No. 19 Clemson got just enough offense and another late stand from its defense to pull out another nail-biter over Boston College late Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly from the Tigers’ 19-13 victory.
Where’s that running game been all season?
Outside of an opponent it was able to physically overwhelm (South Carolina State), Clemson hasn’t come close to racking up the kind of yards it did on the ground against the Eagles. The Tigers finished with 231 yards on 40 carries, or 5.8 yards per carry. Only against S.C. State (6.7) has Clemson ripped off more yards per tote this season.
A good chunk of that came on Kobe Pace’s 59-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter, Clemson’s longest play all season. But an offensive line that again had to shuffle things with right guard Will Putnam (toe) out got more consistent push at the point of attack, and the Tigers also got out on the edge some to rip off other runs of at least 10 yards. Freshman Phil Mafah, getting his first snaps of the season, had 58 yards on just seven carries, including 10- and 28-yarders. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei again got involved in the running game, too, with two of his 12 rushes going for 14 and 15 yards.
Clemson also played its first turnover-free game while the defense had its most opportunistic performance of the season. The Tigers forced three turnovers, nearly matching its season total coming in (4), and continued to come up clutch to minimize the Eagles’ damage when they threatened, holding Boston College to 13 points despite five of its possessions reaching Clemson’s 23-yard line or farther. None was more timely than K.J. Henry’s fumble recovery to turn the Eagles away in the red zone in the final minute.
But without B.T. Potter, none of it may have mattered. Clemson’s veteran kicker hadn’t gotten much work this season with the offense struggling the way it has at times, but Potter got four field-goal opportunities from various distances Saturday and connected on all of them to help push the Tigers over the top.
The reason Clemson had to rely so heavily on Potter for most of its points was because the offense often stalled out after putting together promising drives. Clemson racked up 438 yards of offense and made four trips inside Boston College’s 25, but the scoreboard didn’t necessarily reflect that simply because the Tigers didn’t finish drives in the end zone.
Potter’s field goals came at the end of all four of those possessions, including one where the Tigers got all the way to Boston College’s 2 after marching 94 yards on 10 plays early in the second quarter.
More misses from Uiagalelei in the passing game contributed to that. Clemson’s effectiveness running the ball finally forced Boston College to commit extra defenders to the box and play more man coverage on the back end, giving Clemson more opportunities to strike down the field than it’s had much of the season. But Uiagalelei routinely overthrew his receivers on those deep balls as he continues to search for consistent accuracy and touch in the passing game.
The shot plays are something Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Uiagalelei is going to have to start hitting if the Tigers expect to maximize their offensive potential this season. The sophomore quarterback finished 13 of 28 through the air for 207 yards, his second straight game completing less than half of his passes.
“Just a little off, but it’ll come,” Swinney said. “Same guy who threw for almost 500 (yards) against Notre Dame last year, so it’s in there. Just got to keep rolling.”
The injury bug continued to take a massive bite out of the Tigers. Putnam and cornerback Fred Davis, who missed his second straight game with a bum ankle, were ruled out before the game. And once it started, the hits kept coming.
Receiver Justyn Ross left the game in the first half after taking a hit to the head, Swinney said, and didn’t return. Freshman receiver Will Taylor, who doubles as the Tigers’ punt returner, was injured early and watched the rest of the game from the sideline with ice on his knee. Fellow receivers Frank Ladson Jr. and E.J. Williams, who had already been dealing with a torn thumb ligament, were also banged up.
So were tight ends Davis Allen and Braden Galloway, forcing seldom-used Sage Ennis and Jaelyn Lae into action at that position. Another cornerback, Mario Goodrich, was also held out because of an unspecified injury he sustained the previous week against North Carolina State.
Swinney didn’t have many updates afterward on the players who were injured during the game, but Clemson’s bye week couldn’t be coming at a better time for an ailing team before the Tigers head to Syracuse on Oct. 15. They were already dealing with the losses of defensive tackles Tyler Davis (bicep surgery) and Bryan Bresee (torn ACL) as well as running back Will Shipley (lower leg), which are longer-term injuries and, in Bresee’s case, season-ending.
“It was crazy,” Swinney said. “Like a M.A.S.H. unit going on. … The biggest thing is just the health of our guys.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!