Second look: Grading Clemson versus Boston College


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Kelly Bryant scores Saturday against Boston College
Kelly Bryant scores Saturday against Boston College

It’s not too often that you nitpick a 27-point conference win, but here we are after Clemson-Boston College.

After a second look at the game, here’s how the Tigers grade and what it means going forward:

Offense: C+

The fourth-quarter performance was what was expected over four quarters versus Boston College, more or less. A deeper, more talented group wore down an Eagles unit that matched them blow for blow for much of the game.

There were two things going on this game that seem opposite of each other, but still feel true. One, being a Clemson site, you tend to focus on what the Tigers did or didn’t do on a given gameday, but Boston College played soundly. They were more physical. Their coaches put them in the right position – responding well from a game that was close for awhile and got away the week before versus Notre Dame. That said, there’s no excuse for scoring seven points over three quarters against that BC defense, and that came by way of a combination of execution and playcalling issues.

BC defensive end Harold Landry, who Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller called the nation’s best defender after Saturday, repeatedly overpowered Clemson blockers as the Eagles employed him on both sides of ends of the line. Here, Mitch Hyatt is the victim and Bryant has to do a lot of work for a 2-yard gain.


On this run call, Landry isn’t even blocked:


While the O-line picked it up against a tired defense late, blocking at just about every position was a struggle, and that made for Bryant looking as uncomfortable as he has this season, keeping him off-balance in the passing game, all game.

After Bryant’s second interception – which was more on him than the first pick, BC anticipated Clemson going ultra-conservative in its third-quarter playcalling and attacked, bringing the Tigers’ yards per play down to 4.6 over 10 drives and setting up the Eagles’ lone score.

BC both contained big plays and limited the Tigers from building drives, which means there was somewhere a far more talented roster wasn’t taking advantage for most of the game. It’s tough to say how exactly the performance forecasts forward, but BC won’t be the last challenging front Clemson faces in ACC play and Virginia Tech D-coordinator Bud Foster has some film to dissect this week. The bottom-line is, in the very least, being conservative against the teams that have a pulse offensively down the road will bring its issues.

With all that said, Travis Etienne:

We knew he was good, but that run – and this one – just confirmed the freshman deserves more touches. It feels like every play he can break it for a long run and score (a 12.7 per carry average will do that).

Tavien Feaster, Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller all look like they deserve to be out there too, although Fuller’s fumble could have been costly (Milan Richard deserving credit for the quick recovery). The whole RB situation is an example of a good problem – and quite the problem for opposing defenses in most games this season. Etienne will see more touches – he has to.

At receiver, how BC affected Bryant made it a strange day statistically. Season stalwart Ray Ray McCloud received two targets and two catches for minus-2 yards, as the Eagles swallowed up Clemson’s quick-pass game. In the slot, Hunter Renfrow was his usual reliable self, with a team-leading six catches for 53 yards. Most of the deep shots didn’t connect on the quiet day overall – the toss-up to Diondre Overton toeing the sideline the most memorable grab for 23 yards.

Overall, the 34 points was more than enough and the offense moved the ball well late. They can and likely will improve as the season goes on, but the game does provide some pause on the hype from the first three contests.

Numbers to know: 319.5 – Clemson’s rushing yard average in ACC games so far. Thanks to that, the Tigers topped 275 rushing yards in consecutive weeks for the first time since 2006 (331 v. UNC and 398 v. La Tech Sept. 23-30). 73.7 – Clemson runs on first down versus BC, which was up about 10 percent from the Louisville game (63.9) while averaging 1.2 less per carry (6.8 to 5.6). 3 – Three chunk plays through the passing game (15-plus yards), after six at Louisville.

Defense: A

They took care of business.

While the offense scuffled along and field position favored BC, the Tiger defense held the line against an Eagles offense that was very much overmatched – down a couple starting offensive linemen and starting a freshman quarterback in Anthony Brown.

Individually, there were a number of standout performances, including WLB Kendall Joseph (12 tackles), SS Tanner Muse (9 tackles, 1 TFL) and CB Trayvon Mullen (six solo stops, INT).

The bigger challenge out of the physical game is getting healthy before a test in the Virginia Tech offense on Saturday.

Numbers to know: 8.5 – Boston College’s average distance on third down, where they converted 4-of-16 opportunities. 2.8 – The Eagles’ yards per play in the fourth quarter, when Clemson went from tied 7-all to a 34-7 win. 36 – BC’s average starting field position, which makes the seven points allowed that much more impressive.

Special teams: B-

This was the first game this season where special teams hurt Clemson in a critical situation, and that came in the punting game.

Field position wasn’t tilted in the Tigers’ favor for the first time in four games, and that forced the punt team to cover some of those booming Will Spiers’ kicks. It didn’t go well, including BC’s Michael Walker setting up the Eagles’ lone score with a 27-yard return up the middle to the Clemson 37.

Elsewhere, the Tigers’ return game evened things out thanks to a 56-yard punt return from Ray Ray McCloud to setup a Clemson score and a nice 26-yard kick return from Travis Etienne in the third quarter. The potential of having a dangerous return team has been long talked about around Clemson, and Saturday showed some positive signs toward that.

Oddly enough, in such a tight contest for three-plus quarters, new starting kicker Alex Spence didn’t get a crack at his first college field goal attempt. Spence did miss one of his five extra point attempts, but even his predecessor Greg Huegel had the occasional PAT miss. Right now, there’s just not a lot go on when it comes to Clemson’s confidence level in the kicking game at Virginia Tech.

Numbers to know: 114 – Clemson’s ranking in average punt return yards allowed (16.2 per). 56 – McCloud’s punt return was Clemson’s longest since his 74-yarder versus Troy last season (Yes, that one).

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