In one evening, things changed dramatically.
As everyone in the world knows by now, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and will miss Saturday’s game against Boston College. The top-ranked Tigers were a 31-point favorite to beat the Eagles on Saturday, now, as of Friday morning, the game has been taken off the board.
No one knows what to expect from Clemson when it comes down the hill for its noon kick on Saturday. Earlier in the week, head coach Dabo Swinney announced middle linebacker James Skalski will miss a few games after an MRI showed his groin was in worse shape than they once thought.
The Tigers (6-0, 5-0 ACC), who are trying to win a six consecutive ACC Championship and possibly play for another national championship, will be without two of their most important players on Saturday. Skalski, of course, is the quarterback of the Clemson defense.
Freshman D.J. Uiagalelei would appear to be the go-to guy for the Tigers to replace Lawrence. A former 5-star and the No. 2 overall player by many from last year’s recruiting class, Uiagalelei has the skills and talent to go in and lead Clemson.
Though he has played this year, this will be Uiagalelei’s first start and starting a game is much different than playing in a game. He is going to be the guy and Boston College will do everything it can to make him prove he can be the guy.
Teams have already been stacking the box on the Tigers and running back Travis Etienne, causing Clemson to struggle in the run game. One can assume BC head coach Jeff Hafley will employ the same scheme on Saturday.
Hafley, who was the defensive coordinator at Ohio State last season, will try to get physical with Clemson’s receivers and mess up the timing of plays so their defensive front can get after Uiagalelei. The Eagles rank fourth in the ACC in passing defense, allowing just 217.3 yards per game, while opponents are completing just 57.1 percent of their passes. They have six interceptions and 17 sacks on the year.
“I think they can definitely beat BC without Trevor Lawrence,” ESPN analyst David Pollack said on ESPN’s Get Up Show Friday morning. “Listen, Trevor Lawrence, Clemson, Deshaun Watson, the quarterback lineage is pretty proven because they get elite quarterbacks. That is something they do exceptionally well.
“They have another one on their roster. He is not going to be Trevor Lawrence, but D.J. Uiagalelei is a stud. He is a big strong kid. He is 6-foot-4, almost 250 pounds. He can really, really run the football. You think he and Travis Etienne will be enough to beat Boston College.”
On the flip side, Clemson already knows what it has with Skalski out of the picture. Skalski missed last week’s game against Syracuse, as Jake Venables replaced him to quarterback the defense.
Venables, the son of defensive coordinator Jake Venables, knows the defense well and did a good job of replacing Skalski in the middle of the Clemson defense. The drop off there is not as significant, right now, as Lawrence’s presence being absent on offense.
Though the Tigers need to get through the BC game first, the possibility of not having Skalski and Lawrence at Notre Dame might be an even bigger concern.
“Now you go play Notre Dame. It is in South Bend. Ian Book and all the experience, against a defense that suffocated them several years ago in the playoff,” Pollack said. “That becomes a game that this isn’t Clemson being heavily favored like you normally see.
“But Clemson is in a great spot because Clemson recruits great, especially at the quarterback spot, as well as anybody over the last several classes over the last six or seven eight years.”
Another championship season is underway for the Tigers. It’s time to gear up for another year of Clemson football.
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