When he finally took off his hard hat for the day after Boston College’s 22-13 loss to Northwestern two weeks ago, linebacker Nick Clancy didn’t really have a handle on how much work he had actually put in until his father clued him in.
“I think you had twenty-something tackles,” his father said.
Clancy, in disbelief, said, “No way.”
His father told him, “They were saying your name a lot.”
Clancy racked up 24 tackles (14 solo, 10 assisted), increasing his season total to 43 through three games. He is tops in the nation in tackles per game with 14.3 (teammate Kevin Pierre-Louis is a mere five spots behind with an even 12 per game).
But for the fifth-year senior manning the same territory that Luke Kuechly covered for four years, the numbers have sneaked up on him.
“You don’t really think about it, especially when it’s kind of hectic like that,” he said. “You’ve got play after play, hurry-up, no-huddle like that. You just kind of get into that zone where everything’s kind of blocked out and you’re just kind of focusing on the play itself and it just kind of happens.
“It feels good knowing that I’m helping my team out. If making a lot of tackles is what’s going to help us win, then I’m happy about that. But it’s not something I’m keeping in mind.”
Before he took over middle linebacker duties this season, Clancy had spent most of his football life at outside linebacker.
But he has taken to relaying the calls from the sideline, and chasing down plays from the middle suits his style, he said.
“I think my game is my speed,” said Clancy. “I like to run sideline to sideline, being able to chase down anything. Being at outside linebacker, you’re kind of forced to stay on one side of the field. You’re the force guy, so you can’t go running inside.
“Being at middle linebacker, I can move left, I can move right, I can just run and go make plays. That’s the fun part. You just run after the football and go make a tackle.”
Clancy came back for a fifth year with no guarantees that he would be given the middle linebacker job.
“It’s a product of opportunity,” said coach Frank Spaziani. “Kudos to Nick for having the opportunity and getting some production.
“Nick, he has always had physical talent. He’s strong, he’s fast, and he can run. He just has adapted better to being inside. It’s a product of being in a little better position maybe for him and opportunity. But he has the physical tools.”
Hurry it up
The off-week assignment for the Eagles defense was to watch the Florida State-Clemson game with an eye on the play clock.
More times than not, the Tigers were in a rush to get their plays off, snapping the ball with as much as 20 seconds left on the clock.
In the early stages of the season, BC has seen Miami and Northwestern try to speed them up with no-huddle attacks, but the catch-me-if-you-can approach is something the Eagles will have to brace for against Clemson this weekend.
To prepare, they’ve been running a practice routine that defensive coordinator Bill McGovern dubbed “Racecar,” where the scout-team offense goes hurry-up, running each play rapid-fire to get the defense in the habit of running to the ball at all times.
“They’re a high-tempo offense, a lot like Northwestern,” said linebacker Steele Divitto. “They ran a lot of plays, but it was very high-tempo, a lot in a row. Within 20 seconds they’re snapping the ball again, where most teams, they’re snapping it with 10 on the play clock.”
It started in the season opener against Miami, which was able to run off enough big plays to bury the Eagles. BC expects more teams to follow that lead.
“If they see on film that we’re susceptible to big plays against a hurry-up offense, then even if they’re not a hurry-up offense, maybe they’ll try it, see if they can get an edge on us,” Clancy said. “So we kind of opened up a can of worms so to speak against Miami. So I think from here on out we’re sort of expecting teams to go no-huddle against us. The biggest thing with ‘Racecar’ is that teams want to get you on your feet and when teams think you’re tired, that’s when guys lose focus. By basically doing it in practice, high-tempo, high-pace, forces us to focus on our assignments in practice. It’ll transfer in the game.”
From the ground upThe Eagles have the top passing attack in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but their rushing game is the second-worst. The deficiency was most glaring against Northwestern, when the Eagles ran 21 times for just 25 yards, with none of their three running backs able to break through. “We need to be able to run the ball this game, especially after how poorly we were in the Northwestern game,” said captain and left tackle Emmett Cleary. Defensively, Clemson is third-worst in the conference against both the run and pass, and pounding the ball on the ground will go a long way toward icing the Tigers offense. “Against an offense as explosive as theirs, if we can hold onto the ball, that’s almost the best defense,” said Cleary. “We did a terrible job of that [against Northwestern]. We were very sporadic — a couple long drives but a couple three-and-outs. Against a good offense like Northwestern’s and then Clemson’s, we’ve got to help our defense out a little bit.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.