Latest Winning Streak On Line At Duke

by - Correspondent -

DURHAM, N.C. - Like many things at Clemson these days, the scenario surrounding this weekend's trip to Duke is a strikingly familiar one.

A year ago, Clemson was coming off a highly emotional victory over Florida State, then had to face the Blue Devils before cranking up the huge rivalry with South Carolina the following weekend. This time, it's a win over Miami under the Tigers' collective belts with South Carolina again on the horizon - and Duke strategically placed between the two.

A trap game? At Wallace Wade Stadium, where the atmosphere can be the polar opposite of a Duke basketball game? An unexpected roadblock to another fast finish?

Could be.

"We're experiencing the same type of emotions and momentum swings as we did last year," head coach Tommy Bowden said. "We're also playing Duke again coming off an emotional win, but this year it is on the road. Nothing really has changed as far as practice schedule or anything, and I've had fast starts and slow starts in my coaching career.

"I can't explain it, but I'm certainly happy we are on a winning streak."

It's a winning streak that most expect to reach five games by the time this weekend is finished, but one only has to look at the Tigers' last trip to Durham to realize nothing is for certain at Wallace Wade.

In what would be the first start of quarterback Charlie Whitehurst's career, Clemson rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Blue Devils. It took a touchdown pass on a fourth-and-12 conversion attempt from near midfield for it to happen. Otherwise, the Blue Devils hang on and win.

And give Bowden credit for knowing his history. Clemson is just 13-11 all time at Duke, a place where Bowden used to coach. He knows the difficulties the Blue Devils experience yearly, struggling to put together some semblance of a winner.

He also knows that any effort shy of the Tigers' best could throw everything - streak, bowl bid, respectable final record - out the window.

"Six of our last seven games at Duke have been decided by a touchdown or less," he said. "I don't know how many of our guys will remember 1989 when Clemson went down to Tallahassee and beat Florida State, but lost at Duke later in the year as the No. 7-ranked team in the nation.

"Those are things that help put things in perspective. Most of our guys will remember the game up there two years ago when we won by three in the last few seconds."

But just as his team rallied to win that game and rallied to close strong in 2003, so are they trying to do so again this season.

And while he'd love to be, say 7-2 at this juncture as opposed to 5-4, just the fact that the Tigers have a winning record through nine games confirms Bowden's feelings for this team.

"Coming back from a 1-4 start says a lot about the character ...," he said. "Its comforting to know they have a lot of fight deep down inside of them when their backs are against the wall. To get that response two years in a row is good. You would rather not be in that situation to begin with, but we have been and we have responded well.

"Sometimes it's confidence and sometimes you match up better with teams, but I don't really know what exactly it is that has helped us turn it on the past four games. I wish I knew what it was so maybe we could turn it on earlier in the season."

3 Keys to Victory

1. Score Early, Score Often

Clemson's offense seems to be on the verge of a breakout performance. Every week the offensive line plays a little better. Every week Charlie Whitehurst looks a little more comfortable behind them. Every week the running game seems to be, well, gaining more ground. The signs are all there. It's just a matter of when the breakout happens.

2. No Hope, No Hope At All

Clemson's defense has been getting better week by week, just like the offense, but is doing so in larger strides. The way they came together in the second half against Miami a week ago reminded many of the way the unit played at the end of last season. The Tigers need to have just such a performance from the opening kickoff this week, never allowing Duke an opportunity to gain anything resembling momentum.

3. Tickets Anyone? Anyone?

Tommy Bowden publicly called for 10,000 or more Clemson fans to make the trip to Durham and invade Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday. If they do, it likely becomes a home game for Tigers. If not, the team must still find someway to create its own enthusiasm. Because if there's one thing Wallace Wade usually lacks, it's atmosphere.

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