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September 29, 2012
Sammy Watkins was back home battling a stomach bug, and before the game there were reports of other players dealing with the same illness.
The circumstances gave Clemson fans some seriously queasy feelings entering this one, and that pre-game sentiment has to be considered when we're assessing what this victory means.
It certainly was no work of art, but the Tigers didn't venture to Boston College seeking an abundance of style points. They went seeking a win, and they got it by two touchdowns. Now they're 4-1 and 1-1 in the ACC with five of their last seven games at Death Valley.
Clemson's offense was high-powered even without its best player, rolling up 576 yards, 27 first downs and 209 yards on the ground. Tajh Boyd completed 28 of 38 passes for 367 yards, and Nuk Hopkins was responsible for 197 of those receiving yards on 11 catches.
The defense was ripped all week after yielding 667 yards against Florida State, and it didn't exactly shut down the Eagles on Saturday. Quarterback Chase Rettig totaled 369 yards passing, and Alex Amidon totaled eight catches for 193 yards.
But those numbers didn't portray the progress made by Brent Venables' unit. The Tigers limited Boston College to just one first down in the third quarter and came up with two big second-half interceptions of Rettig.
Had Clemson been playing in Death Valley today, it'd have been a difficult assignment. It's simply not easy to summon the requisite intensity and focus seven days after a deflating, disappointing defeat in a Top 10 matchup.
These two games against Boston College and Georgia Tech looked foreboding as Clemson fans turned their attention away from the 49-37 defeat in Tallahassee.
Everyone knew Clemson was better than Boston College, capable of putting up a bunch of points and snaring a double-digit victory. But would the Tigers be able to overcome themselves? Lack of energy played a major role in a 16-10 defeat in Chestnut Hill two years ago, when the Eagles snapped a five-game losing streak while triggering a late-season spiral by the Tigers. And Boston College had an open date to prepare for this one.
As you digest this victory, there are some reasons for concern: pass defense, short-yardage offense, Boyd's inability to protect the football, and possibly a few coaching decisions as well.
But Middle Tennessee's stomping of Georgia Tech makes the visit from the Yellow Jackets seem a bit less intimidating. Paul Johnson's crew might go up and down the field at times, but there's little reason to think Clemson's offense won't go up and down the field more - and probably a lot more.
When you think about it, the way this victory over Boston College unfolded might be representative of the overall 2012 narrative. The offense is going to put up big numbers on just about everyone. The defense will have some problems stopping just about everyone. But this defense showed today that it's growing up in some areas, and presented some reason to think incremental improvement is a reasonable expectation.
Everyone wondered how the Tigers would respond in this dull setting, and their resilience during several instances of adversity was an encouraging sign.
Up 17-7, Clemson wanted to land the knockout blow after forcing the Eagles into a turnover on downs at midfield. But trickery backfired when Boyd took a toss and heaved a ball deep into double coverage. The pass was intercepted inside the 10, and Boston College promptly coasted 92 yards in eight plays for a touchdown that made it 17-14.
A Clemson three-and-out gave the ball right back, and the Eagles scored another touchdown when Amidon took a fourth-and-1 slant for 31 yards.
The Tigers immediately responded, relying on a punishing running game by Andre Ellington (132 yards on 25 carries) to move from their 24 to the Eagles' 4 late in the first half. On third-and-goal from the 4, Boyd rolled right and found Brandon Ford for a score to put Clemson back up, 24-21, with 23 seconds on the clock.
On their first drive of the second half, the Tigers encountered one of those moments that makes you think a win is not meant to be if you remember similar episodes on previous trips to Boston. Hopkins made a deft grab of a Boyd pass on what looked like a 35-yard touchdown. The pass was ruled incomplete by virtue of the fact Hopkins' foot nicked the pylon before his other foot came down in the end zone.
No matter. Boyd made a gritty, tough scramble for 10 yards to convert a third-and-10, plowing over a linebacker in the process. A few moments later, Rod McDowell dashed up the middle for a 16-yard touchdown on third-and-1 to put the Tigers up 31-21.
The offense sputtered on its next drive, and two false-start penalties by Tony Steward on the punt team re-introduced some of those old bad vibes. But the defense was coming up with stops in the third quarter, and cornerback Garry Peters broke up a third-down pass to force the Eagles to punt it back.
Facing third-and-7 from its 7, Clemson went for the throat when the Eagles were clearly anticipating something conservative. Their safeties were creeping toward the line to make a play on an underneath throw, and Hopkins dashed right by them as Boyd ran hard play-action. Boyd hit Hopkins for a 58-yard gain.
The Tigers had to punt after reaching Boston College's 30-yard line, but Rashard Hall produced an interception to give the offense possession at the Eagles' 33. A 29-yard throw to Jaron Brown set up an over-the-top plunge by Ellington from a yard out to stake Clemson to a 38-21 lead with 3:07 left in the third.
The defense's run of stops came to an end when Amidon exploited zero safety help and hauled in an easy 42-yard touchdown pass to trim it to 10. But Hopkins followed with a big scoring play that was just as easy, leaving cornerback C.J. Jones in the dust on a double move before hauling in a 36-yard touchdown strike from Boyd.
It wasn't artful all the time, but it didn't have to be.
A 14-win at Boston College? Clemson will take that anytime. And Clemson really will take it given the circumstances that surrounded this particular trip.
*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.