David Hood: Duke vs Clemson Prediction
Last week, the Pigskin Picker fell back to earth. Way back to earth. A euphoric first week with the correct prediction of an upset win on the road was followed by an incorrect, emotional pick. I pulled a chicken and laid an egg. However, this week should get me back on track, as long as the Tigers don’t follow my trend from last week and lay an egg of their own. Of course, if that happens, on Homecoming, with an emotionally-charged crowd in attendance, we’ll have bigger issues to deal with than whether I was right or not. On to the pick:
Duke at Clemson
When Clemson Has the Ball
The Clemson offense, at first glance, has been better since the change in offensive philosophies. However, despite a 97-yard drive late in the game last week, the line still has issues, and the Tigers have been turnover-prone, with 12 in the past three games. They have also allowed nine sacks since the change. Good teams don’t turn the ball over. Period. And against a team like Duke, which has less talent but plays with extreme effort, turnovers could give them a confidence boost that could propel them to victory. The Blue Devils have allowed an average of 23 points and 346 yards per game, but have 17 sacks and forced 19 turnovers. The Tigers need to figure out a way to run the ball early, and often, in an effort to keep the Duke offense off the field. Cullen Harper made progress last week, and if the offensive line can give him time to throw, and run the football, they should be able to score points.
ADVANTAGE – CLEMSON.
When Duke has the Ball
This will be the one place out on the field where something has to give. Duke junior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis leads the ACC in passing yards per game (207), and touchdowns (14), and doesn’t seem to make the critical mistakes. Defensively, the Tigers have gone seven games in a row without giving up 200 yards passing, their longest streak since 1979. Clemson struggled last week in rush defense, but the Blue Devils rank 101st nationally in rushing offense, at just over 111 yards per game. It will be interesting to see if Duke head coach David Cutcliffe comes out trying to run the football early, then opens up the passing game later using play-action. Until the Clemson defense gets the nasty streak back, we’re gonna call this one even.
ADVANTAGE - EVEN
The Blue Devils don’t have anyone on special teams that ranks in the Top 40 nationally in any particular category, and while they have the skill players to break a return, the Tigers have done a good job on coverage teams this season. The Tigers just need to protect the punter, and then find ways to make sure that C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford have open lanes on their own returns. Kicker Mark Buckholz was back on form last week, hitting field goals from 41 and 20 yards, and is now 11-for-12 on the season. As long as there aren’t any silly turnovers, Clemson is better here.
ADVANTAGE – CLEMSON
Dabo Swinney has done all of the right things off the field, and things have, in some ways, gotten slightly better on the field. There are still issues with turnovers and penalties, but sometimes a player just has to make a play. Duke’s David Cutcliffe has been known as a bit of an offensive guru, and still gets visits from NFL players like Peyton Manning and Eli Manning. His offense, which has less talent than most of the other ACC teams, has been fun to watch at times, but they still have a season-high of just 41 points (Navy), scored 31 points against Virginia one week, and then were blanked by Georgia Tech the next. All in all, an advantage at the top for the Blue Devils, while Clemson’s assistants have been with their players longer.
ADVANTAGE – Even
The bottom line in this one is pretty easy to follow – Clemson needs to protect the football and the quarterback, and then get the ball in the hands of their playmakers. Defensively, they have to find a way to get pressure on Lewis and make him uncomfortable. This kid has already proven that if he gets time, he makes his reads and makes all the throws. And pressure itself won’t be enough, they have to hit him early and often, and make the tackles when they can. If not, this could turn into a Swinney nightmare, a Homecoming shootout. With recruits coming in for the weekend, this one needs to be a blowout. However, this team never does anything the easy way, and I see a nail-biter until the fourth quarter.
Clemson 34, Duke 23
|Clemson at Boston College||19-17 W||27-21 W|
|Clemson at Florida St||23-22 W||27-41 L|
|Duke at Clemson||34-23 W||?|