Second Look: Grading Clemson versus Boston College


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Some of the plays Trevor Lawrence didn't try to make stood out most on Saturday.
Some of the plays Trevor Lawrence didn't try to make stood out most on Saturday.

Clemson dominated from the outset to roll over Boston College, 59-7, and move to 8-0 on the season.

TigerNet tackles week eight for the No. 3/4 Tigers with the key takeaways and game grades.

What we know about Clemson football (week eight)

* I was wrong.

Coming into the season, I like most everyone else wondered how defensive coordinator Brent Venables would replace the Power Rangers – Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell. You just don’t lose four NFL defensive lineman and not have some sort of drop off, right?

Even after the first few games and the job the defense did against Kellen Mond and Texas A&M, I still wondered how that young defensive front would stand up to a team that was just determined to run the football behind a big, physical offensive line.

Clemson held Louisville in check, something not many teams have been able to do, but facing A.J. Dillon at 250 pounds and the Boston College offensive line would be a different animal, right?

I was wrong.

We wrote about it last week, but this has been Venables' best coaching job of his career. It doesn’t matter what type of offense Clemson is facing, Venables and company have an answer. Whether it’s using three-down linemen, a traditional four-down front or bringing pressure from every spot on the field, Venables has an answer.

The rest of the college football world should be worried because not only does Venables have answers but guys like Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry, Logan Rudolph, Justin Foster, Tyler Davis, Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams are growing up before our eyes and that’s a scary thought. - Nikki Hood

* Some of the numbers are staggering.

Clemson put up 674 yards of total offense on Boston College, the most that program has ever allowed in a game. Imagine if the starters had played longer than a few drives into the third quarter? The defense allowed just 10 first downs and forced 11 punts.

The Tigers reached 600 yards of offense for the third time this season to match the 2012, 2017 and 2018 squads for the most in a single season in school history. Clemson has now produced at least 550 yards in three straight games for the first time since contests against Virginia, Georgia Tech and The Citadel in 2013.

Head coach Dabo Swinney laughed on his Sunday teleconference with the media, saying that for an offense that is supposedly struggling it sure is playing well. He then mentioned that the narrative is driven by Trevor Lawrence’s interceptions and there is a lot of truth in that.

The Tigers didn’t commit a turnover for the first time all season and Lawrence played his role to perfection. On one third down he scrambled towards the sideline and even though there was a throw that could have been made to the sideline, he simply pulled the ball down and stepped out of bounds.

Co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said it was one of the best plays of the night for Lawrence. Something tells me this already-prolific offense is about to hit another gear. - David Hood

* The North Carolina game will be referenced a good bit as a turning point with the Clemson offense this season. Two players who didn’t feature heavily in that one have shown out since -- and were a part of the gameplan early and often against the Eagles.

Justyn Ross saw his season’s catch rate drop to below 55 percent in Chapel Hill, averaging only 6.6 yards a target to that point. He was featured early in the slot role where he had success last season for some easy pitch-and-catch situations from Lawrence:

Ross finished with four catches in five targets for 60 yards and has nine receptions in 11 targets for 105 yards and a TD over the last two games.

Travis Etienne totaled 70 yards on 16 touches (4.4 yards per) with a touchdown at UNC. Over the last three games, Etienne has averaged 9.1 yards per touch -- Clemson showing a commitment to getting the ball in his hands (18 touches a game) but Etienne rewarding them too, such as the three TDs on Saturday:

Swinney said postgame that they were looking to showcase their speed advantage versus the Eagles. That shined in getting athletes like Amari Rodgers and Diondre Overton in space -- and letting their combination of talent and some good blocking on the outside do some work:

The gameplan and the execution were all on point in what was one of the more dominant attacks in recent memory.

On the defensive end, the discipline that this group is showing guides the strong stats early. Everyone knows their job and also knows the finer points of their opponents’ attack. BC had its lone scoring drive in the second quarter, and from then on, the Eagles averaged 2.3 yards per play despite their best efforts to slip tight ends out into space and also ram their 250-pound backs through the revamped Clemson front.

Venables’ group ranks second only to Utah in the least plays of 20-plus yards allowed, cutting a respectable number allowed a game last season (4; 26th-best) in half so far (2). A BC offense that averaged three runs of 20-plus yards per game coming in -- six alone versus NC State the week before -- didn’t register one on Saturday. How this group is playing as a unit is pretty remarkable. - Brandon Rink

Game grades

Offense: A+

They took care of business versus a lower-tier defense -- and much more -- to continue a rise up the national rankings to fourth in total offense and seventh in scoring offense. Clemson scored on its first six drives for the first time against an FBS opponent in the Tigers’ hurry-up spread offense era (2011-on).

Defense: A+

BC was held under 100 yards rushing for the first time since their last meeting with Clemson and only the third time in the last two seasons (only four times in the last three seasons -- Clemson being the one team to do it in 2017 as well). Venables continues to find ways to shut down the best aspect of an opposing offense.

Special teams: B

It was a largely unremarkable special teams night for both teams, with Will Spiers’ 58-yard punt among the highlights. With the game well in hand, BT Potter did miss a 47-yarder, which dropped him to 2-for-his-last-5 attempts.

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