CHESTNUT HILL, MA. – Alumni Stadium is not a typically intimidating environment. Nestled in an outer Boston suburb, it seats only 44,500, and Boston College fans are not allowed to tailgate earlier than three hours before games or an hour afterward.
Teams like Clemson look out of place, and it shows. Since the Eagles joined the ACC in 2005, the Tigers have won only once – blowing a 17-0 first-half lead before C.J. Spiller’s big kick return lifted Dabo Swinney to his first win as CU’s then-interim coach in 2008. Two years ago, a mash of missed field goals and Kyle Parker interceptions led to a stunning 16-10 defeat.
Saturday’s task only got tougher when CU officials announced Thursday that the Tigers will be without star wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Here’s a look at how Clemson and Boston College shake out in an important early-season ACC matchup.
Even with star quarterback Matt Ryan on board, Boston College wasn’t known as a fast-paced, go-go-go offense. That has changed under first-year offensive coordinator Doug Martin, who has installed an up-tempo style. Junior quarterback Chase Rettig averages 317 passing yards per game, which leads the ACC; he has six touchdowns against a lone interception. His favorite target is junior Alex Amidon, who has 25 receptions for 366 yards; his 122 receiving yards per game leads the ACC.
All-America linebacker Luke Kuechly is in Charlotte as the Carolina Panthers’ first-round pick, but his absence has hardly been felt. BC boasts three of the league’s top four tacklers in Nick Clancy (43), Kevin Pierre-Louis (36) and Steele Divitto (28). Clancy leads the nation in tackles per game.
The Eagles’ defensive ends are big bookends; sophomore Mehdi Abdesmad stands 6-foot-6, and sophomore Brian Mihalik stands 6-foot-8. Junior kicker Nate Freese has nailed all seven field goals he has attempted this season.
Boston College was traditionally a power run-oriented team, but after 2011 preseason ACC Player of the Year Montel Harris left in the offseason, they haven’t found a running game behind a rebuilt offensive line. BC averages only 95 rushing yards per game, 10th in the ACC.
Opponents are rushing for an average of 186.7 yards per game against the Eagles, ninth in the ACC. That’s good news for a Clemson offense which struggled to run between the tackles at Florida State. The Eagles allow 389.3 yards per game, eighth-best in the ACC.
This week began with questions about Clemson’s motivation following a difficult loss at No.4 Florida State; it ended with questions about its offense. Sammy Watkins – who will miss the game with an abdominal virus – is the ACC’s preseason player of the year, the reigning national freshman of the year and one of its most exciting players. Junior DeAndre Hopkins – who had 22 receptions for 224 yards and four touchdowns during Watkins’ season-opening absence – will be leaned upon heavily, as will senior tailback Andre Ellington.
Alumni Stadium is the polar opposite of Doak Campbell Stadium – half its size, a Northeastern environment connected to a hockey/basketball arena – but Clemson has had difficulty winning there. The Tigers must pressure Rettig, slow a potent passing game and patch holes in what looked like a very leaky defense at Florida State. Even without Watkins and sophomore Martavis Bryant, they have enough offensive firepower to win, but it won’t be easy.
Prediction: Clemson 34, Boston College 17