Defense comes through again as No. 24 Clemson escapes BC

Clemson's defense held Boston College to 263 yards, 180 yards below its average, in the win.

Mark L. Baer/Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson is living on the edge without Deshaun Watson.

Tyler Murphy ripped off a 43-yard run to get Boston College deep in the 24th-ranked Tigers’ territory and drove to the 29-yard line. But the quarterback missed on four straight attempts, including what would have been game-winning touchdown pass that was dropped by Tyler Rouse as Clemson held on to win 17-13.

It was the second straight week the Tigers (5-2, 4-1 in ACC) won a tight game without Watson, the freshman phenom QB, who will be out a month while recovering from surgery on a finger he broke last week against Louisville. Clemson dodged the Cardinals 23-17 in that game despite losing the QB in the second quarter.

Starter-turned-backup-turned-starter-again Cole Stoudt struggled against Louisville — which had the nation’s top-ranked defense — completing 20 of 33 passes for 162 yard and an interception, and the Eagles weren’t much easier to deal with.

Boston College’s (4-3, 1-2) eighth-ranked D came in allowing 289.8 yards per game and 19.3 points (22nd), and while Stoudt was effective, throwing for 285 yards on 45 attempts (both career highs), the Tigers were held 20 points below their season average.

It was Clemson’s defense that carried the way, giving up just 263 yards, including 68 yards in the first half. The ACC’s No. 1 rushing attack managed 120, but it got only 3.3 yards on its 36 attempts, and Murphy, FBS’ top running QB, managed 55 yards on 13 carries, 63 below his season average of 118.5.

The Eagles were just 2 of 14 on third-down conversions and didn’t get that second conversion until their first possession of the fourth quarter.

If not for that defensive effort, the Tigers may have been looking at a loss that, frankly, the ACC can’t afford in its bid to get into the College Football Playoff.

The Tigers have been sensational since Watson took over the starting job, scoring 38 points a game in the three games he opened.

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Without him, the offense has been stagnant.

With Stoudt at the helm, Clemson managed three field goals against the Cardinals and just the two TDs and a Ammon Lakip trey vs. Boston College.

Fortunately, Clemson can afford to keep relying on its defense given what lies ahead.

With the expectation that Watson will return for the Nov. 15 trip to Georgia Tech, that leaves dates with 3-4 Syracuse and 2-5 Wake Forest in between.

The Demon Deacons have the worst offense in FBS (212.8 ypg) and the Orange are 67th (412.3), meaning Stoudt shouldn’t have to generate that much on the scoreboard to make sure the Tigers have just the one ACC loss before Watson takes over again.