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BC Football: The Biggest and Baddest Opponent

BC Football: The Biggest and Baddest Opponent

There’s always been a tongue-in-cheek rallying cry around college football. Any team, at any division, wins an emotional or important game, and the ensuing line is usually uttered immediately.

We want Bama.

Boston College won’t get Alabama on Saturday, but it will get a team that’s equal parts big and bad when the No. 2 Clemson Tigers come rolling into Chestnut Hill. A pure blue-blood ACC program, it’s a team enjoying arguably its greatest run as the three-time national semifinalists. Having played Alabama in all three of those College Football Playoffs, including twice for the national championship with one victory, there’s a case that “We want Bama” should really be “We want Clemson.”

“There’s a reason why they are where they are, and they are scoring as many points that they are scoring,” BC head coach Steve Addazio said. “This is not by any means a fluke. This is a very well-coached and very well-recruited football team. I’ve really watched (Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney) from afar, (and) I think he’s done a fabulous job of building and recruiting and creating a positive atmosphere, and he’s really done a remarkable job with the whole football program. They just got it rolling and they are attracting elite, elite players in the country. You can see it on the field. It is very, very evident.”

Swinney became the Clemson head coach in 2008 when Tommy Bowden resigned after six games. He immediately led the team to a seven-win season, earning him the removal of an interim tag as the program’s leader. The next year, the Tigers won the ACC Atlantic Division, and they won Swinney’s first ACC Championship two years after that.

Clemson hasn’t won less than 10 games since 2010 and hasn’t missed a bowl game under Swinney. It finished in the Top Ten of the Coaches Poll on five different occasions, including in the Top Four each of the past three years. Last year’s Sugar Bowl loss to the Crimson Tide was the first time the Tigers lost a bowl game in six seasons.

This year’s iteration started the year ranked No. 2 and immediately rolled through three of its first four games, struggling only with a two-point victory over Texas A&M. The Tigers switched starting quarterbacks midseason to freshman Trevor Lawrence, only to watch him suffer an injury in his first start against Syracuse. But after the team rallied to win, 27-23, Lawrence returned to the lineup, kicking off a steamroller stretch of games where the Tigers outscored opponents 240-36.

“We don’t prepare any differently,” Swinney said. “We really don’t. (Monday) was the same Monday practice that we had against Georgia Southern. We don’t do anything differently. We try to create consistency in our preparation. We try to make that game (that we’re playing) the biggest game of the year, every week. I think a lot of people say that’s ‘coach-speak’ but it’s ‘coach-speak’ because that’s what you have to do to be successful.”

The Tigers enter Saturday loaded with playmakers at every position. Lawrence is a freshman, but he’s a five-star recruit with 1,500 yards thrown and a 65.4% completion percentage. He has 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and he completely diced the NC State and Florida State defenses for 622 yards and five touchdowns combined.

“This guy is going to be a first round pick,” Addazio said. “He’s accurate. He’s got size. He’s got some savvy. This guy is an outstanding player. They have had some outstanding players (before), but this guy is certainly an elite guy on their standards. There is a reason why (Swinney) was able to capture him. Their staff knew exactly what they were doing.”

Lawrence has four game-breaking receivers available for passes in Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, Amari Rodgers and Hunter Renfrow. All four have long receptions, with Higgins, Ross and Rodgers all completing 60-yard touchdown receptions. The trio has a combined 16 touchdown receptions on the year, and all have led the team with a 100-yard performance in assorted games.

In the backfield, Travis Etienne is seemingly invincible. Boston College had Clemson tied, 7-7, late in the fourth quarter when Etienne broke off a 50-yard touchdown en route to two late scores. He rolled Syracuse for 203 yards and led the game-winning drive late and most recently ran for 153 yards against Louisville on just eight carries. He enters Saturday two yards shy of 1,000 yards.

“We are going to have to play great defense,” Addazio said. “Their offense is extremely explosive. They are the most explosive they have been. Quarterback is a great thrower (and a) really confident guy. The running back might be one of the very finest in the country, like ours. They have got a really good offensive line. They are averaging something like 48 points a game or something right around that number. That’s a real number.”

The Tigers aren’t a one-trick pony, though, and might actually be more explosive on defense. Where the offense averaged 265 yards and 47.8 points scored per game, the defense ranks No. 4 nationally in points allowed with 13.3 points per game. It ranks fifth in total defense and third in total yards allowed. Only Wake Forest cracked the 150 yards rushing mark against the defense, but it came at the expense of a passing attack that only threw for 74 yards. The Demon Deacons are one of four teams who failed to throw for 100 yards against this team, though Wake was the only power conference, non-option team in the lot.

Clemson is as good as any opponent will get. It’s the kind of opponent that needs no superfluous adjective, and it’s a team with national championship aspirations. The Tigers are capable of winning every game by 40 or more points, and they enter Saturday with an opportunity to end the ACC Atlantic Division race, once and for all. It’s an opponent for the ages, taking on a team readying for a game for the ages.

After every big win, teams like to shout, “We want Bama.” On Saturday, BC gets Clemson, a team that might actually be better.

No. 17 Boston College and No. 2 Clemson will meet at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill on Saturday night at 8 p.m. The game can be seen nationally on ABC with audio available via the BC IMG Sports Network on WEEI 93.7 FM. The game can also be heard via the TuneIn streaming app on mobile devices and via Sirius 103, XM 193 and Internet channel 955 on satellite radio.

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