WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.19 CLEMSON vs. BOSTON COLLEGE
- 2021-10-02 14:35:26
Welcome to the Homecoming edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers, of course, are coming off a heartbreaking loss in double overtime at NC State, handing them their first 2-loss regular season since 2014. The start to this season has been eerily similar to 2014. In both seasons, the Tigers were breaking in a new quarterback, lost their opener to a highly ranked Georgia team and lost on the road in overtime in September. They also had bad luck with injuries in both seasons, as Deshaun Watson went down with a torn ACL in 2014, and the Tigers are now playing without their starting running back and two starting defensive tackles. The good news is that the Tigers finished that 2014 season strong, hammering Oklahoma 40-6 in the bowl game, and they proceeded to go on a 6-year run like college football has never seen! It’s hard to accept the fact that the Tigers are likely already out of the playoff hunt for the first time since 2014, as no 2-loss team has ever made it, but I expect them to be back next year. And they still have the record for most consecutive trips to the playoff. Not even Alabama has made it 6 straight years. That record will probably never be broken as long as it’s a 4-team playoff. Unfortunately, some other incredible streaks have been broken this season as well. The Tigers’ 57 straight weeks in the AP top 5 was second all-time, and they needed just 11 more to pass Alabama for the record. Their 97-week streak in the AP top 10 was broken this week. That was tied with Alabama for second-most all-time behind Miami. The AP clobbered Clemson for the double-overtime road loss, dropping them 16 spots all the way to No.25! Pretty ridiculous, considering they are literally two plays away from being 4-0 with a win over No.2 Georgia, but the AP has been looking for an excuse to drop Clemson out of the top 10 and top 25 for years, and they finally got one. Even with the offense struggling, Clemson is still a top-10 team in my opinion because of its elite defense. Oklahoma is struggling on offense just as badly, and the Sooners’ defense is nowhere near as good as the Tigers’. At any rate, the Tigers need to bounce back against Boston College to keep their top-25 streak alive as well as their 30-game home win streak, which is the longest active streak in the nation.
It’s Homecoming in Tiger Town! Always a special weekend for fans and alums like me. It seems like yesterday that I was pulling all-nighters on Bowman Field to help my fraternity finish its float on time. We should have beautiful weather in the mid-70’s on Saturday afternoon and on through the game. It will be a special Homecoming for the 1981 Clemson football team as well! They will celebrate their 40-year anniversary on Saturday. During our Friday Preview Show at the Esso Club, Gary and I had the opportunity to chat with Jim Spiros, who was a strength coach on the ’81 team after playing linebacker and middle guard on defense from 1978 to 1980. His roommate was Charlie Bauman, who was famously on the receiving end of the punch that got Ohio State legend Woody Hayes fired after the 1978 Gator Bowl! You can watch our conversation with Jim and the rest of our preview show HERE. We also spoke with the president of the Boston College Gridiron Club, who will present the O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy to the winning team and the leather helmet to Saturday’s MVP. Last year, they gave the MVP to Travis Etienne, but he quickly gave the leather helmet to freshman QB DJ Uiagalelei, who made his first career start that day with Trevor Lawrence sidelined with COVID and passed for over 300 yards. The time the trophy was presented happened to be Dabo’s very first win as a head coach, and I was sitting in the nose-bleeds with some Clemson business school friends with whom I had just graduated. I remember it like it was yesterday! CJ Spiller won the first leather helmet, and since then Dabo and the Tigers are 12-1, including the last 10 straight, against the Eagles. Due last year’s scheduling anomaly with COVID, the Tigers will host BC for the third straight year in Death Valley.
On to Saturday’s matchup….
Clemson leads the all-time series with Boston College 19-9-2 dating to the 1940 Cotton Bowl with Banks McFadden quarterbacking the Tigers and Charlie O’Rourke at QB for the Eagles. The Tigers’ first regular season game against BC was in 1941 at Fenway Park, won 26-13 by the Tigers….Clemson (81-9) is two wins behind Alabama (83-6) for the most since 2015. The Tigers (123) trail only Alabama (131) for the most wins since 2011. They have 8 more than Ohio State. Clemson leads the nation in Power Five wins (86) since 2013. Alabama has 83 and Ohio State has 78 over that span....Clemson has beaten at least 12 Power Five opponents in 4 of the last 6 seasons. In college football history, that feat has only been achieved 4 other times. Alabama, LSU, Georgia and FSU each accomplished it once….The Tigers have won 10 or more games for 10 straight seasons, the third-longest streak in history behind FSU (14) and Alabama (13), which is also an active streak…The Tigers’ streak of 6 straight outright conference titles is tied with Oklahoma’s active streak for the third-longest in history. Oklahoma won 12 in the 40’s and 50’s and BYU won the WAC 7 straight times in the 70’s and 80’s. However, Clemson is the only program to have won 6 straight conference championship games….Clemson has finished in the top-4 of the AP Poll in 6 consecutive seasons, tied with Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma teams for the fourth-longest streak in history. FSU did so 13 straight seasons under the late great Bobby Bowden, while USC and Miami have each done so 7 straight seasons….Dabo Swinney has the best active win percentage in the nation at .807. Nick Saban is second at .798….Dabo’s 142 wins are already tied with Steve Spurrier for 6th-most by a coach in his first 15 seasons, but Dabo is only in his 13th full season. He could quite conceivably top Urban Meyer’s record of 165 wins in his first 15 seasons….Clemson has been ranked No.1 in the AP Poll in each of the last 6 seasons, which is the third-longest streak of all time behind Alabama (14) and Miami (7). Alabama’s streak is also active….Clemson had by far the longest active streak ranked in the top 5 of the AP Poll at 57 straight weeks before dropping to No.6 because of a pick-six in the opener against now No.2 Georgia. Alabama was second at 21, followed by Georgia and Oklahoma with just 4 each. If Clemson had remained in the AP top 5 until the end of the regular season, it would have surpassed Alabama’s all-time record of 68. Clemson’s current streak of 97 straight weeks in the AP top 10 is tied with Alabama for the longest streak in history behind Miami (137)…Since 2011, Clemson has finished with an equal or higher ranking than its preseason ranking every year except for 2019 and 2020, the only two years the Tigers have been ranked No.1 preseason. The Tigers were ranked No.2 and No.3 in the 2021 preseason polls…
Former Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Jeff Hafley is in his second season as BC Head Coach, and he has revitalized the program in a short time. The Eagles come into the game 4-0 after winning an overtime thriller at home against Mizzou last week, 41-34. BC still has that hard-nosed attitude that you remember with Steve Addazio, but they sling the ball around on offense much more, whereas they used to rely much more heavily on the run game with great backs like AJ Dillon, Andre Williams and Montel Harris.
The Eagles’ offense was dealt a blow when they lost starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec, an NFL prospect, for the season a couple weeks ago. Backup Dennis Grosel has plenty of experience, however. He’s in his fourth year and will be making his 12th start on Saturday. In 3 games this season, Grosel has completed 64% of his passes for 477 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. And he still has WR Zay Flowers (#4) to throw to. The 5’11, 177-pound junior from Florida is an electric play-maker who can score from anywhere on the field. He has 18 catches for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. They will also use him in the run game on sweeps and end-arounds in an effort to get him the ball in space as much as possible.
In the backfield, 5’8, 214-pound sophomore Pat Garwo (#24) is their leading rusher. He’s rushed for 412 yards and 4 touchdowns this season on 6.8 yards per carry. I wasn’t sure if he was ready to be that back who can carry the team on his shoulders like Dillon, Williams or Harris, but he had a monster game last week against Mizzou, rushing for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns on 25 carries in the overtime win. And as usual, he has a big, physical BC offensive line to run behind, which features Tyler Vrabel, son of Titans’ Head Coach Mike Vrabel.
In addition to great running backs and offensive linemen, Boston College has always churned out NFL tight ends. Last year’s star tight end was Hunter Long, who is now playing on Sundays, and this year senior Trae Barry (#3) has taken the baton. The 6’6, 244-pound Alabama native averages nearly 23 yards per catch and has 2 touchdowns already this season. As great as the Tigers’ defense has been over the years, they have tended to struggle against great tight ends. Watch out for Barry in the red zone as well as slot receiver Jaden Williams (#80). The 5’9, 176-pound freshman only has 9 catches for 77 yards this season, but 3 of them have gone for touchdowns.
Boston College is typically stout on defense, and this season is no exception under defensive-minded Jeff Hafley. The Eagles are No.20 in total defense, allowing 288.5 yards per game and No.23 in scoring defense, allowing 16.3 points per game. The pass rush has not been as good as we’re used to seeing so far—they only have 6 sacks, which is tied for 99th nationally. However, the secondary has recorded 6 sacks already by 4 different players, so DJ will need to be accurate with his passes on Saturday and avoid any tipped balls.
As usual, the Tigers will face a solid punter in Grant Carlson, who averages 46.6 yards per punt with a long of 65. Senior place kicker Danny Longman is 2-2 this season, but his career long is only 27 yards. Look out for Zay Flowers in the return game!
It’s interesting that Dabo has said that they will return to the beginning and work on the basics and fundamentals this week because his first win as a head coach came against BC, and DJ’s first win as a starting quarterback was against BC. Perhaps that will bring some karma to the offense this week, as they are still trying to find a rhythm four weeks into the season. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong last week. I was close to nailing my score prediction on the defensive side, but I thought the offense would finally show up and score 38 points at NC State, but they were only able to tally 14 in regulation despite scoring a TD on the second possession. Once again, it was a litany of mistakes, drops and penalties stalling drives, forcing punts and keeping the offense off the field. The time of possession was as lopsided as it could get, with the Tigers’ defense on the field more than 40 of the 60 minutes in regulation. I believe that wore the defense down, and with Skalski and Bresee out of the game due to injuries, the defense allowed back-to-back touchdowns in overtime after they hadn’t allowed a single touchdown in three consecutive games to start the season. Of course, the Tigers also lost Will Shipley on the first possession in overtime. The freshman scored the tying touchdown in his home state in his first start and had 5 TD’s in the last 3 games. The good news is that he did not tear an ACL and will only miss a couple of games. The bad news is that Bresee did tear his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. The Tigers are now without their two starting defensive tackles for the next 6-7 weeks. They have already had 6 defensive starters miss games this season. Skalski had a shoulder stinger and should be back on the field on Saturday. Ruke Orhorhoro and Tre Williams have been solid this season, and that will need to continue as they will both be starting at defensive tackle in lieu of Davis and Bresee. Behind them are Darnell Jefferies and freshman Payton Page. We should also see defensive end Justin Foster, who has already played some three technique, rotating inside and out like Christian Wilkins did when they needed him to.
So with Shipley out, we are likely to see some more hiccups on offense this week. I’m not sure that sophomore Kobe Pace is ready to be the guy at running back, but we’ll find out. True freshman Phil Mafah will also see significant playing time. Everything I heard out of camp in August was that Mafah is very similar to Shipley from a personality and maturity standpoint. He has good size and good hands from what I saw in practice. Dabo told me on Wednesday that he has confidence that Mafah knows his protections and is ready for the opportunity. Behind those two, we’ll likely see some of junior Michel Dukes, who was MIA during camp, and possibly even former walk-on Darien Rencher, who is steady but usually won’t break any big runs. As for the offensive line, they have continued to struggle and Dabo said on Wednesday that he might just run 5 new guys out there to start on Saturday. The depth chart, however, lists the same starting group as last week, with sophomore Paul Tchio making his second start.
I think the Tigers can’t wait to get back on the field and get the bad taste of that overtime loss out of their mouths. The bye next week comes at a great time. If the offense can show some signs of improvement, it would be great for them to go into the break with some confidence and momentum. And the defense could surely use a break!
It’s hard to predict what we’ll see from the run game, with a very small sample size from Pace and Mafah, but what I hope to see from the passing game is more play-action, more (or some) deep balls and more creative play-calling. But more than anything else, no more mistakes. They’ve got to start hitting the layups, as Dabo would say. No more drive-killing false starts and dropped passes. Consistent accuracy and touch from DJ on the easy throws. He has to have better pocket awareness too, and either move outside the pocket, step up or get rid of the ball before he takes a sack. It will be interesting to see if Dabo keeps Ross at slot or moves him back out to boundary with Will Taylor or the freshman Troy Stellato at slot. Ross has played well the last few games, but I personally think he’s more at home in the boundary, and it better utilizes his skill set. One way or another, I expect that we’ll see Will Taylor more involved in the offense—perhaps even lined up in the backfield with DJ. Hopefully we’ll see guys like Frank Ladson, EJ Williams or Ajou Ajou step up in the passing game. Ngata has been great so far and has stayed upright!
I am optimistic that the offense, while still a work-in-progress, will in fact show some improvement, get some first downs and run more than 60 plays. And I expect the defense, despite missing Bresee and Davis, to continue their lights-out play under the lights in Death Valley with the Homecoming crowd. The Tigers bounce back! Make it 11 straight over Boston College and 31 straight wins in Death Valley, extending the nation’s longest active streak.
The Prowl toward a 7th straight ACC Title continues….
CLEMSON 27 Boston College 13
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