CLEMSON — Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd felt hollow when the 17th-ranked Tigers lost at No. 4 Florida State last week. He took major steps to make sure he wouldn’t feel that way again Saturday at Boston College.
Boyd called a players’ only meeting once the team returned from Tallahassee, still stinging from the 49-37 defeat. He told the Tigers he didn’t want them to splinter or point fingers after the loss because there was plenty of time for the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions to deliver on a big season.
For Boyd and the Tigers (3-1, 0-1 ACC), that starts this weekend against the Eagles (1-2, 0-1). The task got a bit harder Thursday when star receiver Sammy Watkins was ruled out because of an abdominal virus. He did not make the trip.
Clemson led Florida State by two touchdowns and was still ahead 31-21 midway through the third quarter when the Seminoles’ offense started rolling. Florida State struck for four touchdowns to take control of the early season ACC Atlantic Division showdown.
Boyd said there were plenty of breakdowns on all sides of the ball. Clemson’s defense struggled to keep the Seminoles off the scoreboard and allowed 667 yards, the second-highest total in program history. The offense didn’t answer back during the decisive stretch. And Clemson’s special teams gave up several big plays, including a 90-yard kickoff return to Lamarcus Joyner during Florida State’s rally.
Everyone on the Tigers shares responsibility for the loss, something Boyd wanted to remind the players as they got ready for this week’s game.
“There’s no need for anything to try and divide us,” he said.
Boyd and the Tigers hope to prevent a lingering letdown and avoid duplicating last season’s late slide when Clemson opened 8-0. A 31-17 defeat at Georgia Tech started a 1-3 finish in the regular season.
The Tigers rallied to win their first ACC title in 20 years with a 38-10 victory over Virginia Tech. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the memories of last year’s rise, fall and title win should help the team keep last week’s defeat in perspective.
“We are the same team that had a really good team on the road down 14 and didn’t finish it,” Swinney said. “Those guys are still here. We know we are capable of being a good football team. That was one game. We have so much opportunity to have a very, very good season.”
Clemson has certainly had its hands full with Boston College since it joined the league in 2005, including losing two of its three trips to Chestnut Hill. The Eagles’ first league win came against the Tigers in 2005. Losses to Boston College in 2006 and 2007 cost those Clemson teams trips to the ACC title games both years. And in 2010, a Clemson team seeking to get its season back on track managed only three points on offense in a 16-10 defeat to the Eagles.
“Any edge we can get against this team will be helpful for us because they have so many weapons,” said Boston College linebacker Nick Clancy, who leads the country with more than 14 tackles a game.
The Eagles have a few weapons, too. Quarterback Chase Rettig leads the ACC with 317 yards per game. He also tops in ACC total offense. Wideout Alex Amidon is tops in the league with a 122-yard receiving average.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen them lead the league in passing,” Swinney said.
Rettig is glad someone’s noticed. The real attention, he said, would come from upsetting a top-25 team this week. “At the end of the day no one cares if you’re the leading ACC passing team,” he said. “If you’re not winning, it doesn’t matter.”
While Boston College’s passing game has taken off, Clemson has not been as explosive through the air as in 2011. Losing Watkins for this one may not help. Although, he’s gained only 76 yards in receptions this season, Watkins is capable of scoring any time he touches the ball. He went 58 yards on a handoff in a victory over Furman two weeks ago, his first game of the season after serving a two-game suspension.
Still, Boyd knows the Tigers shouldn’t panic – another reason he met with his teammates.
“I think it was a good job by Tajh to come in and step up and say, ‘You know what, everything is OK. There is no need to jump ship. Everything is going to work out,’ ” Clemson center Dalton Freeman said.