WHO: Boston College (3-2, 1-1 ACC) at No. 3 Clemson (5-0, 3-0)
WHEN: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
TV: ABC, ESPN2 or ESPNU
Line: Clemson by -24.5
CLEMSON — Clemson’s rushing numbers are decidedly down this year, by multiple measures.
The efficiency hasn’t been there: Clemson’s 3.94 yards per rush is 88th in Division I, down from 4.23 last year (70th).
The consistency hasn’t been there: Clemson’s 175 yards per game is 66th nationally after checking in with 191.5 yards and rating 36th in 2012. After opening with 197 yards on the ground against Georgia, Clemson’s rushing total has decreased in each game since, settling in at 156 Saturday at Syracuse.
The explosiveness hasn’t been there: Clemson recorded 21 rushing gains of 20 yards or more last season, tied for 32nd in the country. The Tigers have just four such runs in 2013 — two by Roderick McDowell, one by D.J. Howard and one by third-string quarterback Chad Kelly — which is down to 93rd in the land.
Head coach Dabo Swinney isn’t the least bit worried, citing matchups and a desire to ride Tajh Boyd’s hot hand through the air as long as necessary.
“There’s a reason the passing game’s working really well, because that’s what’s presenting itself,” Swinney said. “You line up and try to run against the type of pressure early that we were seeing in that game this past Saturday, you’re going to hit your head against the wall a lot.”
Swinney pointed out many of the flip plays and screen passes don’t count as runs, even though they do originate out of the backfield. Losing Andre Ellington to the NFL is another factor.
“We always feel like we can run when we want to run it, and we can throw when we want to throw it. That’s where you want to be,” Swinney said. “So far this year, when we’ve had to run the ball effectively, (we have.) We don’t beat Georgia without (running); our passing game was average at best, below-average. We won the game because we were able to run the football.”
McDowell broke out for 132 yards against the Bulldogs, but Clemson is lacking a 70-yard performance in four games since.
“Up at Syracuse, the style of play we were going against, we had to (block) people up from protection. That’s who we are; we’re going to take what’s there,” Swinney said. “I have a lot of confidence in our running game.”
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris was a little more pressuring in his comments on the running game, but still tabbed the unit as “consistent” through the first half of the year.
“We always can get better. I’d much rather be rushing the ball for well over 200 yards a game,” Morris said, “but last week, that’s a little different circumstance in how you prepare.”
Even though both tackles and both guards were returning starters from last year, half of that group will start games on the bench in the immediate future.
Due in part to injuries and in part to the performance of their replacements, left guard David Beasley and right tackle Gifford Timothy have been overtaken, respectively, by junior Kalon Davis and sophomore Shaq Anthony.
“I’d like to have five guys that these are the five we’re ready to run with. But yet you still like to have some competition behind them,” Morris said. “I think we’re slowly getting into something, but we’ll see.”
Davis was honored as the ACC’s offensive lineman of the week, with five knockdown blocks counted by Clemson’s statistical collectors.
“He’s playing extremely well right now. He’s probably as consistent as any offensive lineman we’ve got right now,” Morris said. “Obviously we’re getting David Beasley back healthy, that’s going to help, but Kalon’s not going to roll over and give it up. To work hard to get to where he’s at today, he’s not just going to give up a starting job.”
Davis logged 49 snaps compared to Beasley’s 20, while Anthony played 66 snaps to Timothy’s six. Beasley is recovering from a sprained ankle, and Anthony returned from concussion symptoms — both setbacks were suffered Sept. 19.
“As it stands right now, Shaq is the guy in there, and doing a good job,” Morris said. “He got better this week.”
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins said Saturday he felt he reached a higher gear when turning on the afterburners on his 91-yard touchdown catch from Boyd Saturday.
“He hit another gear around the 30-yard-line, and I haven’t seen that gear in a while,” Morris said. “He definitely hit another notch on it. I don’t know if he thought Tajh could throw it that far, but he did. It was a much-needed play at that point in time of the game.”
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