Stats & Storylines: Defensive heroics and offensive progress in Death Valley

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Xavier Thomas had a lot of fun Saturday night against BC.
Xavier Thomas had a lot of fun Saturday night against BC.

Clemson’s defense put forth another valiant effort, and this time the offense did just enough to push the Tigers to victory. Although the offense struggled to get into the endzone, they only had four three-and-outs, tallied 438 yards, and were approximately even with Boston College with time of possession.

Boston College came close to scoring the game-winning touchdown twice within the last three minutes, but heroic plays by Andrew Booth and KJ Henry kept the Tigers on top. Clemson was buoyed by an especially raucous home crowd that caused several key Boston College penalties. The victory preserved their incredible win streak in Death Valley which now stretches to 31 games going all the way back to 2016.

Andrew Booth: Team-leading 8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss

“There can’t be a better-tackling corner in college football.” – Brent Venables

With Derion Kendrick leaving after last season, Clemson needed Andrew Booth to become a consistent No. 1 cornerback. He has met those lofty expectations and then some. Booth is not only excellent in coverage, but is one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the game. He seems to come up with big open-field tackles to prevent conversions every game. With 2:14 remaining, BC QB Dennis Grosel completed a pass to Zay Flowers near the sticks. Before Flowers could even land and fall forward for the first down, Booth was there pushing him back and – with the help of Tyler Venables – bringing him down.

Xavier Thomas: 3 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss

“I thought Xavier Thomas was the best player on the field tonight.” – Dabo Swinney

The statistics don’t really show just how disruptive Thomas was on Saturday. Towards the end of the game, he was beating his man and pressuring Grosel on practically every drop-back. After nearly getting a sack, he punched the ground in frustration as he appeared to roll his ankle. Despite that, he was back on the field for the final series creating pressure once again. It was a gutsy performance.

Boston College Running Backs: 27 carries, 83 yards (3.1 YPC), 1 TD

Boston College running backs rushed for 240 yards against Missouri a week ago. Trying to slow that ground assault without its two starting defensive tackles, Tyler Davis and Bryan Bresee, seemed like a recipe for disaster for Clemson. Despite missing key personnel, the Tigers severely limited the Eagles rushing attack, got themselves off the field, and gave the offense opportunities to find a little rhythm.

BT Potter: 4/4 on field goals (18, 35, 40, 42 yards), 1/1 extra points

Potter was responsible for 13 of Clemson’s 19 points scored. A bad day from the kicker could have swung the game, but his reliable performance knocking down four field goals, including two of 40+ yards, pushed the Tigers past the Eagles. He is 5/5 on field goals under 50 yards so far this season.

Joseph Ngata: 4 receptions, 111 yards

On a day when Clemson’s receivers struggled, Ngata came up with several explosive plays including a 54-yard catch and run on third-and-12. Ngata now leads all Tigers with 333 receiving yards this season. Justyn Ross and Frank Ladson exited with injuries. Tight Ends Davis Allen and Braden Galloway were also out. Ngata filled the void when needed most.

Clemson Rushing: 40 rushes, 231 yards (5.8 YPC), 1 TD

Creativity, toughness, and fresh faces marked a reinvigorated Clemson rushing attack. Clemson’s very first play from scrimmage looked like their typical inside zone run, but Justyn Ross came streaking across and caught a pop-pass on an end-around that went for 15-yards. There were many more runs to the outside and DJ Uiagalelei was much more active in the running game. The playcalling wasn’t flawless – a failed speed option to the short side of the field on third-and-1 instead of a simple QB sneak was distressing – but let’s give credit where it’s due. Changes were made and they worked.

With Shipley out and Dixon in the transfer portal, Kobe Pace started and fought for every yard of his career-best 125 rushing yards. There were several times he moved the pile or even popped out of the pile and ran for a couple extra yards. Freshman Phil Mafah made his debut and looked like a similar tough runner. He showed off a nifty spin move in the open field too. Mafah ran for 58 yards on just seven carries and looks to have a very bright future.

Of course, when the running backs have a big day, some of that credit always belongs to the offensive line. Right guard Will Putnam was out with a toe injury which led to some shuffling:

“After evaluating everything, we thought it was the right move to give Rayburn a shot at center and move Bock back over to guard.” – Tony Elliott

Rayburn certainly passed the eye test and looked comfortable at center. Coach Swinney seemed pleased with his performance:

“I thought he did a nice job and I thought Bock did a great job moving over there (to guard) with Putnam out. It looked like he and Walker (Parks) did a nice job on some double teams. Proud of Rayburn. He is a young player and that’s a big moment for him.” – Dabo Swinney

With Mason Trotter and Will Putnam on the mend and due back soon, the coaching staff will have tough decisions to make with the O-line combinations. Coach Swinney remains high on Will Putnam saying “Putnam has actually been very consistent for us. He’s actually played very well. We love Putnam for sure.” It’ll be interesting to see who steps onto the field first against Syracuse, but having more than five quality game-ready players for the O-line is a great problem to have.

Final Thoughts

On homecoming, with all the pomp and pageantry on campus, it was amazing to see the team play with such a will to win despite their tough start to the season. The crowd was amazing and impacted the game. The offense still has a way to go, but they definitely showed improvement while the defense still somehow manages to play at an elite level despite all the injuries. The open date comes at the right time for this banged-up team.

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