CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney looked over the stat sheet and smiled.
“You rush for 342 yards,” he said, “and you’re going to win a lot of football games.”
The second-ranked Tigers ran for five touchdowns, four of them in the fourth quarter, to beat Boston College 34-7 on Saturday.
Clemson took control in the final period against the worn-down Eagles (1-3, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) with its ground game. Adam Choice broke a 7-all tie with his 6-yard TD run, then freshman Travis Etienne scored twice in the final six minutes to lock things up.
“It took us a little time to get things going,” said Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant , who ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns. “But when we needed it, we got it.”
And the Tigers (4-0, 2-0) remained on track for a spot in the ACC title game and College Football Playoff.
The Tigers, who came in off top-15 wins over Auburn and Louisville the last two weeks, were five-touchdown favorites over the Eagles. But Boston College quieted the large Death Valley crowd on AJ Dillon’s 1-yard TD late in the third quarter to tie the game at 7-all.
Clemson finally got going in the fourth quarter. Bryant led the Tigers on a 76-yard drive, capped by Choice’s go-ahead score. The next series, they were at it once more on a 90-yard series and the speedy freshman Etienne burst through the weary Eagles to finally give the Tigers some breathing room. Bryant added a 4-yard TD before Etienne closed the scoring with a 10-yard run.
Etienne ended with 113 yards rushing.
Clemson won its seventh straight over the Eagles and opened 4-0 for a third consecutive season.
“I thought it would be uncomfortable sometime in the second half and it was,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “I’m proud of our guys for battling and finding a way to win. What can happen when you win too much is you don’t have your guard up.”
That was certainly the case for three quarters of this one. Boston College coach Steve Addazio said when thinking about this game, throw out the final score because it didn’t tell the effort and intensity the Eagles used against the defending national champions.
“We took this team, which was No. 2 in the country, late into the fourth quarter and our kids played their tails off,” he said. “That’s the story line of the game. I thought we went after them with everything we had.”
Bryant ended with 106 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground. It was the second straight game Etienne, a Louisiana recruited wooed heavily by LSU, broke off a long touchdown run after his 81-yard score against Louisville last week.
Boston College’s defense and punter Mike Knoll kept it in the game longer than most figured. Clemson had only 38 yards in the third quarter and Knoll had pinned the Tigers inside the 10 five times.
The effort clearly wore down the Eagles, who were outgained in the final period 213-37.
Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant said the game will serve a strong building block for the Tigers.
“This is one of those games you appreciate later in the season,” he said. “You say, ‘We’ve been in those before and we know what to do.'”
Boston College: The Eagles looked in for another struggle through the ACC after opening league play with a 34-10 loss at home to Wake Forest, then surrendering 515 rushing yards to fall to Notre Dame 49-20 last week. Boston College looked like it had plenty to grow on from its defensive effort against the powerhouse Tigers.
Clemson: Hold off on awarding the Tigers another ACC trophy and playoff spot. Clemson had averaged nearly 44 points in its seven home contests a year ago, but has managed just seven touchdowns combined in its past two games at Death Valley. Clemson’s offense struggled to get the ball down field and once BC stopped biting on Bryant’s quarterback runs, the Tigers’ attack bogged down until the end— something that must be corrected if they hope for another big postseason.
Clemson reached back into its past when it was known as a running team to put away Boston College. The Tigers ran for 342 of their 482 yards of offense and scored all five of their touchdowns on the ground. “You’re going to have games like that,” Bryant said. “You take what they give you.”
Clemson had just one game with more rushing yards than passing yards last season. It’s had two so far this year.
INJURY BUG: Both Boston College and Clemson played without significant players. The Eagles were minus last year’s leading tackler in linebacker Conner Strachan, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury. They also lost receiver Charlie Callinan with a foot injury. The Tigers were down their national championship kicker in Greg Huegel, who tore a knee ligament at practice this week while Clemson was practicing a two-minute drill. Huegel will have season-ending surgery and backup Alex Spence will take over the Tigers’ kicking chores.
Boston College returns home to face Central Michigan next Saturday.
Clemson goes on the road to play No. 13 Virginia Tech, the Tigers’ third top-15 opponent in four weeks.