Had Clemson been able to beat Florida State in Tallahassee last weekend, fans would surely be wondering if this year’s Clemson team would be able to overcome the euphoria of such a monumental win and refocus their attention in order to prepare for a much improved by underrated Boston College team. However, since the Tigers weren’t able to pull the upset against FSU, the question now becomes can Tajh Boyd and the rest of the Tiger team shake off the disappointment of losing a game that may very well cost them a chance to defend their ACC Championship by taking care of business against a Boston College team they’ll be favored to beat come Saturday.
While last weekend’s marquee match-up between two of the ACC’s two most talented teams surely presented Clemson the opportunity to make a statement on national television, it is this week’s game against Boston College in Chestnut Hill that will be far more telling as to whether or not this Clemson team is a contender or a pretender.
While any Clemson fan will tell you it’s been Georgia Tech that has consistently delivered gut wrenching losses to the Tigers on a far too regular basis over the last decade, it’s Boston College that might be next in line when it comes to being a thorn in Clemson’s side since joining the ACC in 2005. Since Boston College’s inception into the conference, Clemson is only 3-4 overall against Boston College. Of the three trips Clemson has made to Chestnut Hill since 2005, two have resulted in losses. Clemson’s 43 percent winning percentage against the Golden Eagles is the lowest winning percentage it has against any other Atlantic Division rivals. Regardless of expectations, this is always a tough game for the Tigers. It doesn’t matter how it gets done, but if this Clemson team wants to continue to build on last year’s first conference championship in 20 years then this is game they must leave with a win.
Keys to Victory
1) Generate Pressure with the Front Four
Clemson’s defensive line is among the youngest in the country and that youth has been more than apparent through the first four games of the season. Both starting defensive tackles Grady Jarrett and DeShawn Williams are sophomores as too is starting defensive end Corey Crawford. While the young guys have shown flashes, none of them have been overwhelming opponents so there is certainly room for improvement. The only upper classman starting on the defensive line is senior Malicah Goodman who still has not recorded a sack so far in the 2012 season. Clemson ranks 100th nationally against the run and how quickly this line grows up is going to go a long way in determining how much true potential the defense really has to improve on the season. Boston College’s offense is operating more out of a spread attack under first year offensive coordinator Doug Martin and the best way the Tigers can generate success if by forcing negative plays with defensive line that result in third and long situations.
2) Feed AE
All-American wide receiver Sammy Watkins will not even be traveling to Boston with the team due to a viscious abdominal virus that has seen him held out of practice all week. Clemson fared fine without him against Auburn and Ball State in the first two games of the season while he sat out through suspension, so not having him on Saturday will not be anything this team isn’t use to. Look for quarterback Tajh Boyd to continue to rely heavily on junior wide receiver Nuk Hopkins who is in the midst of a breakout season (31 receptions, 407 yards, 5 touchdowns).
However if Clemson is truly going to be successful they will need to rely on arguably their most indisposable player, ACC leading rusher Andre Ellington. Ellington put the team on his back when he ran for 230 yards against Auburn in the season opener and possesses the ability to take over a game at any time. Clemson got away from the run to early against Florida State last week giving Ellington only two carriers in the second half and it might have cost them the game. Ellington is a game changer and how the Clemson coaching staff decides to use him will have a major impact on the outcome of this game.
3) Win the Turnover Battle
It’s very likely that winning the turnover battle might be a recurring theme throughout the season when it comes to discussing Clemson’s keys to victory. The reason; it’s just that important. It cannot be stressed enough how important not turning the ball over is to Clemson’s success. Since Dabo Swinney became Clemson’s head coach in 2008, the Tigers are 22-3 when winning the turnover battle and only 5-11 when they do not. The Tigers will need to protect the ball in Chestnut Hill to try and avoid giving Boston College momentum.