Clemson heads into Week 5 of the 2021 regular season a battered, bruised and confused football team.
The Tigers, who barely stayed in the AP poll at No. 25, lost 27-21 in double overtime at NC State last Saturday. It was the second defeat of the season and the first in ACC play. Goals and expectations have drastically changed.
Boston College comes to town Saturday at 7:30 p.m. fresh off an exciting overtime win over Missouri.
Here are five storylines to pay attention to before the Tigers take the field again:
1. No guarantees: Simply winning isn't a certainty for the Tigers, something that's not been felt in Death Valley in a long time. The Eagles are a capable bunch, even though they did lose star quarterback Phil Jurkovec to a hand injury earlier this month.
Clemson, though, isn't playing well enough to fully take advantage of that situation. The defense is without two of its best players in Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis. Starting running back Will Shipley is out for about a month with a leg injury. The team's confidence is shaken, and it's going to take a lot more of complete effort to win this game.
2. Next men up: The Tigers are dealing with enough injuries to force several players into major roles. You'll hear a lot this week of defensive tackles Ruke Orhorhoro and Tre Williams and running backs Phil Mafah and Mickey Dukes. Dabo Swinney feels like he has some depth to work with, but this is not an ideal situation.
Basketball on Bowman Set to Kickoff 2021-22 Season
The Clemson men’s and women’s basketball teams will host a preseason tipoff event, Friday, Oct. 29 at 5:30 p.m. at Bowman Field on the campus of Clemson University. The event starts at 5:30 and will last one hour and admission is FREE!
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The real trouble lies if those players get banged up or underperform. The latter will make it hard to go much further down the depth chart, but the Tigers are running out of options.
3. Fixing offensive woes: Clemson tried to switch things up on the offensive line, starting Paul Tchio at left guard instead of freshman Marcus Tate. It didn't do much to get the running game on track as the Tigers totaled just 103 yards on the ground.
Right now, it just doesn't look like there will be much of a rushing attack, and the passing game still looks far from getting on track, although D.J. Uiagalelei did make a few solid throws at NC State. But receivers aren't getting needed separation, and the playcalling is lacking in creativity and explosiveness. What will they try this week?
4. Licking their wounds: Being physically beat up is one thing. Bruised egos are a separate issue, and there are plenty of those to go around. Many of Clemson's players aren't used to losing twice in a season, much less in the first month of the season. This program had its sights set on the College Football Playoff, but that feels like a distant goal at this point.
How will this team handle this level of adversity? Will they play inspired Saturday and continue to buy into the culture? Could there be a sense of dread instead of excitement? It's really hard to tell, and overcoming that is the staff's biggest challenge.
5. High-flying Eagles: Second-year Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley has his team 4-0 on the season and looking like a contender in the ACC Atlantic if they pull off a huge upset at Memorial Stadium. After all, BC played the Tigers tough last year in Death Valley, and there's no doubt the Eagles smell blood in the water this year.
Hafley is really building something at Boston College, and even though Dennis Grosel has been an obvious step back behind center, this is an opportunity for a signature win that can advance the program and help recruiting. Clemson will definitely get BC's best shot Saturday.
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