No. 1 Clemson survived an upset scare on Halloween, storming back from a 28-13 halftime deficit to beat Boston College 34-28 on Saturday afternoon in Death Valley. It was the program’s largest comeback at home (18 points) since 1966. The game already carried plenty of intrigue and uncertainty due to Trevor Lawrence’s absence after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week. With the Tigers’ star quarterback out of the lineup and in isolation, true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei was tasked with his first career start a year (or two) earlier than expected.
Uiagalelei played well by any measure and especially so considering this spot, completing 30-of-41 passes for 342 yards with three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). He was calm, cool and collected, only making minor mistakes on the afternoon.
Travis Etienne also starred in a big way with 224 total yards and two touchdowns. His 84 rushing yards were enough to take him over top of former NC State great Ted Brown in the ACC record books as the league’s all-time leading rusher. Not only did Etienne break the record in this epic comeback, but he had the go-ahead, fourth-quarter score as well.
But it wasn’t the absence of Lawrence that seemed the be the most impactful as Clemson found itself down 14 or more points in a regular season game for the first time since 2014. The Tigers moved the ball well for much of the game, they just couldn’t get off the field against Phil Jurkovec and the Eagles offense.
Boston College converted on 4-of-6 third-down tries in the first half, and one of those failed conversions resulted in a touchdown after some trickeration from Jeff Hafley on fourth down. The Eagles lined up for a field goal, then motioned the holder under center to show the look of a quick snap sneak and drew Clemson defense offsides. Boston College made the most of its fresh set of downs, and Jurkovec connected with CJ Lewis on an awesome touchdown grab to give Boston College a 28-10 lead with a minute to play in the first half.
Credit Brent Venables and Clemson’s defense for making great adjustments at halftime. The second half shutout was largely thanks to better play on third down and a bevy of pressure on the quarterback. Sometimes Clemson would blitz, other times it was just rushing three. The defensive line found ways to get after Jurkovec and impact his rhythm with the Boston College wide receivers that had been picking apart Clemson’s pass defense in the first half.
With the win, Clemson has tied Florida State (2012-15) for the second-longest winning streak against ACC opponents (28) and has a chance to tie the record held by Bobby Bowden’s Florida State teams (1992-95) with a win next weekend against Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
However, Saturday’s upset scare shows why it’s so hard to keep these streaks going over time because — even with a tremendous performance from Uiagalelei in place of Lawrence — it almost wasn’t enough to keep the Tigers undefeated and on the path to a sixth straight College Football Playoff appearance.
Here’s what else you need to know about the game.
1. Clemson’s vets stepped up on offense. Etienne is the headline, but he was joined by fellow upperclassmen Cornell Powell and Amari Rodgers in delivering strong performances with a true freshman quarterback thrust into the starting job. Powell caught 11 passes on 12 targets for 105 yards and Rodgers added seven receptions on eight targets for 66 yards with a touchdown. It was mostly possession-type catches for both, helping Uiagalelei stay in rhythm with throws in the short and intermediate passing game. There is some impressive young talent in the wide receiver room for Uiagalelei’s future, but in the present, I’m sure he’s glad to have those upperclassmen helping him lead the offense.
2. Hafley was a great hire on Chestnut Hill. The Eagles fall to 4-3 on the season with the loss, but this was a moment that Hafley and the coaching staff will point to as they look to inspire improvement within the program. Every team in the ACC measures itself against Clemson, so those meetings against Dabo and the Tigers take on even greater weight. In the same way that North Carolina took a close loss to Clemson as affirmation for things heading in the right direction with Mack Brown, look for Boston College to be a team gaining hype as a program on the rise in the ACC.
3. Notre Dame will try to learn from Boston College’s success. Clemson was without Trevor Lawrence, yes, but it was also without starting linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones Jr. and continues to be without starting defensive tackle Tyler Davis. The depth on defense is being tested in a major way, but thankfully the Tigers do have difference-making freshmen like Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy, who basically showed up to campus ready for Saturdays. Look for the Irish to try and attack Clemson’s back seven with their tight ends and bigger receivers, trying to jump on some of the same mismatches that helped Boston College move the ball through the air in the first half.
CBS Sports was with you the entire way with as Clemson faced Boston College. Check out additional updates and highlights below, and stay tuned for takeaways from the game.