Boston College at No. 4 Clemson
When and Where: Saturday, Oct. 26, Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C., 7:30 p.m. EDT.
Looking to further winnow the list of challengers in the Atlantic Division, fourth-ranked Clemson looks for a 23rd straight victory Saturday when it hosts Boston College.
The Tigers (7-0, 4-0 ACC Atlantic) again carry the ACC flag for the College Football Playoff as they are already the only team without a conference loss in addition to being unbeaten. Trevor Lawrence shook off a rough start in which he was intercepted twice in Clemson's first three possessions as he finished with 233 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-10 romp past Louisville.
Travis Etienne had back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time this season, with a 49-yard touchdown run highlighting his 192-yard effort. Etienne is averaging 8.0 yards per carry and also has established career highs of 15 receptions and 128 yards after adding four catches for 35 yards.
Clemson's defense has forced seven turnovers in the last two games and has recorded 15 takeaways overall. The Tigers had six more sacks, giving them 28, and their 10 interceptions are tied for sixth-most in the country.
Boston College (4-3, 2-2 Atlantic) has been erratic all season but enters this contest on the upswing after rolling past North Carolina State 45-24 last Saturday. David Bailey had touchdown runs of 54 and 48 yards 2:16 apart in the second quarter as the Eagles rolled up 429 rushing yards against what was the ACC's stingiest run defense.
AJ Dillon churned out a season-best 223 yards for his fifth straight game of at least 100 and needs 32 yards for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. His 968 yards rank second in the nation among FBS rushers, and both Dillon and Bailey will be leaned on heavily by coach Steve Addazio with quarterback Anthony Brown out for the season with a leg injury.
Sophomore Dennis Grosel, who made his first collegiate start, completed 6 of 15 passes for 103 yards and did hook up with Hunter Long on a 51-yard gain. Long figures to be Grosel's best target and finished with three receptions for 84 yards.
Clemson has won eight straight between the teams and stifled Boston College in a 27-7 road win last season. The Tigers limited the Eagles to 113 total yards and held Dillon to 39 on 16 carries. Lawrence threw for a touchdown and ran for another while finishing with 295 passing yards.
Boston College has lost 12 straight games to AP Top 5 teams since upending then-No. 4 Notre Dame 14-7 in 2002.
Can Grosel keep Clemson defense honest?While Clemson coach Dabo Swinney noted in his weekly media availability that Boston College is sixth in the nation in rushing (278.3 yards per game) and 11th overall (494.4), there is only so much Dillon and Bailey will be able to do if Grosel cannot complete enough passes to prevent the Tigers from walking a safety into the box and creating a numbers mismatch.
That means making sure Long is involved early and often in the passing game. While he has only 18 catches, which is still a team-high, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound sophomore is averaging 20.1 yards per reception and has six catches for 183 yards in his last two games.
“Hunter’s got real speed for a 6-5, 250-pound guy that can flat run,” Steve Addazio said told the Boston Herald following practice Tuesday. "He’s a weapon, he’s an explosive weapon and he’s doing great. He’s a good blocker and playing at a high level for a tight end right now. He’s as good a tight end as there is the country.”
If Dillon does find some room to run, he could end the game as Boston College's all-time leader in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Dillon enters this game fourth on the school's list with 3,665 yards but needs just 75 to pass Derrick Knight (3,725), Montel Harris (3,735), and Andre Williams (3,739) for the top spot. The junior also needs two TDs on the ground to pass Keith Barnette (34) for first in that category.
Dillon has recorded 14 games of at least 100 yards and three of 200 or more but success has been elusive against Clemson. The Tigers have limited him to 96 yards and one touchdown on 34 carries in the last two seasons.
"I think with great, great teammates around you, I think you can have an opportunity to play at the highest level," Addazio said regarding Dillon's accomplishments to this point during his media availability Tuesday. "He's obviously an elite player. He's got a great supporting cast around him, which makes a difference. He's been terrific.
I actually said a week ago, I believe to somebody -- was it Julian or somebody? I said I thought we still hadn't seen his best yet. I would tell you, I'm not sure we've seen it yet. As good as it's been, I still think he can explode. We all saw what David Bailey can do as well. So it's a heck of a one-two punch."
Bailey's 181 yards versus the Wolfpack exceeded the total of his previous three games combined (169). The sophomore is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and is seventh in the ACC with 510 rushing yards.
Swinney excited for "old-school" challenge from BCWhile everyone talks up Clemson's chances to repeat as College Football Playoff champion based on how far Lawrence and Etienne can take them, the defense continues to do unsung work. The Tigers rank eighth in the country in scoring defense at 12 points per game and is 25th in rushing defense at 111.9 yards allowed per contest.
Swinney, for one, had a joy talking about the running game matchup that can only be found among football coaches.
"That game last week (vs. N.C. State) it's like watching 1990 all over again watching the tape. No tricking anybody. That's downhill football. Big boy pads, big boy football this week," Swinney said at his Tuesday media availability. "This is old school. There's a certain physicality and mindset you have to have in a game like this. I'm actually really excited about it, I'm anxious to see how our guys respond to the challenge that BC will present, because it is going be a challenge.
Swinney also singled out praise for Dillon, the 250-pound back who just wears down opponents and is averaging 138 yards.
"He's going to go through you," Swinney said. "He's going to drag you. You might be on him, but he's dragging you. He's just a big, big, physical old school back. He's one of those types of backs you see every week in the NFL. So it's a challenge, I think this is a big challenge, especially our back seven guys, a lot of those guys who want to play on Sunday. This is what they're going to see every week in that league, backs like this. So you better get your big boy pads back."
All of this talk about Dillon and BC's running game does not shortchange what Etienne is doing as he is quietly on pace for a second straight 1,600-yard season provided the Tigers play a 15-game schedule and reach the CFP final. Etienne has also gotten the better of the head-to-head matchup with Dillon, totaling 191 yards on just 20 carries while getting wins both seasons.
“I just think making your practice reps like game reps and creating that edge at practice,” Swinney told GoUpstate.com. “He’s only had one bad game, didn’t play well at North Carolina, where I was really disappointed in just his relentlessness because that’s what we’re used to seeing. I really challenged him and it’s just him getting back to the daily habits and making sure you’re building that right mindset throughout the week, understanding every play might be the one that makes the difference in a game."
While becoming the school's all-time rushing leader will not happen until later this season if it does happen, Etienne has already climbed from 12th to sixth on the school's all-time rushing list but would need 225 in this game to pass Wayne Gallman for fifth.
Swinney also got his kicker situation settled last week as a 1-on-1 dinner with B.T. Potter helped get the sophomore out of the doghouse for missing a 26-yarder the previous game versus Florida State. Potter drilled a 51-yarder and all four of his extra points against Louisville while splitting time with Steven Sawicki.
Boston College is:
- No trends of note.
- 13-3 ATS in its last 16 games vs. ACC teams.
- 10-3 ATS in its last 13 games following a straight up win of 20 or more points.
- 9-2 ATS in its last 11 games after scoring 40 or more points in the previous game.