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What We Learned From Clemson's Escape Against Boston College

Sometimes there are as many lessons to learn coming out of a win as a loss, and Clemson's 34-28 win over Boston College is a great example.

There are two wins against Boston College that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will never forget: his first-ever victory in 2008 and Saturday's 34-28 escape without his star quarterback. 

After all, his team did make history. It was the largest comeback in Death Valley history by the Tigers. But that's not really the kind folks were thinking they'd see, so it lends itself to a ton of questions:

  • Is the future brighter than the present? 
  • Can Clemson overcome its toughest test next week without Lawrence and with true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei making his first road start?
  • Do the Tigers have enough depth to overcome a recent rash of injuries and unavailabilities? 
  • Will the young talent be enough to keep Clemson undefeated? 
  • Do last week's struggles against Syracuse compare to this week's against BC?

The list could go on and on. This proves that even after a win, sometimes there's more to learn than coming out of a loss. 

Let's take a look at the lessons from Clemson's come-from-behind victory over BC:

No quitting allowed

Before taking a look at any negatives, let's give this team credit. Yes, it was Boston College. No, the Eagles aren't an ACC title or College Football Playoff contender. Still, Clemson showed a lot of moxie coming back from an 18-point first-half deficit. There are certainly some Power 5 teams that would've rolled over and quit. The Tigers were undermanned without stars like Lawrence, linebacker James Skalski and defensive tackle Tyler Davis. The best player on the field, running back Travis Etienne, had a fumble inside the BC 5 that was returned for a touchdown. 

The whole country was watching as the Tigers couldn't stop BC QB Phil Jurkovec from racking up first-half first downs. Clemson, meanwhile, was racking up penalties. The team was shell shocked, and Lawrence wasn't there to bail them out. It didn't matter. The youth stepped up. Uiagalelei gave Clemson a huge spark with his third-quarter 30-yard TD run. He threw two scores and instilled confidence with and in his team. Amari Rodgers and Etienne picked their games up. The defense made major adjustments and pitched a shutout in the second half. That's why Swinney won't forget this one. His team answered questions about the culture and drive of this year's squad.


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Tigers flirting with getting passed

That all being said, the last two weeks have made Clemson ripe for the ripping. National pundits are going to say this team isn't the No. 1 team in college football. And maybe they're right. That doesn't exactly matter right now. Some folks are going to bypass the fact that the Tigers were down six starters and that Xavier Thomas got ejected for targeting. They're going to point out the lack of great competition, and some will even pick against Clemson this week on the road. 

Fair or not, and some of that is both, that's the reality of being No. 1. You have to look like it every week or face scrutiny. This team hasn't looked great. It is, though, 7-0. And while perception is generally reality, the reality is it only matters what the CFP committee thinks about this team and we're still weeks away from hearing from that group. So, Tiger faithful, unless you just enjoy having your blood boil, ignore the criticism and know that a win over Notre Dame is more important than getting passed in the polls. 

ND game got a lot more interesting 

It'll be a few more days before anybody knows for sure who will be suiting up for the Tigers next week, and as last week taught us, even players you're expecting to see play might not be there next Saturday. That's college football, 2020, in a nutshell. Everyone is dealing with it...some better than others. 

How Clemson handles getting players back to take on Notre Dame is going to be a huge key. A couple of weeks ago, the Tigers were a double-digit favorite to beat the undefeated Irish in South Bend. That's not going to be the case now, and this feels like the first time in a long time that Clemson's streak of 36 regular-season games without a loss was in question. It will be this week with Uiagalelei at the helm and a lot of questions about health. 

Cornell Powell is able

Back to the positives. Since the spring, there hasn't been a more unprovoked talked about offensive player by the coaching staff than receiver Cornell Powell, a fifth-year senior who has always lived in the shadows of other Tiger stars at the position. But Saturday turned out to be his career game at a time when somebody needed to help take the pressure off a young QB. 

Powell caught 11 of his 12 targets for 105 yards. He had never had more than five catches in a single game, and he entered the BC contest with 14 catches all season. His route running was crisp and he used his body well. Considering how he's started to become a bigger part of the offense, this might just be more than a great one-game show. Powell is good enough to do it again. 

Brent Venables has mastered tight ends

The days of O.J. Howard, and the nightmares that name evokes for Clemson fans, are over. Clemson's defensive coordinator has found a way to neutralize tight ends with regularity, no matter his personnel. Earlier this season, the Tigers held Miami's Brevin Jordan, arguably the best TE in the country, to three catches and 30 yards. He was injured in the game, but even when he played, little-used safety Jalyn Phillips won multiple battles against Jordan. 

Saturday, BC's Hunter Long entered the game leading the nation in receptions by a tight end. Clemson held him to three catches for 23 yards. Two of his grabs came in the fourth quarter after the Tigers had taken the lead for good. Whatever it is, Venables has figured out how to neutralize a position player who can give defenses fits.