Clemson will travel to Boston College on Saturday looking to stay unbeaten at the midway point of the season. A win would also allow the Tigers to maintain their spot atop the ACC’s Atlantic Division standings.
What does Clemson need to do to ensure that happens? Here are three keys:
Make Boston College one-dimensional
Boston College is capable in the passing game (240 yards per game). But, for any defense, it’s easier to defend if you know what’s coming.
And if there’s ever a matchup where Clemson could force the opposing offense’s hand, it’s this one.
Nobody has rushed for more than 125 yards agains the Tigers. In fact, only one other team in college football is allowing fewer rushing yards on average than Clemson. The Tigers were at their best in that department last week in holding NC State to just 34 yards on the ground.
Meanwhile, trying to move the ball on the ground has been an issue for Boston College. Only two FBS teams are rushing for fewer yards than the Eagles, who are breaking in multiple new starting offensive linemen. Pat Garwo, a 1,000-yard rusher a season ago, has just 225 yards nearly halfway through this season.
If Clemson can eliminate the Eagles’ run game and win the early downs, that will allow the Tigers to pin their ears back and get after quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Clemson will have to be careful to guard against screens, draws and other similar plays designed to slow down a pass rush, but more consistent pressure up front can disrupt timing off a passing game and, in turn, help a struggling secondary, which is something the Tigers could use.
Boston College has also been susceptible to turnovers when the heat is on. The Eagles have coughed it up nine times, tied for second-most in the ACC.
That being said…
Don’t let Zay Flowers get loose
Flowers, as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney put it earlier this week, is a problem. Or at least has the potential to be.
The Eagles’ star receiver has the speed to take the top off a defense, but Boston College uses the 5-foot-10 speedster in a variety of ways. Swinney pulled out the “Where’s Waldo?” line in reference to that this week, referring to the fact that the first step to slowing Flowers down is knowing where he’s lined up before every play.
Flowers is averaging nearly seven catches per game and more than 14 yards per reception. He lit up Louisville last week to the tune of five catches for 151 yards and two scores, including a 69-yard touchdown. He’s also had at least one carry in four of the Eagles’ five games.
Simply put, Flowers is the kind of athlete that can beat just about any defense he goes up against. It’s up to Clemson to make anybody other than Flowers try to do that, something the Tigers have had success doing in the past.
Clemson has limited Flowers to just six catches in the teams’ last two meetings, and he’s never found the end zone against the Tigers.
Keep up the red-zone efficiency
Clemson figures to have its opportunities inside Boston College’s 20-yard line. The Tigers have made at least four red-zone trips in every game this season.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Tigers’ improved offense so far is what Clemson has done once it gets there.
All 28 of the Tigers’ red-zone trips have ended in points, and most of them have ended in the end zone. Clemson has scored 21 touchdowns once it gets inside the 20, including four touchdowns in four opportunities in the win over NC State.
And Boston College hasn’t been great at defending a short field. Opposing offenses have scored on 17 of their 20 red-zone trips against the Eagles. Twelve of those scores have been touchdowns.
For Clemson, maximizing its red-zone chances Saturday would go a long way in keeping the Eagles from hanging around.