By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Boston College tailback Andre Williams entered Saturday’s contest against third-ranked Clemson with much fanfare. He exited beaten and bruised.
Williams is a classic throwback runner. He is a workhorse back who came into the game as the nation’s leader in both carries per game (26.6) and rushing yards per game (153.6) this season. His physical nature overpowers some, but he also has the ability to break big runs with a little bit of breakaway speed.
On Saturday, none of it happened. Clemson’s defense was stifling, and the same back who had rushed for over 100 yards in three straight games—including a monster performance against Florida State—finished the day far from that milestone thanks to the Tigers.
“They answered the bell with regards to the physical challenge we knew it would be,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We loved that. We’ve said it before: ‘If we’re going to be something, let’s be tough.’”
Clemson’s defense held Williams to 70 yards rushing on 24 carries. The big back averaged less than three yards per attempt in the contest, unable to get going against a Tiger front seven that routinely pushed the line of scrimmage backwards.
It was not the first time Clemson’s defense has thwarted Williams in a head-to-head showdown. Combined with last year’s effort (22 rushes for 61 yards), Williams now has 131 rushing yards on 46 carries as a starting tailback against Clemson—good enough for an average of 2.8 yards per game.
Williams seems to have more trouble running the football against Clemson than he does against most other teams, and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett says he and his teammates drew confidence from that realization.
“It’s really not a surprise to us because we know what we’re capable of,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said of slowing down Williams. “But it feels good. We knew it was going to be a physical game.
“The job had to be done. We had to go out and do it again this year. I feel like we did that pretty well.”
Generally pleased with the effort, Venables was also quick to point out that his unit was not without fault. They surrendered some chunk plays throughout the game, including both touchdowns.
There was a 38-yard run on a counter draw to Myles Willis, who torched Florida State for over 200 all-purpose yards but only totaled 67 yards against Clemson. There was a 69-yard touchdown pass from Chase Rettig to Alex Amidon on a post route immediately following a Clemson score.
Neither of those plays involved Williams, however. It was a testament to the amount of focus the Tigers turned to the Eagles and the way Steve Addazio—BC’s first-year head coach—adjusted his strategy accordingly.
“It’s a very good system that stresses you physically and stresses you on the perimeter and stresses you inside,” Venables said. “It creates opportunities for them off of all that run success, or the potential of it out of those heavy sets.”
On a day where so much went wrong for Clemson, its plan to stop the nation’s most productive tailback worked like a charm. The experience should benefit the team moving forward into a colossal showdown with a nameless, faceless national powerhouse next week.