With Trevor Lawrence out, Boston College now faces D.J. Uiagalelei and Clemson
In the blink of an eye, everything changed for Boston College and Clemson this weekend. Tiger quarterback Trevor Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss this Saturday's game against the Eagles.
Yes, Clemson will insert another five-star prospect in to replace their five-star Heisman candidate, but it is not the same when the new signal-caller is a true freshman with a completely different skill set. Especially against a Boston College team that has awoken under new head coach Jeff Hafley.
Clemson has won nine in a row in this series and leads all-time 18-9-2. The last time Boston College won at Clemson was in 2007 when Matt Ryan guided the Eagles to a 20-17 win.
Boston College at No. 1 Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -24
When Boston College Has the Ball
The Eagles had huge running game problems through the first five weeks of the season and only averaged 66.2 rushing yards per game. But Boston College exploded for 264 yards on the ground against Georgia Tech. Granted, 130 of those yards came on quarterback runs and jet sweeps by wide receiver Zay Flowers, but at least Boston College achieved rushing success. They'll need that to continue this week against the rugged Clemson D.
Phil Jurkovec has been outstanding in his first year as the Eagles' quarterback, completing 62.5 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns. Flowers and tight end Hunter Long have been reliable targets and Ohio State transfer Jaelen Gill is developing into a true playmaker. But one-dimensional offenses will have problems facing Clemson.
The inconsistent Boston College offensive line will have their hands full with the Clemson front. It's unclear if defensive tackle Tyler Davis will play, as he missed the Syracuse game with an ankle injury. Linebacker James Skalski, who sat out the Syracuse game with a groin injury, will also be held out this game and perhaps a couple more. Without Davis and Skalski, Syracuse was able to rush for 150 yards against the Tigers, which was their second-highest output on the season. Regardless, Clemson is still loaded with depth in the front seven and has been bolstered by the return of end Xavier Thomas, who missed the Tigers' first four games.
When Clemson Has the Ball
D.J. Uiagalelei is a very different quarterback compared to Trevor Lawrence. He's thicker, runs much better, and probably has a bigger arm. But we all know that he is not the passer from an accuracy perspective that Lawrence is, doesn't have the same pocket presence, and he won't come close to knowing the complexities of the offense as well as No. 16.
So the Clemson offense will have to change. Expect head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott to rely more heavily on the ground game. Not only will that mean a steady diet of Travis Etienne, but also more designed quarterback runs. The most interesting part of this game could be seeing what kind of rhythm Uiagalelei can form in the passing game, especially on the short routes. He can chuck the ball downfield, but much of Clemson's offensive success is predicated on quick Lawrence throws, especially to Amari Rodgers where the senior receiver never breaks stride.
The loss of Lawrence puts an even greater emphasis on the Clemson offensive line. Their play has been decent to this point, but Etienne has seen a decline in production and much of that has to be attributed to his blockers up front. They now have to go against a Boston College defense that, outside of the Virginia Tech game, has done a credible job stopping the run. Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie are sure tacklers and Clemson needs to focus on putting a helmet on both of the linebackers.
Pressure from the Eagle front will be necessary, but it has to be controlled against Uiagalelei. As a true freshman, defensive heat could make him antsy, but if Boston College rushers lose their lanes and allow the Clemson quarterback to escape the pocket, he can be dangerous running the ball.
Overall, despite the loss of Lawrence, Clemson is still a vastly more talented team. The Boston College line, one that has not played well at times this season, will face its biggest challenge of the year. It's doubtful that rushing yards will be plentiful, so much of the pressure will fall on Jurkovec and the passing game. But of course, more people are interested in what the Clemson offense will look like. Uiagalelei will look like a freshman at times and some of his throws will be off-target. But he will make some big plays running and passing downfield. Boston College was going to present some difficulties anyway, even with Lawrence in the lineup. But the Tigers will still win fairly comfortably and the Notre Dame discussion — and whether Lawrence will play — will begin.
Prediction: Clemson 34, Boston College 17
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.