CHESTNUT HILL, MA. - This was never meant to be easy.
When Clemson’s 2012 schedule came out, Saturday's trip to Boston College didn’t attract much attention.
Its placement certainly did – sandwiched between emotional rivalry games against Florida State and Georgia Tech.
The circumstances that followed the Tigers onto their charter flight Friday afternoon only made it tougher. Not only are the No.17 Tigers (3-1, 0-1 ACC) trying to recover from a 49-37 loss at No.4 Florida State that left their league title hopes in doubt, they’ll do so without their best player, sophomore wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Clemson officials announced Thursday that Watkins would not make the trip due to an abdominal virus, which adds an extra layer of intrigue to Saturday's 3:30 p.m., ESPN2-televised kickoff against the Eagles (1-2, 0-1).
“Boston College is a tough environment,” senior center Dalton Freeman said earlier this week. “It’s not quite the electric environment we saw last week, but it’s a tough environment in its own right. We have to do a good job of not letting last week drown us and beat us down. It’s all about trying to get refocused and going to BC.”
Watkins’ loss will sting: although Clemson went 2-0 while he served a suspension to open the season, he can affect the game in a number of different ways.
He has 10 catches for 76 yards, six carries for 95 yards, including a 58-yard rushing touchdown, as well as a 52-yard touchdown pass to Andre Ellington.
With sophomore receiver Martavis Bryant sidelined by a groin injury, junior DeAndre Hopkins (31 receptions, 407 yards, five touchdowns), senior Jaron Brown and sophomores Adam Humphries and Charone Peake will carry a heavy load. Redshirting freshman Germone Hopper will travel but be used only in an emergency.
Since Boston College joined the ACC in 2005, the Tigers have only one win in three trips to Alumni Stadium; a comeback win that marked Dabo Swinney’s first career victory as interim coach in 2008.
Two years ago, Clemson suffered a frustrating 16-10 defeat that saw them garner three points in three red zone possessions, with freshman kicker Chandler Catanzaro missing a pair of key field goals.
“We just could not score any points at all,” Freeman said. “BC was not a very good team, and we moved the ball decent and had several turnovers. We struggled to score, with special teams, field goals, I remember being extremely frustrated not being able to execute and score some points.”
Last week was equally frustrating, with Florida State turning a 28-14 third-quarter deficit into a 49-37 win thanks to a 35-3 second-half run.
To win the Atlantic Division, Clemson must now run the table and hope FSU loses twice.
Junior quarterback Tajh Boyd called a players-only meeting Monday designed to clear the air and refocus his teammates on the remaining eight games. Player after player said that the Tigers still have all of their goals in sight.
“We’re used to winning,” Freeman said. “The program’s changed, the team has changed, the culture’s changed here. And it hurts to lose. I’ve been around here when losing wasn’t as big a deal. When I was a freshman and younger, we lost several games and it wasn’t as big a deal as it is now. We expect to go out and win every game we play, when we don’t, it hurts. It was a good job by Tajh get everyone on the same page, rally the troops, get focused for this week.”
The Tigers’ defense is also seeking a rally. Florida State rolled up 667 yards of total offense, the second-worst single-game total in program history. Poor tackling, poor pass coverage and a lack of pass rush (Clemson has four team sacks in four games) are all significant issues for first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Boston College is in the first year of offensive coordinator Doug Martin’s fast-paced system; the Eagles have struggled running the ball (95.7 ypg), but thrived throwing it. Junior quarterback Chase Rettig averages 317 yards passing per game, best in the ACC. Receiver Alex Amidon has 25 receptions for 366 yards and a touchdown; his 122 yards per game are best among league receivers.
“We’ve got some talent,” said first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “They have shown a great willingness to learn, get better and recognize what their shortcomings are. We recognize we do have a great football team. If we can work on the things we can control, the times we’ve shown we can control them we’re going to have a terrific season. On the flip side, if we don’t improve, things can make a drastic change.”
The same could be said for the Tigers’ roster as a whole. That mentality will be tested in Chestnut Hill.
“It’s as big a week as we’ll have all year right here,” Swinney said. “I want to see if we respond with a championship mentality.”