CLEMSON, S.C. -- It was safe for Clemson players to talk about Florida State once day turned to night Saturday. But given what unfolded on the football field, you had to wonder whether the Noles might have been on their minds all afternoon.
Boston College wanted no part of making a nice, simple script for the showdown between No. 3 Clemson and No. 6 Florida State one week from tonight. For three quarters, Boston College outplayed the heavily favored Tigers and held the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Clemson season, the looming top-10 matchup between the ACC heavyweights, the respect the league has garnered through the first half of the year? About to go poof. It should be no surprise, then, that the phrase the Tigers and their fans so desperately despise started being tossed around.
This would have been the ultimate example.
Instead, normalcy was restored in the span of one minute in the fourth quarter. Tajh Boyd ran 6 yards for a touchdown to put the Tigers ahead. On the following series, Vic Beasley returned a fumble by Chase Rettig 13 yards for a score to seal the 24-14 win over the feisty Eagles.
ACC officials surely exhaled. So did "College GameDay," headed to Death Valley next Saturday.
"It's good to know that we can win a street fight," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said afterward.
Make no mistake. Boston College is a vastly improved team from a season ago thanks to coach Steve Addazio, who has completely changed the culture in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles play with a physicality that has been missing for years, a physicality that also flummoxed Florida State several weeks ago.
Even still, the Clemson offense looked ragged. The Tigers had four fumbles, losing two. They converted only two times in four red zone opportunities. They went only 4-of-17 on third down. Sammy Watkins had uncharacteristic drops. The offensive line was inconsistent.
The last time Clemson failed to dominate offensively, the defense made a game-changing play at NC State. The same happened against Boston College, further proof this defense has grown from good to great. The Tigers limited the NCAA's top rusher, Andre Williams, to 70 yards and an average of 2.9 yards per carry.
Boston College had only 12 first downs and 286 yards of total offense. The Beasley play happened after Tony Steward sacked Rettig and forced the fumble. The defensive front was relentless, with five sacks and 11 tackles for loss, along with four quarterback hurries.
"Our defensive front made a big statement today," said Beasley, who won the replica leather helmet given out to the MVP of this game annually. "This is definitely the most complete game we have played. This is the most dominant."
Clemson will need that dominance next week against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who has found himself in the Heisman conversation after five games. Florida State had a bye Saturday, so perhaps the Noles got a peek at what awaits them next week.
If not, they will watch the tape soon enough. It was not the prettiest offensive effort, but Clemson (6-0) did enough to become bowl eligible. So did No. 24 Virginia Tech (6-1), which ended its four-game losing streak to Pitt with a 19-9 win in Blacksburg.
Once again, the Hokies defense dominated, sacking Pitt quarterback Tom Savage eight times. Savage has now been sacked 17 times in his past two games. Indeed, Clemson and Virginia Tech have put up the most impressive sack numbers in the league to date -- the Hokies now have 27 sacks in seven games; the Tigers have 24 in six games.
Maryland (5-1), meanwhile, moved one game away from becoming bowl eligible, bouncing back from a dispiriting loss to Florida State to beat Virginia 27-26 in the last scheduled meeting between the two rivals. Virginia had a shot at the upset, but Alec Vozenilek missed a 42-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.
C.J. Brown sat out after sustaining a concussion last week. But one starter did make his return Saturday. Duke quarterback Anthony Boone was impressive in a 35-7 win over Navy. Boone was not supposed to play, but Brandon Connette hurt his ankle on the way to the practice field Thursday and informed coach David Cutcliffe during pregame warm-ups he would not be able to play.
Boone was told 10 minutes before kickoff that he would be starting. He went 31-of-38 passing for a career-high 295 yards and three touchdowns in perhaps the gutsiest performance Saturday. Syracuse showed some, too, in a 24-10 win at NC State. Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley each gained more than 100 yards. The Orange have run for 685 yards in their past two games, against the Wolfpack and these very Tigers.
Clemson fixed the issues in their run defense. There are other areas that must be addressed this week. Perhaps it was good the Tigers got a test like this before the biggest game of the season.
"We just weathered the storm, and that's all that matters right now," Watkins said.