The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - A win against Boston College on Saturday would make Clemson bowl eligible for the 13th consecutive season.

WHAT: No. 8 Clemson vs. Boston College
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (80,301) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 8 (3:09 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -21
TV: RSN

Standing in the way of eighth-ranked Clemson [5-0, 2-0 ACC] and bowl eligibility is ACC Atlantic Division rival Boston College [1-4, 0-2 ACC].

Saturday's meeting will mark the 21st time the Tigers and Eagles faced off on the gridiron. The series, which is tied at 9-9-2, has played out as a defensive struggle in each of the last two contests, neither of which saw Clemson score an offensive touchdown.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney won his first game as interim head coach at Boston College. Now, in his third-year as full-time head coach, Swinney is 1-1 against Boston College.

In 2009, Clemson won 25-7 in a rain-soaked affair at Death Valley that saw Richard Jackson knock down six field goals. A year later, Boston College won 16-10 in Chestnut Hill.

Frank Spaziani, also in his third season, is 16-15 as Boston College's head coach.

For the fourth time, Clemson and Boston College are playing for the O'Rourke-McFadden Trophy. In 2008, the Boston College Gridiron Club began sponsoring the trophy as a nod to the 1940 Cotton Bowl, which hosted the two schools.

Here's a look at what to expect Saturday afternoon:

CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. BC SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
A few factors will be working in Tajh Boyd's favor this weekend.

1. The B.C. defense ain't Virginia Tech.

Bud Foster made life difficult for Boyd on Saturday night in Blacksburg. Boyd completed just 13 of 32 passes for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception. To Boyd's credit, five or six of the incompletion were drops and another five or so were throw-aways.


Tajh Boyd has won his first five games as Clemson's starting quarterback. (Roy Philpott)
2. Sunny with a high of 77 is better than 38 with a chance of rain and high gusts of wind.

Boyd admitted after Saturday's game that he had trouble getting his arm loose and getting a good grip on the football. Several easy throws sailed high of his intended receiver.

Simply put, weather won't be a factor this weekend.

Even after a game that didn't have very gaudy numbers, Boyd's season totals are still impressive: 103 of 168 for 1,459 yards with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Those big-time numbers could be back against a Boston College defense that's 68th nationally in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 130.39.

In the Eagles' four losses this year:

Northwestern backup quarterback Kain Colter completed 17 of 24 throws for 197 yards.

UCF quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey hit on 20 of 25 passes for 187 yards.

Duke's Sean Renfree completed 40 of 52 for 359 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Wake Forest's Tanner Price connected on 19 of 29 for 252 yards and a score.

In terms of pass efficiency offense, Clemson's national ranking is ahead of all four schools.

Also working in the Tigers' favor is a group of very dangerous pass catchers. The group, which includes tight end Dwayne Allen and wide receivers Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown, has yet to reach it's full potential. Wide receivers Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake have shown flashes, but have yet to assert themselves on a consistent basis.

Bryant has emerged as a deep threat, but that's about it, and Peake has battled a shoulder injury over the last several weeks.

Throw in running back Mike Bellamy and wide receiver Joe Craig, who was suspended for the first three games of the season, Clemson has a lot untapped potential to use on the perimeter.

Unfortunately for Boston College, the matchup is a tough one, but that's not to say the Eagles don't have skill in the secondary.

The starting cornerbacks are big. Starters Donnie Fletcher and Jim Noel are 6-1 and 6-4, respectively.

Backup field cornerback Al Louis-Jean Jr. [6-2], a former four-star from Brockton, Mass. decided to stay in-state over offers from Penn State and Miami. In fact, Louis-Jean was committed to Miami before he signed with Boston College.

Still, we expect Boyd and company to bounce back for another highly efficient outing with close to 250 yards through the air.

ADVANTAGE:

BC RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Before the season, Montel Harris was all set to break the all-time ACC career rushing record. Then, injury struck... again.

He missed the final two regular season games and the bowl game in 2010 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. An arthroscopic procedure on the same knee in August forced Harris to sit out the first three games of the 2011 season.


Montel Harris, Boston College's all-time leading rusher, will not play Saturday. (Roy Philpott)
The ACC Preseason Player of the Year has gotten off to a decent start with 31 carries for 135 yards through two games. A 26-yard run against Wake Forest last weekend broke Derrick Knight's school record of 3,725 career yards.

Harris, however, tweaked his knee against the Demon Deacons. On Wednesday, Spaziani said Harris would be out on Saturday.

To add insult to injury -- or injury to injury -- Harris' replacement, Andre Williams, who's rushed 69 times for 325 yards and three touchdowns, sprained a right ankle against Wake Forest, and he remains questionable.

The Clemson defense struggled against the run in the first three games of the season before settling down against Florida State and Virginia Tech. The Seminoles averaged less than 2 yards per carry and the Hokies had 3.3 yards per run -- both met goals set by Tiger defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

Brandon Thompson, who anchors the middle of the Clemson defense from the nose guard spot, has played at a high level all season. He's played a big part in forcing opponents to run the ball on the edge, which plays into the Tigers' advantage.

Boston College's offense is similar in style to both Florida State and Virginia Tech. Look for another solid performance against the run by the Tigers.

And look for Stephone Anthony to get a fair share of snaps at middle linebacker.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. BC FRONT SEVEN
Andre Ellington continues to strive for a breakout performance in 2011, and Saturday could be that day where Ellington breaks off a couple of big-time runs. As he continues to recover from a hamstring injury, Ellington is also fighting off a thigh injury, which he suffered last weekend.

Even if Clemson doesn't jump out to an early lead, his touches are likely to be distributed among Bellamy, D.J. Howard, Roderick McDowell and Demont Buice.


Andre Ellington continues to be bothered by a sore hamstring, but is officially listed as probable for Saturday's game against the Eagles. (Roy Philpott)
Boston College has allowed 157 rushing yards per game this season and no opposing player has rushed for 100 yards in a single game this season.

Clemson's power running game could assert itself against a smallish Boston College front that includes two sub 300-pound starting tackles. Backing the line is a solid set of linebackers, led by the nation's top tackler, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Kuechly led the nation in tackles last year and finished second nationally as a freshman. This season, he is averaging 16.6 tackles per game, which is 3.6 more than the nation's second leading tackler.

A unanimous All-America pick in 2010, Kuechly is the NCAA FBS leader in total tackles and solo tackles per game with a 13.7 average.

This season, he has 83 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss.

Starting weak-side linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis isn't too shabby either. He's second on the team with 48 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

The strong-side starter, Steele Divitto, is third with 33 tackles.

This solid linebacker corps will be run ragged by the late stages of the game. Boston College hasn't seen an offense that hums along at the pace Chad Morris demands. Plus, there are a whole bunch of playmakers, many unlike some the Eagles have seen this season.

Clemson, again, with the advantage.

ADVANTAGE:

BC PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
If Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig was watching the Clemson/Virginia Tech game last Saturday night, surely he noticed Andre Branch and how destructive he was in the fourth quarter in Lane Stadium.

Surely Rettig, who's been sacked an average of 2.2 times a game, didn't like what he saw.


Rashard Hall scored Clemson's only touchdown last year in Chesnut Hill on this interception return in the first quarter. (Roy Philpott)
Branch is now first among all Clemson defenders with four sacks. He's tied for 15th in the nation with .8 sacks a game.

As a team, the Tigers have just three other sacks. Rennie Moore has 1.5, Brandon Thompson's been credited with half a sack and Anthony has one, too.

The Clemson pass rush should see an uptick in this department Saturday. If the offense jumps out to an early lead, thus forcing Boston College to go to the air more, the Tigers could add a few more to the season total.

Keep in mind throwing the ball hasn't exactly been a strength for the Eagles. Rettig has completed 88 of 169 passes for 1,052 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions.

Boston College had a nice duo of deep threats in Ifeanyi Momah and Colin Larmond, but Momah tore a ligament in his knee against Northwestern in the season opener.

Larmond leads the team with 342 yards receiving and two touchdowns. His 19 receptions are second to Bobby Swigert's 193.

A healthy amount of pressure in Rettig's face with make it difficult for him to find Larmond downfield, but Swigert could be left to pick up the pieces in the short to intermediate routes.

The Eagles will need plays downfield to keep up with the Tigers. Chances are, they won't have enough.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. BC SPECIAL TEAMS
For the last two weeks, Clemson has seen a pair of kicking specialists go down with injuries. Punter Dawson Zimmerman suffered a knee injury against Florida State, but bounced back to play in the Virginia Tech game. Kickoff specialist and holder Spencer Benton broke his shoulder blade against the Hokies.


Chandler Catanzaro will handle the first kickoff Saturday, but Dawson Zimmerman will also get an opportunity as well. (Roy Philpott)
Chandler Catanzaro is first in line for kickoffs, most of which are likely to be directional kicks, but Swinney hopes to work Zimmerman in, too. Zimmerman will handle the holder duties for Catanzaro's field goal and extra-point attempts. Catanzaro is the backup punter.

Boston College has yet to show much explosiveness in the return game. The Eagles are 107th and 101st nationally in punt and kickoff return yardage, respectively.

Punter Ryan Quigley, a South Carolina native, has been solid with a 39.3 yards per punt average, which has allowed Boston College to average 38.23 yards in net punting. That's 32nd best in the country. The Eagles' punt return defense is ranked 13th nationally. Just four of his 26 punts have been returned.

Clemson net average is slightly lower at 37.17, however Zimmerman averages 42.4 yards per punt.

Boston College punter Nate Freese is 9th in the country with 1.8 field goals per game. He's hit 9 of 12 attempts so far.

Catanzaro has knocked down 5 of 7 field goals this season.

The Boston College kick return defense is susceptible to giving up big returns. One kick's already been taken to the house this season and the Eagles are 106th nationally in defending kickoffs.

Aside from kickoff return allowed for six, Boston College has been pretty sound on special teams. Throw in the curveballs Clemson has in its own operations, this one's too close to call.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 37 Boston College 10


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