Clemson hopes to avoid another slip up vs. BC
SEP 28, 2012 9:36a ET
For Clemson football, this has been its reality: Every time the Tigers appear headed toward a special season they stub their toes, usually either somewhere against an opponent they shouldn’t lose to or at home where they should never lose.
Saturday’s game at Boston College potentially could be another one of those stumbling blocks.
The Eagles aren’t ACC contenders by any means, but they are decent enough that if Clemson’s spirit is flat and BC gets some breaks, it could spring an upset. Nobody expected N.C. State to compete with the 9-1 Tigers last November, but the Wolfpack not only beat Dabo Swinney’s team, it blew them out 37-13 in a game that wasn’t even as close as that score suggests.
Also consider that Clemson is just 1-2 at BC and 3-3 overall versus the Eagles since they joined the ACC, and this game in no way is a gimmie for the much more talented Tigers.
“Everybody knows we’ve only won up there one time,” Swinney said earlier this week. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities to win up there, and the one time we won was a wild one.”
It would serve the 17th-ranked Tigers (3-1) well to avoid a wild one Saturday. They should be fine dealing with not having wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who remained home dealing with an abdominal virus. Clemson has plenty more weapons.
But if the defense allows BC (1-2) quarterback Chase Rettig to gain confidence and regularly find seams, the home team’s confidence will grow, and the prospect of an upset will become more real as each possession passes. Clemson hasn’t reached a point in the program’s growth where it can win games coming out of the tunnel or doing pre-game warm ups like Florida State used to in the 1990s and Alabama appears to do often these days.
And while Clemson’s offense can strike fear into an opponent, its defense is nowhere near that point. So the Tigers need to line up, smash forward, go deep on some big plays, get a rhythm going with the ball and make early stops on defense to help build a margin.
Rettig and BC, who have beaten Maine but lost at home to Miami and at Northwestern, actually lead the ACC in passing at 317 yards per game. That’s quite a change from BC’s usual approach, which in recent years has been smash-mouth football with a strong ground attack. And Clemson, which is ranked 10th in the ACC on defense, is more vulnerable to the pass than the run, though neither has been strong.
“Their quarterback has got a big arm, is efficient, and knows the offense,” Swinney said. “He really understands what they’re trying to do. It’s tied together nicely with their quick game, their screens and their play actions.
“They mix their drops up. They’re under center, they’re in the gun, they run some boots. They just do a really good job. They run the lead draw to keep you off balance.”
And they stand in the way of Clemson layering what can still be a special season, even if Florida State, which beat the Tigers last week in Tallahassee, wins out. Clemson can still play in a BCS bowl and finish ranked in the top 10. That should be its goal. But it won’t happen if history repeats itself. Here are some examples:
*2007, No. 13 Clemson’s high-powered offense loses 13-3 at Georgia Tech after starting the season 4-0. Two games later, the Tigers commenced a four-game stretch when they scored 191 points.
*2006, No. 18 Clemson allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown and had an extra point blocked in overtime to lose 34-33 at BC. The decision by then-coach Tommy Bowden still resonates among Tigers fans.
*Even as far back as 2000 when the 8-0 and fourth-ranked Tigers fell at home to Georgia Tech when the Yellow Jackets scored a touchdown with seven seconds remaining. Clemson lost three of its final four contests.
There are more, but those game are fair examples of Clemson’s nasty habit of tripping when it shouldn’t.
But maybe this is a different Clemson club. After all, it has two Atlantic Division and an ACC title under its belt since Swinney took over midway through the 2008 campaign. And it might have its strongest leadership in some time.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd called a meeting Monday to get the team back on track. Swinney is confident it worked, and the team still understands its goals.
Proving that begins Saturday.