Keys to Duke vs. Clemson


by - Correspondent -
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In a matter of one week, Clemson has gone from hoping they would get enough wins to make a bowl game, to possibly finishing high enough in the ACC to earn a Peach or Gator Bowl invite. In order to ensure a shot at making one of those games, the Tigers must beat Duke on Saturday.


That would not have been a very tough feat in the past. As a matter of fact, many Tiger fans would have already booked rooms in Jacksonville and Atlanta knowing that Clemson would surely win.

This year is different. For starters, college football has been as unpredictable as ever. There are meteorologists that have been more successful at predicting the weather than Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit have been at predicting winners.


Secondly, the Blue Devils have done an about-face under interim head coach Ted Roof. Since taking over for the fired Carl Franks on October 19 following a blowout loss to Wake Forest, Duke has been very competitive against three pretty good teams.

Duke lost to N.C. State by a score of 28-21 in Roof’s first game. The following week they went to Knoxville and were down 9-6 heading into the fourth quarter before eventually losing 23-6. Last week they may have pulled off a victory even more impressive than Clemson’s 26-10 win over FSU when they beat Georgia Tech 41-17. The victory ended a 30-game ACC losing streak and further jumbled the ACC rankings.

OFFENSE


On the season, Duke is giving up 28.1 points per game. Under Roof’s watch they have given up 22.67 points per game against three good offensive teams. It is somewhat hard to explain because Roof was the defensive coordinator before taking over the head coaching duties. The good thing is that Clemson has averaged 37.75 points per game under Roof’s defenses (He spent three years as Ga Tech's defensive coordinator before going to Duke last year.).


The Blue Devils’ defense is very experienced. There are three seniors, six juniors, and two sophomores that start. Linebacker Ryan Fowler is the leader of that unit. He has 462 career tackles and is currently on pace to become the first player in ACC history to lead his team in tackles all four years.


He leads all current ACC players with 25 double-digit tackle games. Oddly enough, former Clemson signee Jim Scharrer backs him up. Scharrer originally signed a baseball letter of intent with Clemson in 1995 and opted to give major league baseball a shot when the Atlanta Braves drafted him with their second pick in the 1995 draft. He gave up baseball in 2001 and enrolled at Duke.


Defensive end Phillip Alexander is second in the conference to Leroy Hill with 17 tackles for loss. That includes 6 sacks.

After watching the CSS replay of their Georgia Tech game, the size and speed of their defensive front is what stood out the most. They applied good pressure on Tech quarterback Reggie Ball and helped force three interceptions. Tech moved the ball fairly well most of the day, but the interceptions combined with one fumble to lead to their demise.

The secondary is led by safety Terrell Smith. The 5’11”, 180-pound senior has 33 career starts. Along side him at safety is Alex Green. He has 23 career starts and good size – 6’2”, 190 lbs. The two corners are Kenneth Stanford and Brian Greene. Stanford is only 5’9”, 180 pounds, but he has 26 career starts and knows how to play his position very well. Greene is 6’1”, 185 pounds and has 18 career starts. Like most teams, Clemson has a definite size advantage with their wide receivers.

Charlie Whitehurst set a Clemson single game record with 420 yards passing against the Blue Devils last year as he guided the Tigers to 24 fourth quarter points. Tommy Bowden would like to see his team rely less on the pass this year in hopes of being more successful in the running games. Duke is giving up 167 rushing yards per game and only 205.1 yards passing. They rank 5th in the ACC in total defense at 372.6 yards per game.

Duke’s ability to get pressure means the Tigers must be able to establish the run if they want to keep heat off of Whitehurst. Duke appears to blitz a lot so the best way to establish a presence on the ground may be through the utilization of draws and quick hitting running plays. Trying to stretch the defense with outside zone runs may not be as effective.

Duke is more athletic than they have been in the past, but Clemson still has a speed advantage. The receivers and Duane Coleman have an opportunity to bust some big plays because of this. The offense must remain patient, move the ball with consistent play, and take the big play when it presents itself.

DEFENSE


Offensively, Duke’s front is as big and experienced as any group the Tigers will see this year. They average 6’5”, 313 pounds and 32 starts. Left tackle Drew Strojny (6’8”, 300 lbs.) is the leader with 41 starts. He is one of only six players in Duke history to serve as a team captain for two years.

The linemen have led the way for running backs Chris Douglas and Alex Wade. Douglas needs just 285 all-purpose yards in his final two games to pass North Carolina's Leon Johnson as the ACC’s all-time leader in that category. He currently has 5,544 yards. He needs just 11 rushing yards to become Duke’s all-time leading rusher. Considering Duke has been behind in most of the games throughout his career, and have had to throw the ball to catch up, those are very impressive stats.


He is second in the ACC this year with 123.9 all-purpose yards per game and the leading rusher with an average of 95.7 yards. If he can pull in just two more receptions in his final games, he will become only the third player in ACC history to have 500 yards rushing and 20 receptions in each of his four years.


Although Douglas is the leading active rusher in the ACC, Wade has still found a way to flourish. He is the fifth leading active rusher and together the two have combined for 4,827 career yards. He is a post-season awards candidate that is rated the 4th best fullback in the country by The Sporting News.

The quarterback situation took an interesting twist last week as redshirt Mike Schneider and junior Chris Dapolito rotated throughout the game. What made the rotation so odd is that each player did not come in for certain series. Instead, they exchanged leadership responsibilities multiple times each series. As awkward as it sounds, the Blue Devils flourished.

With backs like Douglas and Wade, it is not hard to figure out that the focus of the offense is their running game. They are ranked third in the conference with 169.7 yards per game. Their Achilles’ heel has been their red zone offense. They have only gotten points 64.7 percent of the time.


Clemson has to limit Duke’s running game and force them to pass. Forcing the Blue Devils to take to the air could cause problems for two reasons. First, it is not their strength. Secondly, if they continue to rotate quarterbacks it could cause all sorts of timing problems with the receivers if they have to continually throw the ball.

Duke does not appear to use as much misdirection as teams like Wake and North Carolina used successfully against the Tigers. They choose to spread the field and run right at the defense with a lot of one-back and I-sets. Their play action passing game is very effective as they go to any of their three tight ends. Much like the offense, the defense must be very patient. As long as they play fundamental football and trust their keys, they should have success.


SPECIAL TEAMS


Punter Trey McDonald has had an amazing season. He is averaging 41.1 yards on 43 attempts. He has placed 12 of his kicks inside the 20-yard line without having a single touchback. Against Tennessee he had six punts for a 44.7-yard average. Four of his six kicks pinned the Volunteers inside their 20-yard line.


Senterrio Landrum is 2nd in the ACC and 4th in the country in kickoff returns. He is averaging 30.15 yards per return without any touchdowns.


Clemson is still leading the ACC in kickoff returns with an average of 28.1 yards. Duke counters with the best kickoff unit in the conference. They are only giving up 17.9 yards per kick. This could make for a very interesting battle as both teams vie for field position.

Neither team has been very effective in the punt return game. Duke is 8th and Clemson 9th with averages of 5.7 and 5.1, respectively. The inability both teams have when it comes to gaining valuable yards on punt returns will make the battle of the two kickoff return teams even more important.

SUMMARY


Clemson’s senior class is 29-18. They can become the first senior class since 1993 to leave with 30 or more victories. They can also be the first group of seniors since 1991 to make five bowl games.


If achieving those goals is not enough motivation, there are plenty of other things that should have the Tigers more than ready to play. They now have a chance to follow up a great victory with an encore performance that will quell the negative thoughts expressed by many of their detractors. A victory will also go along way towards guaranteeing them a top 3 finish in the ACC and a very good bowl game.


This is a very dangerous game for Clemson. Duke is not as abysmal as they have been in the past. Having the Tigers coming off one of the biggest regular season victories in school history is the perfect set up for the Blue Devils to catch the Tigers with their heads held a little too high. Having in-state rival South Carolina on the schedule next week also means the Tigers could possibly be looking ahead to their annual civil war.


There is no doubt Clemson is the better team, but the football gods have not paid much attention to such an advantage this year. Clemson must take the field and show they are the superior bunch. Otherwise, the highs experienced last Saturday night will be distant memories, as the lows of losing to Duke will overrun the Tiger camp.

Tommy Bowden and his team seemed to finally pull it all together last week. They did not play above their heads. Rather, they played up to their potential as they finally executed in all phases of the game. Their attitude has been good all season long. They showed a lot by being able to overcome to loss to Wake Forest and quickly regaining focus on the task they faced against Florida State. This group knows how to win and wants to finish the season on a strong note.

It may not be the blowout many expect, but the Tigers will be victorious by a score of 34-20.

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