Tigers change identity midseason

This might just be Clemson’s identity the rest of the season: Solid, but not spectacular, on offense. Dominant on defense. Gritty all the way around.

There’s nothing wrong with that … as long as the wins keep coming.

There really wasn’t anything flashy about Clemson’s 17-13 win. The offense was steady but didn’t look like the offense that Tigers fans thought they would be watching this season.

With the defense that Clemson has, however, the offense doesn’t have to be dynamic, really. It just needs to be smart and efficient and do just enough to get wins.

Saturday’s victory over Boston College was the perfect example of that.

Clemson had zero turnovers and only four penalties for 30 yards and didn’t hurt itself with mistakes. The Tigers played the field position game to perfection, and that was the right plan for this game.

That might also be the perfect plan for the rest of the season.

Steady on offense
Clemson’s offense didn’t put up a lot of points, but it was good throughout Saturday’s game, even with some continued struggles running the ball.

The Tigers ran the ball 36 times for only 113 yards (an average of 3.1 yards per carry), but they did get two nice touchdown runs – one each from C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman.

Cole Stoudt got the job done at quarterback, looking much more comfortable this week than he did when he had to come in the game last week after Deshaun Watson’s injury. Stoudt completed a career-high 29 passes in 45 attempts for 285 yards and didn’t make any critical mistakes. That was crucial with the way the game turned out, and the offense helped itself by converting many key third downs and finishing 10-of-21 in those situations.

Turnovers and third downs are key to deciding any game, and Clemson won both of those statistics Saturday with some solid and smart play from its offense.

Dominant (again) on defense
For the second straight game, Clemson’s defense looked like a Clemson defense of old. And that proved to be pivotal for the team pulling out the win.

Against a strong running game, which was averaging 315 yards per game, Clemson’s defensive front controlled the action. The Eagles ran the ball 36 times for only 120 yards, and while Tyler Murphy made some plays at quarterback, he was held in check for most of the game. He rushed for 55 yards on 13 carries and completed 8-of-19 passes for 108 yards.

Boston College really couldn’t sustain any drives because it was just 2-of-14 on third downs (a week after Louisville went 1-of-17).

Those are special numbers. And this defense is certainly special. When some defenses might pout and get down if the offense isn’t clicking this group hasn’t done that the past two games (after it did against Georgia in the opener).

Boston College finished with 263 yards on 56 plays, the third straight week Clemson has held its opponent to fewer than 300 yards.

Road warriors, finally
Dabo Swinney talked throughout the week about the importance of finishing off a win on the road. The Tigers didn’t do that at Georgia or Florida State. This team needed that to take the next step in its progression.

Sure, it’s great to win at home, but this team needed to do something on the road to move forward, and it was able to do that Saturday.

With two more road games coming up – at Wake Forest and at Georgia Tech – after next week’s home game against Syracuse, this team needed to learn what it takes to win on the road. This program has been good on the road the past few years, but this year’s team hadn’t proved it could get it done on the road. That’s a positive step even if Saturday’s game was a struggle from start to finish.

But Clemson has done well in those kinds of games the past few years, as well. This year’s seniors are 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and that says a ton about the program that Swinney has built.

What’s next?
The Tigers return home and host Syracuse on Saturday with the Orange sitting at 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the ACC. Syracuse beat Wake Forest 30-7, snapping a four-game losing streak.

The Orange likely won’t offer the same kind of resistance that Louisville and Boston College put up the past few weeks. The Orange simply don’t have that kind of defense or physical prowess, but they can still be dangerous, especially if Clemson relaxes.

Clemson just needs to continue to do what it has done the past two weeks – be smart and solid on offense and dominate on defense – and it will be fine against Syracuse.

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