Second look: Grading Clemson versus Duke


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Travis Etienne has proven what he can do with the opportunities.
Travis Etienne has proven what he can do with the opportunities.

A slow start proved to be no issue for No. 2 Clemson as Dabo Swinney’s Tigers pulled away to a 35-6 win over Duke Saturday night.

This season the ‘Second Look’ features the TigerNet staff grading Clemson as a group and offering some different perspectives on the action each week. Here’s our look at game eleven as Clemson moved on to 11-0 going into a rivalry matchup with South Carolina.

Offense

The Clemson offense has been able to take its time in terms of execution lately. In games as a heavy favorite, that hasn’t been an issue but Dabo Swinney and company would like to get back on track going into postseason action. Expecting 50-plus points a game may be overboard but it was evident how many big plays and points were left on the field and off of the scoreboard Saturday night.

At times, freshman Trevor Lawrence looked every bit a freshman with too much zip on some passes and a lack of touch on others, but his completion numbers were also heavily hurt by a number of drops, which Swinney credited to a lack of focus in his postgame press conference.

Lawrence also hit some big throws - recovering from a lengthy incompletion streak midgame to hit 13 of his final 18 attempts with two touchdowns at an 8.7 yards per pass rate. The freshman connection with Justyn Ross made a big difference, hitting four of five targets to Ross for 76 yards and a score. No other Tiger receiver was able to haul in at least half of their targets on the night (min. 4 targets).

The soul of the offense seemed to be restored when the Tigers started the second half by feeding star sophomore running back Travis Etienne. He had only five touches for four yards at the half and then posted Clemson’s first two chunk runs (10-plus yards) of the game in the opening third-quarter drive for one score - and ran through multiple attempted tackles for another later.

Clemson’s backfield depth chart averaged a strong 6.2 yards per carry as a group with Etienne’s tough-running leading the charge. For this offense to execute on a high level, Etienne needs to see double-digit carries and that’s a responsibility that falls on the coaches and the Tigers’ young QB.

Clemson tied for its fewest chunk plays of the season (9) and the missed connections in the passing game accounted for a season-low three chunk-pass plays (15-plus yards).

It was an off night in many respects and the opponent and defensive effort afforded a mulligan. The coaching staff is confident the struggles are nothing to worry about and it’s hard to disagree given the body of the work to this point. But again, that next stage of development for the Tiger offense will come in the run/pass balance and making Etienne’s touches an increasing priority. -- Brandon Rink

TigerNet grade: C+

Defense

Six points allowed, all in the first half. Four sacks. Nine tackles for loss. Constant pressure on the quarterback.

Just another game for the Clemson defense.

The Tigers allowed 127 first-quarter yards to the Duke offense Saturday and then allowed a grand total of just 135 yards over the final three quarters. As has been the case so often this season, many of those yards occurred after the Tigers went into substitution mode.

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones is a bonafide NFL prospect, and after a decent start wound up completing 24 of 43 passes for just 158 yards, which is just 6.6 yards per completion.

Clemson’s defense is second nationally in total defense and leads the country in scoring defense, giving up just 12.1 points per game. The first-team defense hasn’t given up a touchdown since Sept. 29th, and this group is poised to roll into the postseason. -- David Hood

TigerNet grade: A

Special teams

Clemson’s special teams unit did its job Saturday and the headline might have just been that punter Will Spiers had arguably his best performance of the season.

Spiers had plenty of chances as Clemson punted on six of its first seven drives. The sophomore totaled seven punts and averaged 44.6 yards per punt with a long of 53. Senior Carson King was impressive in his one attempt booming a 48-yard punt.

Derion Kendrick continues to get more and more comfortable returning kickoffs and looks like he could break one at any time. Duke sent their three kickoffs short of the goal line and Kendrick averaged 21 yards per return.

Amari Rodgers did his job in securing the ball on punt return as there weren’t many opportunities for a return.

Greg Huegel hit on all of his extra points.

All in all it was a solid, workmanlike performance for Clemson’s special teams unit. -- Nikki Hood

TigerNet grade: A-

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