Clemson Week: Getting over the Hill

If head coaches decided football games, BC would be one of the best football teams in the country. Steve Addazio wants to win more than any other coach I have ever seen. He’s intense, he’s demanding, he’s physically imposing and, most importantly, he’ll never quit. If Steve Addazio were playing against Dabo Swinney this Saturday afternoon, we would be discussing funeral plans with the Swinney family. But coaches can’t play and, instead, I was asked yesterday if I thought we would rush the field again if we won.

That has been the tale of this season and the reason it has become so hard to believe in this team. We can play with any team in the country, but we will play with any team in the country. We can play our best against our best opponents and come up with magical moments like we saw against USC, but we will play our worst against beatable opponents like we saw against Colorado State. Intangibles are not something an Addazio-coached team lacks. We have accountability, toughness, identity, etc., but sometimes it is the measurables—the consistent execution, that come up short.

Last week’s convincing win over NC State did a lot to change that way of thinking but it still isn’t enough. If BC wants to seriously be considered for a spot in the top 25, they will have to string together at least two weeks of good football. Last week, BC went on the road and took care of business against an inferior team. There was no hangover from the bye week and, after surrendering two first quarter touchdowns, BC outscored the Wolfpack 17-0 on their way to a 30-14 win.

The three-headed monster reared its head again. Tyler Murphy did what he does best, rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns, making him the 17th leading rusher in the nation. Jon Hilliman further cemented his role as the starting back, carrying the ball 27 times for 85 yards and a touchdown. And Sherman Alston was once again the x factor, taking a reverse 24 yards for a touchdown. In his weekly press conference, Dabo Swinney said, “They’ve got a little guy that they’ve done a really good job of involving… he’s not very big but he’s quick as a cat.”

Alex Krowiak/ Gavel Media.

Alex Krowiak / Gavel Media.

It has been said all along that if BC can run the ball then they can beat anyone. While it’s this team’s greatest strength, it’s also the biggest weakness. In the same press conference, Swinney called BC a three to one type of team, meaning they will run the ball three times for every pass. He knows if he can stop the run with his 11th nationally ranked rushing defense he can exploit Murphy’s questionable decision making in the passing game. The Clemson defense has scored points off turnovers in four of their last five games and if Murphy is forced to pass, they will look to take full advantage of their opportunities.

While Clemson’s defense certainly has the capability to give Murphy the type of trouble that has stifled his creativity in the past, the BC defense is not one to sleep on. They are currently two spots ahead of Clemson as the 9th ranked rush defense in the nation and with Clemson’s freshman starting quarterback Deshaun Watson banged up, the BC defense is in good position to stop the run and force the Tigers’ back-up quarterback to beat them. Clemson will turn to senior Cole Stoudt, who lost his starting job three games into the season. Stoudt was in a sling for an injured left shoulder just two weeks ago and, though he was able to hang on for the win, was anything but sharp in his return to the starting job last week against Louisville, after Watson went down.

Clemson will have to rely on its 92nd ranked rushing offense that has put up just 141.2 yards per game, as opposed to BC’s 4th ranked 315.7 yards per game, to take some of the pressure off the shaky Stoudt. All-around this is a very different Clemson team than the one BC almost upset on the road just a little over a year ago. Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins are gone and this team has yet to win one on the road, with losses at Georgia and Florida State. They will come out hungry to prove they are better than their two losses would have one believe and BC will have to be ready to answer. These are two very evenly matched teams and this game will come down to who wants it more.

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Alex Krowiak / Gavel Media.

Steve Addazio wants it. But in the end, a coach’s words will fall on deaf ears and a player will have to decide for himself how much he willing to sacrifice for his team. Against USC, every BC player looked like he was playing for something bigger than himself and the nighttime took on a life of its own. Against Colorado State, it became difficult to see beyond the individuals and the daytime dried up the intensity that BC thrives on. On Saturday, the sun should begin to set about halfway through the game and we will see whether the daytime or the nighttime BC shows up.

Now for some bold predictions. This could be a make or break game for the BC season. If the Eagles can win on Saturday, bowl eligibility, national ranking and perhaps even more is just over the horizon. After Clemson, we play three very winnable ACC games at Wake Forest, at Virginia Tech, and back home for Louisville. If BC can win at least two of those games, they will be 7-3 headed into a showdown in Tallahassee. And for the boldest of my bold predictions: Florida State goes on probation for Title IX violations and BC wins the ACC championship over Virginia, putting themselves in a top bowl.

 

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