Young Eagles Look To Tame Tigers' Speed

September 16, 2009 - 6:05 pm

It's time for the Eagles to up the ante. Thus far, Boston College has had it easy. Presented before the Eagles have been cupcakes and candy, and they have wolfed them down like an 8-year-old after a Halloween romp. Northeastern and Kent State at home to start the year? Child's play. It's now time for the big boys to take over the playground. The Clemson Tigers (1-1, 0-1 ACC) are not grandmother's butterscotch. They are a lean, mean grizzled piece of beef of rib eye that may well prove to be very tough for the Eagles to swallow when they travel down to Death Valley on Saturday. Oh, and they are fast. "They are big, strong, athletic and fast. We have to match up the way we match up at Boston College. We got to play our game and catch up to the speed and do the best we possibly can," BC coach Frank Spaziani said. The challenges for this young Boston College are twofold. Foremost they will have to deal with the Tigers' speed on both sides of the ball. Running back C.J. Spiller is humming along with an average of 202.5 all-purpose yards per game. He can run the ball and hit the corners, catch the ball out of the backfield and kill you in special teams. The Eagles know this well. In Spiller's freshman year, he torched Boston College for 171 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown sprint off a short pass. Last year he lit it up for 242 yards in a back-and-forth thriller at Alumni Stadium where the Tigers took a 17-0 lead, lost it, then scored the final 10 points of the game for the 27-21 comeback win. "He had a great game, you could just see it. Whether in the special teams or the running game and when he'€™s catching the ball out of the backfield," senior strong safety Marcellus Bowman said of Spiller. "He was there for the plays, he got to the sidelines. He got around our players and made a lot of big plays, that just his talent, but we have to make sure that doesn'€™t happen again." It is not just Spiller that the Eagles defense needs to be concerned about. Wide receiver Jacoby Ford is an equally dangerous threat. Ford and Spiller represent the top two active career leaders in the ACC in all-purpose yards. "Speed on Clemson? I don't know," senior defensive end Jim Ramella said with a smile. "[They] can change the game in one play, so we have to contain them.  '€¦ You've got to contain them, you are not going to stop it, you just have to contain it. You can'€™t let them get out of the edge and make big plays, which is what kills you. Obviously, a guy like Spiller can change the game." On offense Boston College will have to be aware of the Clemson defensive ends known as the "Bamberg Bookends" '€” sophomore Da'Quan Bowers and senior Ricky Sapp (called thus because they both came out of Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School in Bamberg, S.C.). Freshman quarterbacks Jessie Tuggle and Dave Shinskie, who will be splitting time again this weekend, according to Spaziani, will have to make quick and smart decisions with the ball, or else they will find themselves eating Death Valley turf all game. To prepare for the speed of the "Bookends," Boston College has lined up a couple of its quicker defensive players a yard-and-a-half offsides to help simulate game conditions. These roles are being filled by seniors Billy Ferguson and Kevin DiStaso, according to junior right guard Thomas Claiborne. "We brought some of our faster guys over from the scout team to the d-line this week," Claiborne said. "They are a little bit smaller but faster. But that matchup with the speed, going against those guys, we should be ready for their speed. The [defensive ends] have been lining up about a yard-and-a-half off the ball, offsides so our offensive tackles can get ready for the speed." The challenges for the Eagles on the field are obvious. They must play physical and contain Clemson's speed while playing smart football if they hope to succeed. The margin for error is a lot slimmer than it was in the first two games. The challenges off the field? Well, they do not call it Death Valley for nothing. South Carolina is a football haven. Raycom Stadium in Clemson can hold 81,500 people and it will be packed. It will be loud. Nothing but orange and blue for as far as the eye can see. Some of the young Eagles might find it a little bit of a shell-shock after coming from two relatively tame home crowds on Chestnut Hill to start the season. "The crowd down in Death Valley, it can get pretty loud. To look up into the crowd and see a sea of orange, it'€™s intimidating, but it'€™s also fun at the same time," Claiborne said. "That'€™s big-time football down there, and it always gets you excited for the game, especially when you have the crowd against you and you make a couple of plays and the crowd is completely silent." That would be the hope, at least. Ramella and Bowman know the drill. They have been to Death Valley before and walked away to tell the tale of a 20-17 Boston College victory  in 2007 that sealed the ACC Atlantic Division title for the Eagles. "I don'€™t think a lot of them really know what they are getting into, which may be a good thing, it may be a bad thing," Ramella said. "You don'€™t want them getting too nervous, but when they get down there and they see the environment they will be a little bit nervous, as I will, too. But it will be my third time playing down there, but still, it is an awesome place to play and still a tough place to play." For those that have not yet run the gauntlet that is ACC football, such as true freshman middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, Bowman has some words of advice. "Basically, what I told him is to remember that you have played football before," Bowman said. "Sometimes when you get in a venue that big you get caught up in the moment and you see the players on the other team and they look huge and they are in their home environment and everybody'€™s excited and they almost lose confidence and they forget that they are a football player, too." Boston College started with significant questions at the quarterback position and on defense, but the Eagles are evolving. The question going into the Clemson game is just how much Darwinian growth they have made. Because in ACC football, it is survival of the fittest.