In the first half of Saturday’s 34-28 victory over Boston College, Clemson’s defense could not get out of its own way at times. Whether the Tigers were overrunning on plays, missing tackles, making costly penalties or running into each other, at times they were their own worst enemy.
Of course, the Eagles had a lot to do with that as well. Boston College ran up and down the field on its two opening possessions, capping each with touchdowns.
By the 8:41 mark of the first quarter, BC already had 137 total yards.
“We had some opportunities to make some plays on those first couple of drives, but we did not get our head around or we lost leverage and let the guy run away from us or hit him as he threw and he drops a dime,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “The ball fumbles up in the air, we tip it, and they catch it, we jump offside. We had three offside penalties in the first half. We were not very disciplined there.”
It was a colossal mess for top-ranked Clemson (7-0, 6-0 ACC). The Eagles went on to score a third offensive touchdown with 1:02 to play in the second quarter. They finished the first half with 209 total yards on 29 plays, a 7.2 yards per play average. They were 4-for-6 on third down.
When Venables and his defensive coaches went into the locker room at halftime, he challenged his defense to play better. To be more disciplined and to trust each other.
Keep in mind, Clemson was playing without three starters on defense … defensive tackle Tyler Davis and linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones.
“We just all came together. We knew what we had to do,” said freshman defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, who recorded a safety on BC’s last possession to preserve the win. “We just executed the game plan we had from the beginning. We started executing it and started winning those 50-50 plays.
“We were working really hard out there.”
It paid off.
The second half was a completely different story.
Boston College (4-3, 3-3 ACC) managed just 66 total yards in the second half. Its five second half possessions ended with three punts, one on downs and another by safety. They averaged just 2.2 yards per play and were 0-for-5 on third down.
“We challenged them at halftime. There was a real live fork in the road,” Venables said. “I just think we had a bite-down-mentality. I just think our guys came out ready to play.”
Led by Bresee and the rest of the defensive line, Clemson got after BC quarterback Phil Jurkovec. They sacked him three times in the second—four overall—while holding the running game to just 1.1 yards per rush.
After going 8-of-12 for 161 yards and two touchdowns in the first 30 minutes, Jurkovec completed just 4-of-12 passes for 43 yards and no touchdowns in the second half.
“That was fun to watch, man. We really grew up,” Venables said. “That is a young group of guys that really grew up today. That strand is going to be very beneficial for us. We are down a few guys, but I think the guys that were able to step in for them really grew up and we are going to be a better defense because of that.
“Again, anytime your back is against the wall like that and you find a way. It was not like we had a bunch of magic calls in the second half. I just think our guys decided, ‘You know what? We are going to have a will to win, a will to fight and a will to compete.’”
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