CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — No. 2 Clemson, having sprouted into a durable college football giant, behaved as such in the 38-degree test here Saturday night. It refused to let inconveniences mount into crises, manned its way through a 27-7 win in a ballyhooed bout with No. 17 Boston College, reached 10-0 this season, reached 50-4 over the past four and reached 82-11 over the past seven.
Further, it looked as if, barring something freaky or even creepy, it will appear in a fourth consecutive College Football Playoff, where it pretty much keeps a home with a mailbox, a picket fence and maybe even some house pets. To get there, it must beat Duke (7-3) at home, South Carolina (5-4) at home and whoever turns up in the ACC championship game, a game it will grace as the first ACC team to win four straight divisions, a reality clinched here.
“It is a real credit to this senior group and this junior group,” Coach Dabo Swinney said. “This is a very focused football team. They believe in their vision. They believe in what they want to achieve, and they’re willing to put the work in, and it’s just a joy to be around them every day.”
“It’s been unbelievable,” the senior receiver Hunter Renfrow said. “Four divisions.”
Against a Boston College team that played with fight and suffered the loss of quarterback Anthony G. Brown after one offensive series, Clemson mastered most of the football details. It led the total yardage 123-6 after the first quarter, 216-23 at halftime, 265-49 after three quarters and 424-113 at the end. When a special teams play led to Alumni Stadium’s only real turbulence, Clemson quickly handled that potential saga as well.
Midway through the first quarter, Clemson punter Will Spiers took a snap, edged over to the right and sent off a suitable punt that smacked down and trickled further, ending up 43 yards upfield. When Boston College return man Michael Walker fielded the thing with two Clemson defenders near enough to put him in peril, it looked as if it wouldn’t amount to much.
When Walker eluded the Tigers and headed right, then went storming down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown, the bulk of the 44,500 made the place shake, and the Eagles led 7-3.
So Clemson just commenced being Clemson.
By now, it has a small crowd of players who can improve its Saturdays with things normal people and players can’t do. Those include catching footballs while lying down (as the surging Tee Higgins did once) or executing world-class fakes (as towering freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence did often but twice in particular).
It looked so flawlessly unperturbed after the Eagles’ touchdown that it took nine plays to go 70 yards to gain the last lead it would need, with Lawrence’s pass up the right sideline to Higgins hogging half the yardage. Eventually it reached the 2-yard line late in the first quarter and seemed close to stalling as it had on its first possession, which resulted in a field goal.
On fourth down, Swinney opted against 7-6, and soon Lawrence faked the handoff to Christian Wilkins, the defensive tackle whose “hurry” had ended Brown’s night. Lawrence flipped the ball over the hand of Boston College linebacker Connor Strachan in the shallow part of the end zone, into the waiting hands of tight end Milan Richard in the back.
Afterward, the senior Wilkins materialized next to Swinney on the interview dais, began eating some chips loudly and then shared one with Swinney. “He’s mad,” Swinney said, “that we didn’t hand it to him. I told him, ‘This is gon’ be wide open. You’re the bait.’ ”
“I know I’ve got special talents, my running ability,” the deeply experienced 315-pounder cracked, then said, “I’m in the scouting report now!”
By that point, Lawrence had completed 10 of his first 11 passes for 123 yards, and even with the game at merely 13-7 at halftime, it lacked any feel of anything unfamiliar brewing. Boston College (7-3), struggling understandably with backup EJ Perry at quarterback, once took a 32-yard loss on a snap that flew over Perry, took two more losses and faced that rare occasion in the football world, a fourth and 49. Even when the officials seemed to miss out on a penalty when Boston College appeared to interfere with a Clemson fair catch, the Tigers’ defense merely lined up again and allowed no shenanigans, further proof of Clemson’s rarefied maturity.
Taking the ball in the third quarter after Boston College worked another forgivable fizzle, Clemson started at its own 36-yard line. The game would ask for really only one more successful drive just in case, so Lawrence and Clemson went ahead and whooshed through it. Running back Travis Etienne bounced out of some traffic and went left for 25 yards. Lawrence threw to 10th-year senior Renfrow, one of those seniors who seems to have been around for half-forever, and Renfrow put a swell move on a defensive back to reach the 6-yard line.
From there, Lawrence conducted a fake that belongs in any Hall of Fame of fakes, and Etienne headed into the right side of the line, drawing the attention of most every potential menace around him. While he did that without the ball, Lawrence skirted around to the left, alone, for a 20-7 lead. With 29 completions in 40 attempts for 295 yards, he had shooed any pregame uncertainty about whether a Georgian freshman who plays in South Carolina could handle the weather around Boston. “So actually, I thought about it afterward, I lived in Ohio when I was a little kid for a little while, so I guess that would count,” Lawrence said. “It’s funny, people make such a big deal out of all that stuff, and we’re just going to go out and play.”
Amari Rodgers’s blazing 58-yard punt return up the left added only more. All along, Boston College barely budged, with bad luck again striking sophomore quarterback Brown. His thriving freshman season ended last Nov. 11 with a knee injury, and his night ended so early here, his visit from Wilkins leaving him slamming the turf on his right, throwing shoulder.