Clemson's defense gets opportunistic in saving the day once again

Clemson's defense gets opportunistic in saving the day once again

Football

Clemson's defense gets opportunistic in saving the day once again

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Statistically, Clemson’s offense had one of its better performances of the season.

A running game that hadn’t come close to this type of production against anyone its own size came to life to help the 19th-ranked Tigers rack up 438 yards of offense in a 19-13 win over Boston College late Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. If not for the 500-plus yards it rolled up against South Carolina State back in Week 2, it would’ve been the best yardage output of the season for Clemson.

But with D.J. Uiagalelei again struggling to consistently find touch and accuracy in a passing game that continues to try to gain its footing through five games, the Tigers (3-2, 2-1 ACC) often found themselves capping their best scoring chances with three points rather than six. Senior kicker B.T. Potter (4-for-4 on field goals) was the busiest he’s been all season, accounting for all of Clemson’s points outside of Kobe Pace’s 59-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter.

It allowed Boston College (4-1, 0-1) to hang around, which, much like two weeks earlier against Georgia Tech in the same stadium, ultimately left it up to Clemson’s defense to again save the day.

“It’s about making plays,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “And we made enough plays to win the game tonight.”

The Eagles had plenty of chances to put up points of their own, making trips to Clemson territory on seven of their 13 possessions. Four of those reached the red zone on a night when Boston College held the advantage in plays and time of possession. The differential wasn’t nearly as lopsided as it was for Clemson last week when the Tigers had to defend 87 plays in regulation against North Carolina State, but Boston College finished plus-6 in snaps and held the ball for 30 minutes, 19 seconds.

Yet Pat Gawro’s 3-yard run early in the third quarter was the only touchdown the Tigers allowed, which tied the game at 13 at the time. It could’ve been worse considering Boston College reached the Tigers’ 5-yard line on its second possession only to have to settle for a field goal. A questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Xavier Thomas late in the first half helped get the Eagles out of a second-and-long back up in their own territory. They methodically moved down the field after that, reaching Clemson’s 11 on that drive. But Myles Murphy and Ruke Orhorhoro combined for a sack of Boston College quarterback Dennis Grosel on second down, and the Eagles eventually had to take three again.

“Just taking it one play at a time,” defensive end K.J. Henry said. “We say a windshield mentality all the time around here, and I think that’s what we’ve done a great job of doing.”

Clemson forced three turnovers, nearly matching its season total coming in (4), and also finished with four sacks. The Tigers pressured Grosel numerous other times, forcing the Eagles’ backup, who’s playing for the injured Phil Jurkovec, into some mistakes. Nolan Turner and R.J. Mickens each had interceptions that set Clemson’s offense up at midfield or in Boston College territory, but the offense couldn’t maximize either chance. 

Clemson forced a punt after Boston College blocked one of Will Spiers’ boots in Tigers territory early in the third quarter, and Mickens’ pick gave Clemson’s offense its best starting field position of the night at Boston College’s 33 late in the third. But that came during a lull for the offense. The Tigers punted on their previous three possessions and didn’t move the ball much after Mickens’ interception once an offensive pass interference penalty moved them behind the chains, ultimately forcing Clemson to settle for a field goal that put them up 16-13 at the time.

Clemson had a chance to ice it after Uiagalelei connected with Joseph Ngata for a 54-yard catch and run deep into Boston College territory. But Potter kicked his last field goal when the offense again bogged down closer to the end zone, leaving the door open for the Eagles.

That’s when Clemson’s defense came through in the clutch again. Boston College marched to Clemson’s 31 with less than 3 minutes left, but Andrew Booth stopped Zay Flowers a yard short of a first down on fourth-and-9 to get the ball back to the offense.

“That’s just who we are,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’re really experienced. … We’re kind of the opposite of what we are on offense. Just very knowledgeable. Talented. Got good depth. Or at least we used to have good depth (before injuries). And they’re knowledgeable. We expected our team to kind of be led defensively or sure. And that’s exactly how it’s been.”

The offense went three and out but made Boston College use all of its timeouts after Uiagalelei ate it on third down rather than throwing the ball away. The Eagles threatened one last time in the final minute, moving to the Tigers’ 11 in six plays. Tyler Venables had a chance to end the threat when Grosel threw an errant pass his way in the end zone, but the Tigers’ safety couldn’t come up with the pick.

On the next play, though, Grosel mishandled the snap, throwing off the Eagles’ final play from the start. Henry exploded off the edge to recover the loose ball, preserving the Tigers’ win with one last stand in a game full of them.

“We were really trying to get off the ball and try to get the quarterback as fast as possible,” Henry said of Boston College’s final play. “At the end of the day, God put it in the right place at the right time. That’s all on him. Just excited for the team and the fans and I’m glad we could come out with a win tonight.”

Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!

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