Advanced Outlook: Clemson-BC projections, players to watch

by - Staff Writer -
Clemson's defense has had plenty of success in forcing turnovers and responding to them. (ACC photo)
Clemson's defense has had plenty of success in forcing turnovers and responding to them. (ACC photo)

Editor's note: Projections and writing before the news that Trevor Lawrence will be out Saturday due to COVID-19

Clemson closes out October with another familiar foe in usual-division opponent Boston College -- hosting the Eagles for a second-straight year after the reconfigured schedule.

The Eagles (4-2) have a different look to them under new coach Jeff Hafley -- and not just on the defensive side he hails from.

Clemson (6-0) rolled BC 59-7 last year in Death Valley, holding them to 4.4 yards per pass and 180 yards total while rolling up 674 yards on the offensive side.

BC didn’t have a QB complete more than 50 percent of their passes or average over 100 passing yards per game last year, but that’s the change in 2020, as Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec ranks in the top-20 nationally in passing (278.5) with a 62.5 completion rate through six games.

Here’s how they stack up overall by the metrics:

Efficiency ranks: Offense | Defense | Special teams

CU SP+ ranks (No. 2 overall): 4 | 7 | 23

BC SP+ ranks (No. 56): 40 | 77 | 40

CU ESPN ranks (No. 3 FPI rank): 5 | 4 | 78

BC ESPN ranks (No. 58): 44 | 62 | 39

(SP+ is a metric from ESPN's Bill Connelly, formerly of Football Outsiders and SB Nation, that combines ratings for the five factors of efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers. ESPN’s own measure follows a similar formula to measure team efficiency and is tied to the ESPN Football Power Index.)

Three players to watch: Boston College

TE Hunter Long

The 6-5 and 253-pound junior leads the Eagles in grading this season on Pro Football Focus (87.7) with 38 catches in 58 targets for 454 yards and three touchdowns. He also holds a solid grade as a run blocker (70.5) in helping clear the way for bruising junior back David Bailey (6-0 236; 272 rushing yards and three touchdowns).

QB Phil Jurkovec

Jurkovec (6-5 226) rates mid-tier in the ACC in PFF’s grades (77.6) but is coming off of his best game there (84.8), connecting on 13-of-21 throws for 145 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 94 yards on seven carries in a 48-27 win over Georgia Tech. Jurkovec ranks third in the league in passing yards per game with 12 TDs to four INTs but seventh in QB rating (139.27). On throws of 20+ yards, Jurkovec is 9-of-35 for 379 yards with four touchdowns to two interceptions. When he can get the throw off (taking a 92nd nationally 18 sacks), Jurkovec has been solid under pressure with his best yards per attempt average there (8.3) and a 58.2 completion rate with four touchdowns to no interceptions.

DE Marcus Valdez

Valdez (6-0 258) has rated among the national leaders at defensive end (81.7) with a couple sacks and 17 QB hurries. He's graded the best against the run (83.8) overall, which is good for seventh nationally.

(Grades and advanced stats per Pro Football Focus)

Extra point

Clemson’s ability to force turnovers and defend after turnovers has it among the national leaders in scoring defense (13.5 PPG; seventh among teams that have played multiple games). The Tiger offense has been in the middle of the pack nationally with six turnovers in six games, while the Clemson defense ranks third with 13 turnovers gained.

Per ESPN’s David Hale, Clemson is leading the top-10 group in turnover margin in the points off of turnover margin stat (+44), even ahead of Wake Forest which is four better in the turnover margin category (11: +42).

The Projections

Clemson dropped to 2-3 against the spread versus FBS opponents this season after not even covering the kickoff spread score on their end (-47.5; 47-21 win). While Syracuse had more than its fair share of injuries and opt-outs, they played with pride and forced some mistakes on Clemson’s end to have it a one-score game late in the third quarter.

As we pointed out to start the season, spreads and analytics will have some shortcomings in a year like no other on-and-off the gridiron. The metrics we track did all pick Syracuse to cover the ginormous margin last week and they like BC this week as well, picking around a four-touchdown Clemson win against a 31-point Vegas spread.

This week could be the classic bounce-back after a bit of a wake-up call, but the Tigers are also hurting once again on the defensive side -- facing a more than competent BC attack. Brent Venables will have to get creative again to continue the dominance there.

Metrics outlook | Prediction

SP+ projection: 94% Clemson (Clemson by 27.3)

ESPN FPI: 97% Clemson (Clemson by 26.3)*

FEI: 97.5% Clemson (Clemson by 28.7)

* Point spread from the FPI rankings, which project a margin based on a neutral field.

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