The No. 1 Clemson Tigers in Death Valley is the scariest matchup the ACC has to offer, but Boston College is fairly optimistic for this Halloween battle because of the Friday afternoon announcement that Trevor Lawrence will be inactive, and hopefully speedily recovering, after testing positive for COVID-19.
Taking over for the presumed 2021 first overall pick at quarterback for Clemson is true freshman and phenom in his own right, D.J. Uiagalelei. He was the top ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2020 according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Oddsmakers are bullish on BC’s chances this weekend with Lawrence absent but still don’t give them much more than a fighting chance at +24, up from +31.
The Tigers are certainly not unbeatable as their annual scare against Syracuse showed us again last week, but to hang close, BC is going to need some bounces to go their way to overcome Clemson’s embarrassment of riches on both sides of the ball.
Hafley’s arrival has turned around a BC defense that struggled for most of last season and shaved off 96.0 yards allowed per game from the 2019 unit. However, the 27 points surrendered to a paltry Georgia Tech last weekend is not going to get it done against Clemson’s explosive offense that is 10th nationally with 518.0 yards per game through 6 weeks.
Clemson will likely get theirs on the offensive side of the ball even without Lawrence, so it looks like a shootout might be the only way BC can snap a nine-game losing streak in this series.
Fortunately for the Eagles, high scoring performances are no longer out of the question like in recent years with the emergence of Phil Jurkovec as a star at quarterback surrounded by an experienced offensive line and a speedy wide receiver core.
Jurkovec’s 1,671 passing yards ranks 6th nationally and is the best ever mark for a Boston College quarterback in their first 6 games. His dual-threat capabilities add an extra layer of versatility to the BC offense and might make Dabo Swinney think twice about bringing the pressure with his superstar end Xavier Thomas returning from injury.
If the offensive line holds up and Jurkovec protects the ball against Clemson’s explosive athletes on defense, there is no reason why Boston College can’t test Clemson’s defense and eclipse the 27.5 points per game they have averaged so far on the season.
To slow down the Tigers’ offensive machine, BC must put pressure on Uiagalelei and force the inexperienced signal caller into mistakes. If there is a weakness anywhere on this Clemson team, it is their offensive line, and the Eagles have the potential to feast with a red-hot front seven led by Marcus Valdez on the right end and Isaiah McDuffie and Max Richardson at linebacker.
McDuffie and Richardson are three and four in the country respectively in terms of total tackles, and the pair has the chance to stifle Travis Etienne and a Clemson run game that has not been as dominant as in years past.
BC’s run defense could be the key to this game because if Etienne has trouble finding holes early on, they can make Uiagalelei have to beat them with his arm, and the secondary can sit deeper and focus on keeping everything in front of them, which hampers the threat posed by Uiageleli’s game-breaking arm strength.
Swinney abandoning his run game relatively early on just gives Boston College more opportunities to exploit the true freshman’s inexperience and maybe grab the pick six to give Clemson a genuine fright.
The Eagles can make a statement on Saturday by playing Clemson tight or even coming away with (knock on wood) a program-defining upset. BC has as good a chance as ever of taking down the nation’s best, but in all likelihood, they still fall well short of the team that has frankly separated itself from the rest of the ACC.
I do think BC keeps things close through 3 quarters and gets murmurs of an upset brewing across the country before ultimately falling to Clemson’s unparalleled talent and depth by a margin that covers the spread.
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