It's time for No. 3 Clemson's second showdown this season. And this one is even bigger than the first.
Six weeks after defeating then fifth-ranked Georgia to start the season, the Tigers and Tajh Boyd put together a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat Boston College that kept them on course for next week's Atlantic Coast Conference contest with No. 6 Florida State.
“I'll definitely be watching,” Boston College receiver Alex Amidon said.
Amidon and the Eagles (3-3, 1-2 ACC) nearly spoiled the party, keeping the Tigers out of synch offensively and using big plays to carry a 14-10 lead into the final period. That's when the Tigers (6-0, 4-0) fought back, Boyd's 6-yard TD run with 13:44 left putting them ahead for good.
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National sack leader Vic Beasley sealed things a few moments later when he scooped up Chase Rettig's fumble and took it 13 yards for a touchdown. The Boston College quarterback coughed up the ball after a big hit by linebacker Tony Steward.
Clemson held on to start 6-0 for the second time in three years.
“If you want to be a good team, you have to win games like this,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We kept fighting and overcame mistakes.”
The Tigers most likely won't wriggle of the hook should they repeat the errors against the well-rested Seminoles (5-0), who had Saturday free and come off a 63-0 victory over Maryland in their last game.
Boyd also had a touchdown pass and finished with 334 yards passing to become the school's all-time leader in passing yards, surpassing Charlie Whitehurst. Boyd chose to focus on Clemson handling adversity and succeeding instead of a near defeat.
“I've been in that situation plenty of times,” he said. “You've got to go back, reflect on it and you've got to lead.”
Boyd said he'll remind the Tigers of what's at stake this week, the attention that will be on Death Valley and how the players must prepare to succeed as they did against Georgia in a 38-35 victory back on Aug. 31.
“We've got some great capabilities,” he said. “We've got to keep making adjustments so we can continue to improve.”
Sammy Watkins had seven receptions for 101 yards, his fourth game over the century mark this season and 11th in his career. He scored on a 48-yard touchdown grab that gave the Tigers their first lead of the game at 10-7.
But it was Clemson's oft-maligned defense – remember when the Tigers gave up 70 points in the Orange Bowl two years ago? – that turned things around in this one. Eagles tailback Andre Williams, who came in the nation's top rusher, was held to fewer than 3 yards a carry with 70 total. He had gained a career-best 263 a week ago in Boston College's win over Army.
Boston College finished with 286 yards on offense, 162 of those coming on its two TD drives. It's the fifth straight game Clemson held an opponent to 14 points or less.
“We hear a lot about our offense, but we just want to be the strength of the team,” Beasley said.
Clemson put its past two opponents in Wake Forest and Syracuse away by halftime, leading 35-7 at the break and cruising to sizeable victories.
The Tigers tried that formula again in this one, reaching the BC 6 before kicker Chandler Catanzaro ended a string of 28 straight field goals inside 48 yards as he missed from 25 yards away.
It was only the start of the Tigers execution problems. Two series later, Zac Brooks fumbled at the end of what would've been a first down and Eagles linebacker Steele Divitto recovered.
After driving 68 yards to the Boston College 28, Watkins airmailed a halfback pass over wide open Adam Humphries. Two plays later, holder Corbin Jenkins couldn't get the snap down and the Tigers again left without points.
Rod McDowell had Clemson's second fumble of the half a series later, then came up shy on fourth-and-6 as Clemson passed up a long field goal try the next time it had the ball.
The Tigers finally broke through on the half's last play, Catanzaro nailing a 35-yard field goal as time ran out to trail the Eagles 7-3 at the break.
Clemson's struggles continued into the second half. The crowd of 77,506 relaxed some when Watkins took in his 48-yard catch along the right sidelines for a touchdown to put Clemson on top 10-7. But BC answered one play later on Rettig's 69-yard TD toss to Amidon.
The nervousness didn't leave for good until after Beasley bounded in with the loose ball for a double-digit lead.
“We did some really good things and some really bad things,” said first-year Boston College coach Steve Addazio. “If we can keep working and keep believing, then good things will happen.”