By Will Vandervort
When he came to Clemson three years ago, Tony Steward was one of the more heralded linebackers in the country. But injuries set the Hastings, Fla., native back. On Saturday, the junior proved his worth when his first career sack propelled the third-ranked Tigers to 24-14 victory over Boston College.
“It was a great feeling to see Tony make that play,” defensive end Vic Beasley said. “He has worked so hard to get back and has put in so much time here. To see him make that play was great.”
Beasley benefited the most from Steward’s play. After quarterback Tajh Boyd gave Clemson a 17-14 lead with a 6-yard run with 13:44 to play, Steward chased down Eagles’ quarterback Chase Rettig and then forced a fumble that Beasley returned 13 yards for a touchdown.
“I was a little nervous when I went over there and picked up the ball, but I was like, ‘I have to pick this up,” Beasley said. “I have to get my first touchdown and I did it.”
It was the play the Tigers (6-0, 4-0 ACC) needed to finally pull away from a pesky Boston College team that was doing everything it could to prevent next week’s top 10 matchup between undefeated Clemson and sixth-ranked Florida State.
It will mark the first time in the 71-year history of Death Valley that two top 10 teams from the ACC will play on the same field.
“We were up by three and then that touchdown got us up 10,” Beasley said. “It gave us a lot of momentum going back out there on defense. We got the crowd on our side and we were able to flow with them.”
The Eagles (3-3, 1-2 ACC) held a 14-10 lead going into the fourth quarter when Rettig found Alex Amidon behind the Clemson secondary for a 69-yard touchdown, only one of two mistakes the defense made all day as it held BC’s powerful running game to 88 yards and the nation’s leading rusher, Andre Williams, to 70 yards or 2.9 yards per carry.
“We got turnovers and big plays when we needed then and showed a lot of heart,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
The Tigers finished the game with five sacks and held Boston College to 286 yards of total offense. BC had 93 yards on 30 plays in the second half. Sixty-nine came on the one to Amidon. This was the fifth straight game Clemson held an opponent to 14 points or less, the first time that has happened since 1989.
“I’m happy we are playing with the discipline, the toughness, the effort and the playmaking ability,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “There is a lot of room for improvement and the good teams continue to get better.
“I don’t think we have come close to peaking, yet and that is satisfying knowing we are going to be able to coach them really hard off of this video. Our guys like to be coached. That’s the fun part of coaching.”
The defense’s other mistake came in the second quarter when running back Myles Willis sprinted 38 yards on a delayed handoff with 13:38 to play in the first half.
Boyd led the offense with 334 yards through the air on 30 of 44 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions. He also had one rushing touchdown.
Clemson amassed 496 total yards and ran for 162 yards with Roderick McDowell leading the way with 91 yards on 18 carries. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins caught seven passes for 107 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown pass from Boyd in the third quarter that gave the Tigers a brief 10-7 lead at the time.
“We missed a lot of opportunities on offense. We had a lot of miscues,” Swinney said. “We totaled 500 yards of offense and that was the worst we’ve played all year, but’s that’s encouraging.”
With the Boston College game finally behind them, the Tigers can now look ahead to next week’s ACC Showdown with the Seminoles, with ESPN’s Game Day and the whole world watching Clemson again for a primetime showdown in Death Valley.