It was a chilly day for football in East Rutherford, N.J. At 49 degrees Fahrenheit, it wasn’t quite the coldest Super Bowl on record. In fact, for early February, 49 degrees is nearly a balmy day in northern New Jersey. On that Sunday, 82,529 people packed inside of Metlife Stadium to watch what they believed would be a battle between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks for the Lombardi Trophy.
What they saw instead was a slaughter, as the Seahawks defense completely smothered Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ prolific offense, which had been averaging 36.44 points per game. It was another compelling reminder that the adage “defense wins championships” isn’t just something that Mike Ditka and Bill Parcells, who coached perhaps the two most feared defenses of all time (1985 Chicago Bears and 1986 New York Giants), pronounce without any evidence.
This weekend, the Clemson University Tigers come to Chestnut Hill boasting the nation’s sixth-ranked defense in terms of yards per game, ready to suffocate Tyler Murphy and the Boston College multi-faceted rushing attack just as Seattle stopped Denver in early February in New Jersey.
The FBS defenses that BC have faced thus far include North Carolina State, ranked 72nd, USC, ranked 75th, Colorado State, ranked 100th, UMass, ranked 112th, and Pittsburgh, ranked fourth. Pittsburgh was really the only team able to contain BC’s rushing attack, limiting the Eagles to just 142 yards. In that game, the Eagles fell behind early and were never able to catch up, throwing off their favorite game plan of pounding the rock. Even against CSU, a game BC lost in the final minutes, the Eagles managed to put up 239 rushing yards. In their four wins this year, the Eagles are averaging 378.25 rushing yards. They know they face a tough test this week in Clemson, and will have to keep pounding the rock, even against a nigh-impenetrable Tigers front seven.
In his Monday press conference, BC head coach Steve Addazio was effusive in his praise for the Tigers’ defense. “This is the most dominant defense I have seen,” Addazio said. “Period. I’m just amazed watching them.” The Eagles recognize the mountainous challenge that awaits them on Saturday.
“They’re a real good defense, especially up front,” said quarterback Tyler Murphy on Wednesday. Specifically, Murphy pointed out Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley, who has already tallied eight sacks on the year. “He’s a real good defender, he’s very explosive off the ball,” Murphy said. “The big thing for me is to keep my eyes downfield, trust my pocket awareness, trust my offensive line, and try to get the ball out fast.”
Perhaps the most Jekyll-and-Hyde part of this BC team has been the defense. Although it’s ranked eighth in the nation in yards per game, it has been dominant in some games and, to borrow a hockey term, sieve-like in others. In its four wins, BC has given up 134 rushing yards on defense, while against Pittsburgh and CSU, the Eagles seemingly could not tackle anybody, giving up 465 rushing yards. Against the Rams, BC’s 18th-ranked pass defense let Garrett Grayson go for 268 yards through the air. Jacoby Brissett, NC State’s quarterback, who threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns against Florida State, only managed 174 yards, one touchdown, and an interception against the Eagles in the first game without starting cornerback Bryce Jones.
“You just have to play disciplined,” said BC starting defensive lineman Connor Wujciak. “Everyone has to play their gaps and play disciplined football.” It will be imperative for BC to not let Clemson’s offense jump out to a quick lead—once that happens, the Tigers’ defense will clamp down and choke the life out of the offense. For that reason, Addazio views his own defense as the key to this game. “[Offensively] it’s going to be very, very difficult to drive the ball, in any consistent fashion, down the field against this defense,” Addazio said. “It’s not happened yet … The defense, in a game like this, becomes extremely critical.”
That could be easier than the Eagles may have expected—Clemson’s starting quarterback, freshman Deshaun Watson, broke his hand against Louisville last week and is sidelined. In his place will be senior Cole Stoudt, who began the year as the Tigers’ starter before Watson took over against Florida State. Wujciak and the Eagles are not taking him lightly, however.
“I bet it’ll be pretty challenging this week,” Wujciak said. “Clemson’s a great team, their o-line’s good, quarterback’s good, they’re obviously a very good football team.”
Defense wins championships, but it also helps win regular season games, and if the Eagles hope to avoid the same fate that befell the Broncos in the Super Bowl last year, their own defense had better bring its A-game. Then, they need to keep pounding that rock until it breaks.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor