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Boston College’s Path to Victory

By Dave Holcomb
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Although it may be small, some drama still does exist in the ACC. That drama comes this Saturday when Clemson visits Boston College.

With three weeks remaining in the regular season, there’s still plenty of drama throughout college football. But not much seems to exist in the ACC.

Since nearly falling to Syracuse at the end of September, Clemson romped through October and the first week of November, outscoring opponents by an average of 51 points. It’s practically a foregone conclusion that the Tigers will finish the season undefeated and earn a berth to their fourth straight College Football Playoffs.

However, although it may be small, some drama still does exist in the ACC. That drama comes this Saturday when Clemson visits Boston College.

While the Eagles remain a longshot, unlike Clemson’s previous four opponents, Boston College does have a path to victory.

Clemson’s identity has somewhat changed this season with the arrival of Trevor Lawrence. The Tigers have always played great defense, but this year, they also possess one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Clemson leads the nation with 18 plays of more than 50 yards from scrimmage.

That’s five more plays of that distance than any other offense in the FBS. In the ACC, Clemson has doubled everyone else, as Pitt sits in second with nine plays of more than 50 yards.

So the first thing Boston College, and really any team going forward, must accomplish to beat Clemson is prevent the splash plays. The Eagles have the defense capable of doing that.

Boston College has only allowed opponents to record two plays of more than 50 yards, which is tied for fewest in the ACC. The Eagles have yielded the fewest plays of more than 30 yards in the conference as well.

Because of its quick-strike offense, Clemson hasn’t needed to string together many drives of 10-plus plays. Stopping an offense altogether is obviously the top goal, but if Boston College can at least make Clemson drive the length of the field, the Eagles will accomplish two things.

First, the Tigers will be put into an unfamiliar position and will be perhaps more likely to make a mistake. There are many advantages to long, methodical drives, but there’s also an increased likelihood of a penalty stalling the drive or a turnover ending it altogether.

On the road in that unfamiliar position, the Eagles could have an advantage against the freshman quarterback.

Secondly, longer Clemson drives will shorten the game, which is essentially a universal strategy for every underdog. Fewer possessions leads to a higher likelihood something unusual could occur.

Therefore, Boston College preventing any Clemson splash plays is extremely vital to its upset chances. Establishing a ground game and causing turnovers are the others.

Boston College’s best player is sophomore running back A.J. Dillon. He’s dealt with injuries for most of the season, but he still has 897 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns and has increased his yards per carry average from last season to 5.5.

The Eagles need Dillon to be their best player in this one.

Last year, Dillon rushed for only 57 yards on 18 carries against Clemson. That won’t be nearly enough for Boston College to win Saturday.

The good news for the Eagles, though, is Dillon faced the Tigers defense last season in Week 4, which was before he truly broke out. Dillon averaged no better than 4.0 yards per carry (and in most cases, much worse) last September. That means it wasn’t necessarily anything Clemson did against him that slowed him down. More likely, Dillon just hadn’t found his footing yet early in his freshman season.

Dillon broke out with a career-high 272 yards against Louisville last October. He may need another similar performance for Boston College to hand Clemson its first loss.

In the event the ground game isn’t working early, the Eagles must stick to it. The running attack will help eat clock and keep the explosive Clemson offense off the field.

Even though Boston College quarterback Anthony Brown is much improved, the Eagles offense can’t afford to get one-dimensional. Dillon must be featured, which is yet another reason why the Boston College defense cannot afford to let Clemson’s offensive explode early and put the Eagles in a hole. That would put the Eagles into chase mode, meaning more passing and less Dillon.

The final piece to the Boston College upset puzzle is the turnover battle. The Eagles are tied for the ACC lead with 21 takeaways this season, as they average 2.3 per game. On offense, Boston College has 13 giveaways, giving them a plus-8 turnover margin, which is second-best in the conference.

Clemson has been sloppy with the ball at various points. The Tigers have lost the turnover battle three times this season, including against Georgia Southern. They have turned the ball over in seven consecutive games.

However, Clemson has also improved in that area lately. In the last three games, the Tigers own a plus-4 turnover margin and have forced eight takeaways. The Clemson secondary has been largely responsible, as they have an interception in five straight games and five picks in the last three contests.

For any underdog, turnovers are extremely important, and it’s no different for Boston College. The Eagles will probably need extra possessions to win.

If Boston College beats Clemson this weekend, the Eagles would be in line to make their first ACC Championship Game since 2008. As good as the Tigers have been, it could only take one loss this Saturday for them to go from national champion contenders to second place in the ACC Atlantic.

That isn’t likely to happen, but should Boston College play its best game of the year, there will be drama in Chestnut Hill.