It’s no secret that the toughest thing about a loss such as last week’s is the possible hangover it carries. Tommy Bowden has said on numerous occasions that you don’t want a close lost to beat you twice, meaning you can’t let it carryover to the next game.
That should be a concern heading into the Boston College game, but the attitude this team has displayed over the second half of last year and the first three games this year would lead one to believe that may not be as big of a concern as it would normally be.
Instead, the most troublesome aspect of this week’s game is the physical nature of play the Eagles bring to town. The Miami game was both physically and mentally demanding, and that type of play wears on a team.
The now year around nature of the business of college football, not to mention the fact that there are plenty of factors outside of football that serve as a release, prepare teams for such mental battles. It’s not as easy to battle the physical beatings.
Sure, off season training regimens have players in better shape today than they have ever been. Guys no longer have to get into playing shape. They remain that way all year long. Unfortunately for a team in Clemson’s position, all of the running, passing leagues, and weight lifting sessions can’t prepare a player for the viciousness of the hits they take during a season.
That’s why playing a team like Boston College is such a challenge any time of the year, but especially after a game as grinding as the one against Miami.
It will be interesting to see what Rob Spence’s game plan will is this week. Everyone knows he would like to run first and pass second. That changed last week against Miami because the Canes’ speed was too much to handle. The short passing game was a better fit and that’s what he rode.
Boston College isn’t nearly as fast as Miami, not many teams are, but they have been exceptional against the run. Through three games they are giving up an average of 39 yards per contest and a measly 1.67 yard per carry.
Those stats may be somewhat skewed because of who they’ve played. BYU is the poster child for a pass happy offense. They ran only 16 times for 8 yards in 76 offensive plays. Army is a team that is outmanned by nearly every team they face. They netted a mere 96 yards on 35 attempts.
Whether the running game is an afterthought or the athletes simply aren’t there to compete, those numbers are still very impressive. What’s even more eye-catching is Florida State’s meek effort against the Eagles. They had just 13 yards on 19 rushes. The Seminoles have the speed and horses to compete but just couldn’t get it done.
BC’s front seven is very good. They are led by all-everything defensive end Brian Kiwanuka (6’7”, 261). He will make is 29th consecutive start Saturday. The 2004 Big East defensive player of the year and the ACC preseason selection for the same award is as good as anyone in the college ranks.
Last season he registered 67 tackles, 11 sacks, and 25.5 tackles for loss, which is half of his career total of 50.5. He’s registered at least one sack in 18 of their last 22 games. He creates match up problems for most offenses because he has the speed to beat tackles and the size to overpower backs and tight ends.
Defensive tackle Alvin Washington (6’1”, 288) will be starting his 15th consecutive game. There’s nothing special about his size or speed but enough can’t be said about his experience. He and Kiwanuka are a formidable pair on the left side.
Sophomores B.J. Raji (6’1”, 337) and Nick Larkin (6’4”, 252) are green in comparison to the senior duo on the other side. Both are first-year starters, so look for Spence to run a majority of the Tigers’ running plays at these two.
Linebackers Ray Henderson (6’3”, 245) and Brian Toal (6’1”, 238) provide solid support behind the line. Henderson has started every game since the beginning of his sophomore season. Toal was the Big East rookie of the year last season. Henderson is equally good against the run and pass. He has registered 7 interceptions during his careeer.
The secondary is the most inexperienced group on that side of the ball. Strong safety Ryan Glasper and corner Jazzmen Williams each have 13 starts under their belts. Free safety Larry Anam made his first start in last year’s bowl game and sophomore DeJuan Tribble supplanted one of BC’s better players, Will Blackmon, at the other spot midway through last season.
There’s nothing spectacular about their scheme and they aren’t loaded with a bunch of prep All-Americans. The Eagles’ defense is good because they are very fundamentally sound. They adjust well throughout the game and wait for their opponents to make mistakes.
Spence faced the Eagles in the 2002 Motor City Bowl when he was at Toledo. His offense managed 433 yard of offense, 331 of which came through the air. Those numbers may not be indicative of what his plan was entering the game because the Eagles jumped to an early lead by scoring 42 in the first half and never looked back. He was playing catch-up most of the game.
Charlie Whitehurst is the only QB in conference history to beat nine different ACC teams, none of which have a winning record against him. With a win this week it’s believed that he will become the first QB in NCAA history to defeat 10 different conference opponents.
Getting that victory will depend on how much help he receives from his offensive mates. Having some modicum of success on the ground this week needs to be the focus once again because BC is so disciplined and they prey on teams when they are forced to become one-dimensional.
That being said, the plan will likely be to throw the ball a majority of the time while having enough success in the ground game to keep the defense honest. The secondary appears to be BC’s weakness, if you can say they have a weakness. Marion Dukes and Nathan Bennett must have their best game of the season.
BC has to have the biggest offensive line in college football. They may have the biggest line in all of football. They average 6’6”, 317 pounds. What makes them that much more intimidating is their experience. All have started at least one full season and they have combined for 87 starts.
Left tackle Jeremy Trueblood (6’9”, 321) is the most experienced of the bunch and a cornerstone of the offensive unit. His counterpart on the other side, Godser Cherilus (6’7”, 320), missed some of preseason practice with a stomach ailment but he’s fully recovered and playing well.
The guards are James Marten (6’8”, 315) and Josh Beekman (6’2”, 325). Center Patrick Ross (6’4”, 298) is considered the runt of the litter. Ross is the team co-captain after having started the two previous seasons. He continues the tradition of great BC centers, as his two predecessors are now starting in the NFL.
They protect a backfield that has quietly been very successful during Tom O’Brien’s career. The Eagles has a 1000-yard rusher six consecutive seasons up until last year. Although they lacked a back with huge numbers last year, a committee of three running backs, including current starter L.V. Whitworth and his backup, Andre Callendar, combined for over 1500 yards.
Quarterback Quinton Porter got off to a rough start against Florida State in last week’s game. He threw a pick on the first play of the game that was returned 19 yards for a touchdown. He also threw an interception on the ensuing possession that led to another FSU score.
He then settled down to lead BC to a 17-14 halftime lead. Unfortunately for Boston College, he suffered an ankle sprain midway through the third quarter and, after hobbling around for two series, was pulled in favor of Matthew Ryan. He hasn’t practiced much of this week and no one really knows if he’ll play this week.
Porter is a fifth-year senior that has patiently waited his turn. That should be enough motivation to get him on the field. If not, Ryan will get the call after being somewhat effective in his role last week.
Porter has been extremely efficient in his first season as a starter. He is 62-of-86 (72% completion percentage) for 589 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Receiver Will Blackmon and Larry Lester are converted defensive backs. Lester started all of 2003 at strong safety and Blackmon, as previously mentioned, was a starting corner when last season began.
There’s no doubt Blackmon is their big play threat. He is considered the second best return man in the country behind Devin Hester and he still logs reps as a defensive back. He is the guy the quarterbacks will look for when they need to make a play. He has 13 catches for 172 yards and 2 TDs thus far.
Tight end Chris Miller (6’5”, 269) is an excellent blocker who just happens to catch passes. He’s only had five catches in the first three games, but he’s making the most of them by averaging 17.9 yards per reception with two TDs.
The Boston College offense is well balanced. They have 120 rushing attempts for 448 yards and 102 passing attempts for 761 yards. They’ve outscored their opponents 57-21 in the first half. That stat is indicative of how they performed early in games last year when they scored on 9 of their first 12 possessions. They have done that once this year.
Stopping the Eagles early on will be crucial for the Tigers for two reasons. First, the balanced nature of their offense makes it much more effective when they are ahead. Secondly, the numbers show they are much more successful when they carry a lead into the fourth quarter.
They are 46-7 under O’Brien when leading after the first three quarters and 37-3 since 2003. Their record is 40-8 when leading after the first and 43-7 when leading at the half.
One of the biggest keys to their success so far this season has been their third down conversion rate, which is 21-of-45 (47%). Clemson has to find a way to get off the field in such situations in order to keep the Eagles from working the clock.
Much like their defense, the offense is very meticulous. They’re fairly basic on offense, relying on a rugged ground game and play action passes. The longer they’re on the field the more opportunities they will give their opponents to make a mistake.
The defensive line has to have a big game, especially on first and second downs, if Clemson has any hopes of forcing BC to deviate from their game plan. More importantly, the linebackers have to be much more physical than they have been in any of their three previous contests.
Utilizing their speed to combat the sheer girth of the offensive line is a must. Beating the blockers to a spot will be their best chance at success considering they’ve done such a poor job of defeating blocks all season. If the linebackers try to play too physical a game with their foes, it will be a long day for the Tiger faithful as the Eagles will run wild.
Of course, one would have to think that is the plan BC will have entering the game. They should try to lineup and pound it right at the Tigers, who have struggled with power running games. Two of the most used clichés in football are ground games win and speed kills. One will have to give on Saturday.
Clemson’s special teams have been anything but special. That’s saying a lot considering they’ve returned one punt for a TD and kicker Jad Dean is 9-of-10 so far.
Both kickoff units – coverage and return- have been awful. That fact has been very puzzling for the staff considering they return most players to both units that were tops or near the top of the nation last season. Extra emphasis has been placed on both units this week.
Dean has made 21 of his 25 attempts throughout his career. Weird as it may be, all four of his misses have come against Miami. He has made 15 straight from 40 or less and his only miss of the season came on a 51-yard attempt last week. He simply tried to put too much leg into it, which leaves many fans wondering how he would have fared had there not been a procedure penalty on his first shot at the three pointer.
Cole Chason’s numbers still leave a lot to be desired, but he did settle in last week to have a decent performance. He was a little banged up after having a punt blocked and making a tackle last week. That doesn’t make anyone feel better right now considering this is not the time to have any residual affects.
Tommy Bowden elected not to kick to Devin Hester last week and he still hurt the Tigers. Blackmon is just as good if not better. It’s hard to say what the best decision will be considering how mightily the coverage unit has struggled. If Jad Dean had been more consistent throughout his career and the wind is cooperating, it would be a no-brainer. As it stands, it will likely be a decision the staff makes before each attempt.
Clemson managed to flirt with disaster in their first two games in terms of special teams and it finally caught up with them last week. They must alleviate those issues this week or it will be another letdown after the final horn has sounded.
Tommy Bowden is 10-2 coming off of losses of seven points or less. The two defeats were to FSU (7-55) and Texas A&M (6-27), both of which were embarrassing losses. It seems as if the Tigers are either boom or bust under such circumstances. The good thing is both of those losses came on the road in very hostile environments.
Clemson is 19th in the country in turnover margin and 3rd in turnovers per game. They have committed only 11 infractions for 87 yards while their opponents have incurred 31 penalties for 285 yards. It goes without saying that they must continue to protect the ball and keep the yellow hankies off the field for them to have a chance. Again, and it cannot be stressed enough, Boston College is a very advantageous club that thrives on the mistakes of their opponents.
The keys on offense will be limiting the success of the BC front seven and taking advantage of a young secondary while cutting out the mental errors that were so detrimental in last weeks loss.
Defensively, the front seven, most notably the linebackers, have to consistently be successful against BC’s gigantic line. Stuffing the run will decrease the amount of success the Eagles have had on third down, which should force them to alter their plan of attack.
If any fans are searching for some kind of quirky omen for success, they should know that Saturday will mark 39 years to the day that the Tigers first rubbed The Rock. Frank Howard’s Tigers introduced the tradition of rubbing the rock on September 24, 1966 and had a come-from-behind victory that day. Clemson has won six straight games on that date.
Saturday will mark the seventh. Clemson’s linebackers will heed the call for them to improve their play and Charlie Whitehurst will be efficient as Clemson wins 27-21.