The defense is allowing just 14 points per game this season, so as long as DJ can lead the offense to 17-20 points, the Tigers should come away with a win. Of course, the other big news this week before the Trevor Lawrence bombshell, was Dabo’s Tuesday announcement that MLB James Skalski will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his groin and miss the next few games. The Butkus Award candidate was having a tremendous season and was the quarterback of the defense and one of the top leaders on the team. Jake Venables started in his stead against Syracuse and played well, but you can never replace a player of Skalski’s ilk without a little drop-off. Expect true freshman Trenton Simpson and sophomore Kane Patterson to get a lot more playing time as a result. The Tigers’ defense has been extremely opportunistic this season, forcing 13 turnovers in 6 games. In fact, they have 9 interceptions in the last 4 games, and the confidence of the talented young secondary is at an all-time high. Nolan Turner recorded his third INT of the season last week, which puts him in the top-10 nationally. The Tigers forced 4 turnovers last week and scored a TD, almost scoring again on a pick-six. They also forced a turnover on downs. So that should give DJ a nice safety net and confidence that he doesn’t have to be Trevor Lawrence in order to win the game. He just needs to play within himself and limit the mistakes, especially turnovers.
He also has the best running back in the nation to lean on. We all remember the last time Trevor Lawrence was unavailable against Syracuse in 2018, and Travis put the team on his shoulders with a career performance. He rushed for 203 yards on 27 carries (I believe the most in his career) and 3 touchdowns in the 27-23 win. This season, of course, teams have been game planning to stop Etienne and the Tigers’ running game with extra men in the box and run blitzes. Expect to see a lot more of that on Saturday, as BC will force DJ to make plays rather than Travis. The Tigers will have to use Travis in the passing game, as they have frequently this season. If I’m Tony Elliott, I come out throwing the ball right out of the gate to loosen that defense and then hit them with heavy doses of Etienne. Give DJ some easy screen passes and intermediate routes to get his feet wet before taking some shots down the field. I expect tight ends Braden Galloway and Davis Allen to play a big role in the passing game on Saturday. By the way, Travis needs just 43 yards to pass Ted Brown for most career rushing yards in ACC history! He also needs one touchdown to set the all-time FBS record for most career games with a TD. We thought he accomplished that earlier when he passed Tim Tebow, but the NCAA’s records were erroneous, and they amended their books to acknowledge Donnel Pumphrey as the record holder at 41 games, now tied with Travis.
Other than missing Trevor and Skalski, the Tigers will have some reinforcements on defense. Tyler Davis and Derion Kendrick, who did not play last week, should be back in action on Saturday. DE Justin Foster, who has not played all season, is still “day-to-day” according to Dabo, whatever that means. He has been somewhat cryptic when discussing Foster’s status all season. DE Xavier Thomas is gradually getting more snaps and returning to form. It will be interesting to see if he makes a big play or two this week.
Be sure to check HERE about 2 hours before kickoff for our final list of unavailable players!
Clemson is ranked No.2 in scoring offense, not counting Ohio State and Michigan from the Big Ten (48.2 points/game, just 0.2 behind Alabama), No.11 in passing offense (341.3 yards/game), No.42 in rushing offense (176.67 yards/game) and No.8 in total offense (518.0), not counting Northwestern from the Big Ten. The Tigers are No.10 in scoring defense, not counting Big Ten, (13.5 points/game), No.16 in rush defense (105.33 yards/game), No.8 in pass defense (169.3 yards/game) and No.7 in total defense (274.7 yards/game). They are No.2 in sacks (24.0) and tackles-for-loss (57.0), behind Pitt in both. The Tigers are tied for 2nd nationally with 9 interceptions and 5th in turnover margin at plus 7 for the season.
This is easily the toughest predictions I’ve had to make in quite some time, not knowing how DJ will perform in his first career start. Although he is ahead of Trevor Lawrence physically as a true freshman, I had a lot more confidence in Trevor leading the offense in his first career start than I do in DJ. In fact, I predicted before the season that Trevor would take over the starting point 4 or 5 games into the season as a freshman. That’s not to say DJ isn’t fully capable, however, and he seems to have the same poise, confidence and demeanor that Trevor has always exuded. Now we get to see it on full display with all of the starters around him. Let me also say this: Dabo Swinney has been planning for this. If there’s one thing I know about Dabo, he’s a planner. Preparation has always been one of the hallmarks of his success, and I guarantee that he and the staff had contingencies for this exact situation ever since the pandemic started. They knew that there was a strong possibility that Trevor would be out at some point this season, and they have been repping DJ and the other quarterbacks with the 1’s more than ever before in practice.
I think we will see a Clemson defense that plays inspired on Saturday, knowing that it’s on them to give their freshman quarterback a wide berth. Although they only allowed 14 points last week and produced 4 turnovers, they gave up some big plays to Syracuse, and I think they will be even more dialed in on Saturday as a result. I’m not going to predict that DJ puts up numbers like Deshaun Watson or Trevor Lawrence did in their first starts, but I think he will settle in and make some big throws. Hopefully Joseph Ngata will have his best game of the season, and we won’t see any drops from Ladson or Rodgers. The receivers need to step up for their freshman quarterback, and I think they will. Make it 27 straight home wins (most active), 28 straight ACC wins (2nd most all-time), 40 straight non-playoff wins (3rd most all-time) and 50 straight Saturday wins (most all-time) with a top-5 date with Notre Dame in South Bend looming!
The Prowl toward a 6th consecutive ACC Title, 6th consecutive College Football Playoff, 3rd consecutive National Championship Game and 4th National Title continues……
CLEMSON 34 Boston College 17
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