Defense wakes up in time to help Tigers keep perfect record intact

Defense wakes up in time to help Tigers keep perfect record intact
Clemson linebacker Baylon Spector(10) tackles Boston College defensive back Jio Holmes(26) during the fourth quarter of the game against Boston College, Oct 31, 2020; Clemson, South Carolina, USA; at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Josh Morgan - USA TODAY Sports (Source: Josh Morgan)

CLEMSON, S.C. (WIS) - Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney called Saturday’s game against Boston College “uncommon.”

While the top-ranked Tigers were missing star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, they were missing critical pieces on defense as well. For instance, linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones, Jr. along with defensive lineman Tyler Davis -- all starters for the Tigers defense -- did not play against Boston College.

Initially, their absence was felt. The Eagles put up 21 of their 28 first-half points on offense against a Clemson defense seemed bewildered at times.

“We had some opportunities to make some plays,” said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “On those first couple of drives, we didn’t get our head around. We lost leverage and let the guy run away from us. We’re hitting [Jurkovec] as he threw and, man, he drops a dime. A ball fumbles up in the air, we tip it, and then, they catch it. We jump offsides. I think we had three first-half offsides. Not very disciplined there. We got a chance on, I think maybe, a 16-play drive that they converted a number of critical situations.”

Venables was right. There were a few opportunities for the defense to give the Tigers a boost when they needed it most, but they couldn’t get out of their own way. Clemson even had two interceptions negated by penalties for roughing the passer.

Thankfully for the reigning ACC champs, most of the miscues happened in the first 30 minutes of play. The second half saw a Tigers' defense that fans and folks associated with the team are used to seeing. Clemson blanked Boston College in the second half, allowed just 66 total yards, and even came away with a safety late in the game that provided just a little more cushion for their lead.

“We challenged them at halftime,” Venables said. “It was a real live fork in the road and I think we just had a ‘bite down’ mentality. I think our guys came out ready to play.”

The Clemson defense simply made things difficult for Jeff Hafley’s offense. The Eagles entered Saturday averaging about 165 yards per game, but they were held to just 67 rushing yards. However, the key was stopping BC quarterback Phil Jurkovec. He threw for 161 and two touchdowns and was only sacked once in the first half. That all changed in the final two quarters. Facing more pressure, Jurkovec was just 4-of-12 in the second half as Clemson sacked him three times in the final two periods.

“We all just came together and knew what we had to do and just executed the game plan that we had from the beginning,” said Clemson defensive lineman Bryan Bresee. “We started executing it and started winning those 50-50 plays. We were working really hard out there.”

It’s going to take another top-notch effort for four quarters next week if the Tigers hope to remain undefeated. Next week, they’ll face a Notre Dame team (6-0) that averaged close to 36 points per game heading into their game against Georgia Tech on Saturday. They defeated the Yellow Jackets 31-13.

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