CLEMSON, SC - WHEW! The biggest home comeback in Clemson history was as stressful as a heart attack, but that was probably the best thing that could have happened for the top team in the country. After falling behind 28-10 for their largest first-half deficit since the 2013 FSU game and largest overall deficit since the 2017 Sugar Bowl against Alabama, the Tigers outscored BC 24-0 to complete the historic rally. Freshman QB DJ Uiagalelei just passed a crash course in doctorate level football, which he needed because he'll be the starter at Notre Dame next week. That's right, as I predicted when the news about Trevor Lawrence broke on Thursday, Dabo announced after the game that Trevor will not play next week in South Bend.
Saturday was a perfect storm for the Tigers. In addition to missing Trevor Lawrence, James Skalski, Tyler Davis and Mike Jones, BC was catching every break imaginable in the first half, and that was some of the worst officiating I've seen since the Ron Cherry days! Those two enormous quarterback roughing calls each negated interceptions that would have been huge momentum plays for the Tigers, and they gave points to the Eagles. The Tigers would have won easily if not for those bad calls, not to mention the 14-point swing on the fumble by Etienne at the goal line. Nevertheless, the Tigers overcame the adversity and pressure to come away with the win. That's why they have the nation's longest active win streak, now at 27 straight, and are 27-4 in their last 31 one-score games. It was also their FBS-record 50th straight Saturday win, 40th straight non-playoff win (3rd all-time) and 28th straight ACC win (2nd all-time). Ironically, the Tigers will have to beat one-time ACC member Notre Dame next week to tie FSU for the longest win streak (29) against ACC opponents.
We all knew that with Trevor Lawrence out, the Tigers would have to rely heavily on their other Heisman candidate, Travis Etienne, to take pressure off of DJ, just like he did the last time Trevor was unavailable against Syracuse in 2018. Tony Elliott said after the game that he told Travis exactly that, and did he ever rise to the occasion! Travis racked up 264 all-purpose yards, rushing for 84 yards and 2 TD's with a career-record 140 reception yards. As we all expected, BC loaded the box to stop the run, so Travis had to do much of his damage on pass plays, and that has been the biggest difference in his game this season. We saw him emerge as a pass-catcher last season after tireless work in practice to improve in that area, and he has taken it to a whole other level this season, as he is probably the most prolific pass-catching back in the entire country. This is a guy that couldn't be trusted to catch a screen pass as a freshman! Trevor's lead in the Heisman race may have diminished through no fault of his own, but Travis certainly elevated his stock on Saturday. It was almost an afterthought because of the intensity of the game and the fact that the Tigers were trailing, but Travis broke Ted Brown's 40-year-old ACC record for career rushing yards to a standing ovation in Death Valley and chants of "E-T-N!" One of the great moments I have witnessed in Death Valley, and I only regret that there were only 19,000 fans there to see it in person. Travis also set a new FBS record for most career games (42) with a touchdown. It was originally reported that he broke the record a few weeks ago when he passed Tim Tebow, but the NCAA acknowledged that its records were erroneous and Donnel Pumphrey held the record. At any rate, Travis now holds the record and will tack several more games onto it!
The other major story of the game, of course, was the quarterback play of DJ, who could not have been much more impressive in his first start with all the pressure in the world on his shoulders. He was off target on some throws but also made some great ones and, more importantly, took care of the football. He threw no interceptions and only took one sack, while avoiding several others by scrambling and getting rid of the football. For months, I've written about the fact that DJ seems to exude the same quiet confidence and demeanor of Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson as freshmen, and he demonstrated that with his poise on Saturday. The fumble on the goal line was due to a high mesh point on the exchange, but Travis--being the humble and selfless teammate that he is--took full responsibility for the mistake that cost the Tigers 14 points. Better for that to have happened on Saturday at home than at Notre Dame next week! DJ was an outstanding 30-41 for 342 yards with 2 touchdown passes. He also ran 30 yards for another TD after faking out the entire BC defense on a run-pass option. I was expecting more quarterback power and designed run plays for DJ, but I guess given that BC was loading the box to force the Tigers to pass, and the fact that the Tigers can't afford to have DJ get hurt, it makes sense for Tony Elliott to have called the game the way he did. Elliott said after the game that he really didn't change the play calling at all because of Trevor's absence. Many offensive coordinators would have to do just that in a sudden-change situation with a true freshman quarterback replacing a seasoned veteran with different skill sets, but the Tigers had been repping DJ and Trevor Lawrence equally in practice, so Elliott felt that DJ was ready to run the Tigers' regular offense without having to simplify or modify it.
DJ scores 3rd career rushing touchdown, celebrates with fellow freshman and roommate Bryan Bresee
Veteran receivers Cornell Powell and Amari Rodgers stepped up in a big way for their freshman QB, making several critical, highly-difficult catches. Powell finished with 11 catches for 105 yards, and Rodgers had 7 for 66 yards and a touchdown. I expected the tight ends to play a bigger role in the passing game, but Davis Allen and Braden Galloway combined for just one catch for 6 yards and were only targeted once each. Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata, who's been battling injury, also failed to catch a single pass. It was just about all Etienne, Powell and Rodgers in the passing game, but the Tigers still managed to score 34 and would have scored 41 if not for the fumble on the goal line. That's just 7 points less than their season average with Trevor Lawrence.
The defense took a gut punch on the Eagles' opening possession, allowing BC to march down the field on 3 big plays for a touchdown. It was the first time the Tigers had trailed all season. I expected the defense to play inspired with Trevor Lawrence out, and they looked anything but early in the game. However, they absolutely played inspired football in the second half and appropriately finished with the game in their hands in the final minute. After Dabo elected to punt on 4th and one at midfield, Spiers landed a beautiful punt inside the BC 5-yard line that rolled out of bounds. That set the stage for an intentional grounding in the end zone, forced by Bryan Bresee, which resulted in a safety and put the game on ice. The Death Valley crowd was as pensive and quiet as could be at the start of the game and most of the first half, but it was as loud as any 19,000 ever was at the end of the game! Despite missing 4 starters, the defense allowed just 21 points and 275 total yards, sacking the quarterback 4 times. And make no mistake: that is a very good Boston College offense that will score a lot of points this season. I wrote in my preview that they were just beginning to hit their stride last week, scoring 48 points against Georgia Tech. It just took some time for them to find their footing with a new coaching staff and transfer quarterback, in addition to the pandemic, but they have an offensive coordinator with a deep NFL background and several big play-makers on offense. All-in-all, it was another great performance by this Clemson defense. Xavier Thomas played his best game this season after missing the first several games. He may not be quite 100% yet, but he is gradually getting there and had a big sack on Saturday. He almost had a second sack and forced an interception, but he was hit with a terrible roughing and targeting call instead and will consequently miss the first half of the Notre Dame game next week. Thomas was mid-air, for Pete's sake, when the quarterback released the pass, so I don't know how in the world the officials justify a roughing call on that unless they expect Thomas to defy the laws of physics and hover in the air mid-flight. If not for the two bad roughing calls, Nolan Turner would have been the only player in the nation with 4 INT's and Spector would have recorded his first.
DJ once again celebrates with roommate Bryan Bresee after he forces the game-winning safety
The Tigers' special teams also played a critical role in the win. As mentioned, Spiers set up the game-winning play with his punt to the 4-yard line. He also had a 60-yarder! BT Potter missed a PAT off the upright, but he was 2-2 on field goals, including a much-needed 50-yarder just before halftime to cut the lead to 15 and give the Tigers some momentum at the break.
It was complimentary football at its finest, a fantastic team win for the Tigers and a reminder of why Clemson is the No.1 program in all the land. The Tigers won the O'Rourke-McFadden Trophy for the 11th straight year, and Travis Etienne was named MVP. However, in a typical gesture selflessness and leadership, the senior handed the leather helmet over to his freshman quarterback, DJ Uiagalelei, who was equally worthy of it. It reminds me of senior Christian Wilkins buying freshman Trevor Lawrence breakfast when Dabo announced that he would take over as the starting quarterback. That is the kind of culture that Dabo has cultivated lo these many years! Next week, a historic showdown awaits on one of the most historic stages, as No.1 Clemson will face No.4 Notre Dame for an epic ACC showdown and one of the biggest games of the entire 2020 college slate.
Dabo's press conference, notes and highlights are below. Click on the link for more coverage, including post-game interviews, and don't forget to check back for our Sunday evening teleconference with Dabo!
Clemson trailed by 18 points in the first half, making the win Clemson’s largest home comeback victory in school history. Clemson’s largest comeback victory in Death Valley prior to Saturday had come in 1966, when Clemson turned a 17-point 35-18 deficit into a 40-35 win against Virginia.
The win tied for the second-largest comeback win in school history at any location, matching an 18-point comeback at Maryland in 2011, which had also stood as Clemson’s largest comeback win under Dabo Swinney.
The game was Clemson’s 15th victory all-time when trailing by 14 or more points at any point of the game. It was Clemson’s sixth such comeback win under Dabo Swinney and its first since the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, when Clemson overcame a 16-point deficit for a win.
Clemson overcame a 15-point halftime deficit, its largest halftime deficit overcome by Clemson in a victory since overcoming a 21-point halftime deficit in a 29-28 win at Virginia in 1992.
Clemson trailed by two points entering the fourth quarter. It was Clemson’s 10th win under Dabo Swinney when trailing after three quarters and its first since 2018 against Syracuse.
Clemson improved to 27-4 in one-possession games since 2011. Clemson’s .871 winning percentage in one-score games since 2011 is the best in the FBS in that span.
Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei made his first career start and completed 30-of-41 passes for 342 yards with two passing touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed six times for 25 yards with a rushing touchdown.
Uiagalelei joined Steve Fuller, Willie Jordan, Patrick Sapp, Nealon Greene, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence as one of only seven true freshmen ever to start for Clemson at quarterback. He joined Watson and Lawrence as the only true freshmen to win their starting debuts.
Uiagalelei posted the seventh 300-yard passing game by a Clemson true freshman starting quarterback all-time, joining one by Deshaun Watson in 2014 and five by Trevor Lawrence in 2018.
Uiagalelei’s 342 passing yards were the third-most by a Clemson freshman (true or redshirt) in his starting debut, trailing Deshaun Watson’s 435 yards against North Carolina in 2014 and Charlie Whitehurst’s 420 yards against Duke in 2002.
Uiagalelei completed his first eight passes of the game.
Uiagalelei recorded his first career touchdown pass on a 35-yard scoring reception by running back Travis Etienne.
On the play, Etienne scored a touchdown in a 42nd career games, breaking the FBS record for most games scoring a touchdown previously held by San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey from 2013-16. (*NOTE: Entering the 2020 season, the NCAA FBS Record Book listed Florida's Tim Tebow (38 games from 2006-09) and Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon (38 from 2012-15) as the record-holders for most career games scoring a touchdown. Etienne was believed to have broken that record by scoring in a 39th career game against Miami. However, after additional research by ESPN, the NCAA acknowledged an error in its record book and updated it to reflect Pumphrey scoring a touchdown in 41 games from 2013-16.)
Etienne finished the game with 20 carries for 84 yards with one rushing touchdown and seven receptions for a career-high and school-running-back-record 140 yards with a receiving touchdown. Etienne won the Leather Helmet Award as the game’s MVP, as selected by the game’s television broadcasters. Immediately upon receiving the award in the locker room, he dedicated the honor and handed over the Leather Helmet to Uiagalelei.
On a 15-yard third-quarter run, Etienne (4,644) broke the ACC career rushing record held by NC State's Ted Brown (4,602 from 1975-78).
Etienne’s career-high140 receiving yards set the Clemson school record for receiving yards by a running back, breaking his 114 yards against Virginia earlier this season. He joins C.J. Spiller (two in 2008) as the only running backs in Clemson history with multiple 100-yard receiving games in a single season.
Etienne (1,001) reached 1,000 career receiving yards during the contest. He becomes only the 12th player in FBS history to record at least 4,000 rushing yards and at least 1,000 receiving yards in a career.
Etienne (438) passed Duke's Ross Martin (430 from 2012-15) for second on the ACC's career scoring leaderboard. Etienne was already Clemson's all-time leading scorer and the only non-kicker in ACC history with at least 400 career points.
Including his 264 all-purpose yards on Saturday, Etienne (6,246) joined C.J. Spiller as the only players in ACC history to record 6,000 career all-purpose yards.
During the game, Etienne (4,807) passed Homer Jordan (4,614) for 11th on Clemson's career leaderboard for total offense (combined rushing and passing yards).
Uiagalelei scored his third rushing touchdown of the season on a 30-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter.
Wide receiver Cornell Powell recorded a career-high 11 catches for a career-high 105 receiving yards.
Powell’s 11 receptions are the most by a Clemson receiver in a game since November 2016 against Pitt, when Mike Williams made 15 catches and Artavis Scott had 13 catches. It tied for 10th-most in a game in school history.
With Powell and Etienne both eclipsing 100 receiving yards, Clemson had two players each reach 100 receiving yards in a single game for the 14th time in school history. It was Clemson’s first time doing so since last year’s South Carolina game, when Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross both reached the century mark.
Wide receiver Amari Rodgers caught seven passes for 66 yards with a touchdown.
Rodgers has now caught at least six passes in five straight games, becoming the first Clemson player to do so since a six-game stretch by Mike Williams in October and November of 2016.
Rodgers pushed his season receiving yardage total to 586 to set a new single-season career high, passing his 575 yards in 15 games in 2018.
Defensive lineman Bryan Bresee helped seal the victory by forcing an intentional grounding for a safety. It was Clemson’s first safety since 2016 at Georgia Tech.
Placekicker B.T. Potter closed Clemson’s final possession of the first half with a 50-yard field goal. It was his school-record-tying fifth career field goal of 50 yards or more, matching the mark held jointly by Chris Gardocki (1988-90) and Donald Igwebuike (1981-84).
Potter’s school record for consecutive PATs ended at 122 when he missed his first career PAT attempt on his 123rd PAT try of his career in the fourth quarter.
Clemson gained 448 total yards and has now opened a season with 400 yards of offense in each of the first seven games of a season for the third time since 2000 (2000 and 2018).
Clemson threw for 342 yards and reached 300 passing yards in a third straight game for the first time since a four-game stretch against NC State, Wake Forest, South Carolina and Virginia last season.
Boston College scored 1:54 into the game on the game’s opening possession. Clemson entered the game having not trailed in regular season play since the final minute of the second quarter of its game against North Carolina on Sept. 28, 2019. Clemson had not trailed at any point of its last 13 regular season games (final seven games in 2019 and the first six in 2020). The Boston College touchdown ended a streak of 812:27 of regular season game action since it last trailed in a regular season game.
The game was played on the 124th anniversary of Clemson’s football debut. Clemson earned a 14-6 win against Furman in its first game on Oct. 31, 1896.
Clemson and Boston College met in Death Valley in consecutive years for the first time in series history. It was the first time the teams played one another in back-to-back seasons at the same venue. The only time in the series the teams previously faced one another in the same region in back-to-back years was in the 1950s, when Clemson faced Boston College at Braves Field in 1952 and then at Fenway Park in 1953.
Boston College faced an undefeated Clemson team for the sixth straight season. The last time Boston College faced a Clemson team with a loss on its ledger was in 2014 when the 4-2 Tigers defeated the 4-2 Eagles, 17-13.
Clemson played its final of four home games in the month of October. October 2020 was the seventh time Clemson has played at least four home games in a single month, joining the 1920, 1987, 1989, 1993, 2008 and 2011 campaigns. In every instance (including this year), Clemson posted a winning record in those contests.
Clemson played its 21st game all-time while ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, the 15th-most since the poll's inception in 1936. It was Dabo Swinney's 20th game coached at No. 1, passing Jim Tressel for sole possession of 17th all-time.
Captains for the contest were running back Travis Etienne, long snapper Jack Maddox, offensive tackle Jordan McFadden and safety Nolan Turner.
WITH THE WIN......
Clemson opened a season 7-0 for the ninth time in school history, joining the 1948, 1981, 2000, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Clemson went 4-0 at home in October, winning four home games in a single month for only the second time in school history. Clemson opened the 2011 season with four consecutive home games in September, earning wins against Troy, Wofford, Auburn and Florida State to kick off an ACC Championship season.
Including both home and road games, Clemson went 5-0 in October, securing its eighth five-win month in school history. Clemson went 5-0 in October 1977, October 1981, November 1991, September 2000, October 2015, September 2017 and September 2018.
Clemson improved to 19-2 all-time when ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press. Clemson has never lost a regular season game as the nation's top-ranked team.
Clemson improved to 15-7 all-time in games played on Halloween. The win pushed Clemson to 7-2 all-time in Halloween home games and gave Clemson a 6-1 mark at Death Valley on that date since the Memorial Stadium's opening in 1942.
Clemson won its 27th consecutive home game to extend its school record for the longest home winning streak and longest home unbeaten streak in school history. Of the 120 players on Clemson's 2020 roster, 111 have never experienced a home loss in their Clemson careers. Nine fifth-year seniors on Clemson's 2020 roster were on the 2016 team that recovered from a home loss to Pitt by winning the national championship that season.
Clemson won its 28th consecutive game against an ACC opponent, including postseason play. The 28-game winning streak against conference opponents ties Clemson with the 2012-15 Florida State Seminoles (28) for the second-longest streak in ACC history.
Clemson has now won 36 consecutive regular season games, adding to the longest such streak in ACC annals. Clemson's last regular season loss came in October 2017 at Syracuse.
Clemson won a 39th consecutive non-bowl game, tying the 2000-03 Miami Hurricanes for the second-longest streak in the AP Poll era. The streak includes 36 regular season games and three conference championship games.
Clemson improved to 19-9-2 all-time against Boston College, dating to the teams' first meeting in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day in 1940.
Clemson won its 10th consecutive game against Boston College, dating back to 2011. Clemson’s 10-game winning streak against Boston College is its second-longest active streak against an ACC opponent, trailing Clemson’s 12-game active winning streak against Wake Forest.
Clemson recorded its eighth winning streak of 10 or more games against a single opponent all-time, joining streaks against Furman (31 from 1938-present), Virginia (29 from 1955-89), The Citadel (18 from 1932-present), Presbyterian (15 from 1944-present) and three against Wake Forest (15 from 1977-91, 12 from 2009-present and 10 from 1940-50).
Clemson improved to 12-4 against Boston College since the Eagles joined the ACC in 2005.
Clemson improved to 7-0 against Boston College at home under Head Coach Dabo Swinney.
Though 2020 is technically being played sans divisions, Clemson defeated a traditional ACC Atlantic Division opponent for a 17th straight time and for the 37th time in its last 38 opportunities.
Clemson improved to 26-1 in October games in the College Football Playoff era (since 2014).
Clemson pushed its winning streak in Saturday games to 50 to extend the longest Saturday winning streak in FBS history.