FSU looms after ugly win

Was it … A: A struggle from start to finish? B: An ugly win? C: Hard to watch at times? D: All of the above? D … it was most definitely D.

But it was also a win, and that's all that really matters coming out of Clemson's 24-14 victory over Boston College on Saturday.

The Tigers made all the mistakes they had not made this season – turnovers, miscues on special teams, third-down defensive struggles (at least a couple early) and a few blown assignments on defense – and they still won. That says a lot about this team and Dabo Swinney's program in general.

Saturday felt like a game Clemson would have lost a few years ago, and it felt like it was going to be a struggle as soon as Chandler Catanzaro missed a short field goal on the Tigers' first drive.

Something just felt off, on offense at least, throughout the entire game. That's odd to write, considering Tajh Boyd completed 30-of-44 passes for 334 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions and the running game had 162 yards on 37 carries – an average of 4.4 yards per rush.

But there was just something not right about the offense. There were two fumbles that killed drives, the aforementioned missed field goal and another field goal in Catanzaro's range that he never got to attempt because of a muffed snap. All of those mistakes kept Clemson from putting points on the board and kept the offense from gaining any real rhythm.

Granted, Boston College had a lot to do with that, as well. The Eagles' executed their game plan almost to perfection and had the lead going into the final quarter, causing some anxious moments for Clemson fans at Memorial Stadium and throughout the nation. The Eagles weren't shy about what they were trying to do: run the ball, take time off the clock, limit Clemson's chances and be physical all over the field.

And it almost worked … almost.

Still in the hunt
Clemson stayed put in the polls despite struggling to get past a Boston College team that isn't going to catch the eye of folks around the nation. The Eagles aren't sexy or flashy, but they play hard, they play smart, and they are well-coached.

But the Tigers should be commended for winning a game when they didn't play their best on offense. Ask Georgia fans or Stanford fans if they wouldn't trade places with Clemson fans right now. Georgia is out of the national championship hunt after a sloppy performance against Missouri that gives the Bulldogs two losses. Stanford might be out of the race, as well, after a loss to Utah. That was the Cardinal's only loss, but it wasn't a good one. At least Georgia's came to a ranked Missouri team, albeit at home.

Clemson didn't have to learn that lesson the hard way. The Tigers probably learned some lessons, but they kept winning while they did so, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Defense, defense, defense
It's time for Clemson's defense to start getting some recognition across the country and not just be an afterthought when talking about the Tigers' success.

Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and the offensive players get a lot of attention, and they should. But this year's defense is stepping up to the plate and getting some things done.

Boston College managed just 286 yards in total offense, and only 94 of those came on the ground (on 39 attempts for a 2.4-yard average). Those are dominant numbers, as is Clemson's success on third downs: Boston College was 3-of-15 on Saturday, and the Tigers' opponents are just 23-of-97 on third downs for the season.

More importantly, Clemson is giving up just 16.2 points game (and just 12.4 the past five games), and there seems to be a different feel to the defense this year. Where in past years, there was a feeling of dread about what might happen, this year there is an anticipation about who is going to make the big play.

There were many by the Clemson defense against the Eagles, and the biggest was Tony Steward's hit on Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig that led to a fumble and Vic Beasley's 13-yard return for a touchdown. Clemson led by only three points at the time, and the Eagles easily could have taken the lead if they got a drive going.

Instead, Steward made a terrific play, and Beasley cleaned it up for the clincher. But was there ever any doubt this defense would step up? It has been doing it all season when the team has needed that.

Granted, the Eagles are a little challenged offensively, but the defense was right there Saturday to make key play after key play.

Up next
Things will get much more difficult for the Clemson defense in the Tigers' showdown with Florida State on Saturday in what could be a matchup of top-five teams.

The Clemson-Georgia game to open the season was thrilling and was played in an exciting atmosphere. It had everything a great college game should have, and it was a big-time contest that lived up to the billing.

But with everything that has happened since then, Saturday's game is even more important than that one. The winner will be squarely in the middle of the national championship hunt (while the loser could stay in the race for a BCS bowl depending on how things play out).

This game will help decide the ACC's Atlantic Division championship, and ultimately the conference championship, this season. It's a chance for the ACC to put on a show for the nation and prove it's ready to take the next step and be considered with the top conferences. There will be two terrific quarterbacks – Boyd and Florida State's Jameis Winston – and NFL-type talent all over the field. It should be an electric atmosphere and a wonderful game.

In fact, it has a lot of the same intrigue that the Clemson-Georgia game had, and that game turned out to be a terrific night.

If the ACC gets lucky, this one will be even better.

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