As he left Tuesday’s practice, which featured Guns N’ Roses and Pearl Jam blaring from the speakers, Jeff Hafley’s ears were still ringing.
“I feel like I was at a concert,” Boston College’s football coach said. “My head’s spinning.”
Hafley knows there’s nothing the Eagles can do to truly simulate the atmosphere at Clemson, but they’re doing everything they can to ensure they’re as prepared as possible. BC is gearing up to face the No. 25 Tigers in Death Valley Saturday night, with a prime opportunity to earn another signature victory.
The Eagles are currently 15-point underdogs, yet the matchup looks a bit different than it has in recent years. BC is 4-0 for the first time since 2007, which also happens to be the last year the Eagles beat Clemson on the road. The Tigers, who were the No. 1 team in the nation when BC nearly stunned them a season ago, have sputtered to a 2-2 start this year.
Hafley believes the Tigers are just “inches away” and are receiving a lot of “undeserved criticism.” He called them one of the most talented teams in the nation and said he expects a difficult test in a hostile environment.
“I’m pretty sure we’re going to get their best on Saturday night,” he said.
The Eagles are fresh off a statement overtime win over Missouri last Saturday, knocking off a Southeastern Conference school at home for the first time since 1987. Even if they lose this week, they’d still be 4-1 and in a solid spot. If they win, they’ll be viewed as a favorite in the Atlantic Coast Conference and will likely be ranked next week.
The buzz around this game is palpable, as the Tigers are perennial contenders and have won 10 straight in the head-to-head series. This is the Eagles’ third straight trip to Clemson, and they’re extremely confident — particularly after last year’s near-upset. BC built a 28-13 halftime lead in that game before Clemson rallied to escape, 34-28.
“We’ve still got that taste in our mouth from last year,” said cornerback Brandon Sebastian, whose end zone interception sealed the win over Missouri.
It would be unwise for the Eagles to underestimate the Tigers, and there’s no chance whatsoever that Hafley will let them do so. At the same time, this year’s Clemson team does appear to be more vulnerable than others of late.
With No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence gone to the NFL, D.J. Uiagalelei is a more-than-capable replacement at quarterback, though he has struggled in stretches to start the season. He got the nod in last year’s matchup with BC, as Lawrence was out. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, “I think D.J. is the quarterback,” which speaks for itself.
Hafley said Uiagalelei has as strong an arm as he’s ever seen, and looks like he’s throwing 98 mile-per-hour fastballs.
The Tigers have plenty of playmakers around him, from Justyn Ross to Joseph Ngata, and will rely on Kobe Pace at running back with Will Shipley sidelined by a tibia injury. Defensive tackle Bryan Bresee also is out for the year after tearing an ACL, so the Tigers will be relying on backups in key spots.
Injuries aside, Swinney acknowledged the criticism is warranted and said the Tigers are “not very good” at the moment.
“This is certainly not what we intended,” Swinney said. “We’ve just got to regroup. That’s all I can say. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a situation like this.”
Though the Tigers lead the all-time series, 19-9-2, and have won every matchup since 2010, seven of the 16 games between the schools since 2005 have been decided by 7 points or fewer. The Eagles have had their chances, but they haven’t been able to finish the job in more than a decade.
Hafley said he doesn’t think anyone outside of the BC program believes the Eagles can win the game, but they’re used to life as the underdog and never shy away from a challenge. They finished off Missouri Saturday and are confident they can do the same if they’re in a similar spot versus Clemson.
“Any time you’re a competitor, you want to compete against the best,” BC quarterback Dennis Grosel said. “They’ve been the best for a really long time, so we’re looking to go in swinging.”
Trevor Hass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.