No. 2 Clemson overcomes slow start, smacks Duke to improve to 11-0
Christian Wilkins flexes after a sack on Duke QB Daniel Jones

No. 2 Clemson overcomes slow start, smacks Duke to improve to 11-0

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – You know things are going your way when you play your worst game in six weeks, have multiple drops, and allow the opposition to control much of the first half yet still walk away with a 29-point win.

Travis Etienne ran for 77 yards on just four carries in the second half, sparking No. 2 Clemson to a 35-6 victory over Duke in front of 81,313 fans on Military Appreciation Day in Death Valley. The Tigers host arch-rival South Carolina next week and will be gunning for a fifth consecutive victory in the series.

Etienne finished the day with nine carries for 81 yards and two scores, while Trevor Lawrence was 21-of-38 for 251 yards and two scores. The Tigers outgained Duke 459-262 - the Blue Devils had 127 yards in the first quarter and 135 over the final three quarters.

Clemson improves to 11-0 overall and finishes the ACC schedule with an 8-0 record. Duke falls to 7-4 overall and 3-4 in the conference.

The Tigers have opened a season 11-0 for the fourth time in program history, joining 11-0 starts in 1948, 1981 and 2015. The Tigers have also won the first 11 games of a season for the second time under Head Coach Dabo Swinney (2015). Clemson won its 51st game in the last four years give the 2018 senior class the most wins in school and ACC history, surpassing the mark set by Clemson's 2017 senior class.

“I’m really proud of our team for how they responded in the second half," Swinney said. "Obviously, we did not get off to a great start. We missed a couple third-and-twos and dropped more balls in the game tonight than we have all year. I was really disappointed in how we started, but it’s a four-quarter game. I challenged them at halftime to see how they could respond. To win 35-6 against a good football team...I’m really proud of our guys and how they responded. We had no turnovers and no sacks [allowed], so that is a positive to take away from the game.”

Swinney said he was happy his seniors got the win.

“Our seniors have won 51 games, and I am so proud of them," Swinney said. "They are an enjoyable group of young men that I get to be around every day. Every week, they lead our team in a tremendous way. It’s pretty impressive when you look on paper at what this group of seniors has been able to accomplish in their careers.”

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said his team is beaten up and will have to get healthy before next weekend's regular-season finale against Wake Forest.

“Well, we have a lot to change. I didn’t like a few things," Cutcliffe said. "Obviously, we need to talk to them some more. The best version of themselves to try all game. And that means everybody. We need to get healthy. We have some guys that are banged up."

The first quarter was all Duke as the Clemson offense let penalties and a dropped pass on third down bog down drives. In the meantime, the Blue Devils got two field goals from Collin Wareham and led 6-0 after the first stanza. However, Hunter Renfrow caught an early pass and now has a reception in 39 consecutive games, a program record, breaking the previous record of 38 set by Artavis Scott.

The Tigers finally put it together early in the second quarter, marching 75 yards in just seven plays. The sixth play of the drive was a 41-yard pass to Justyn Ross down the left sideline, and the next play was a two-yard scoring run by Tavien Feaster. With 12:44 to play in the half, Clemson led 7-6.

Both teams muddled through much of the quarter, but the Tigers finally got back on the board late in the half. Following a Duke punt the Tigers marched 62 yards in eight plays as Lawrence finally found a rhythm with his receivers. A 12-yard pass to Ross set up a 19-yard scoring toss – from Lawrence to Ross – and Clemson led 14-6 with just over a minute to play in the half.

The Clemson defense forced a Duke 3-and-out to start the second half, and the seventh Blue Devil punt of the night allowed Clemson to start at its own 39-yard line. Etienne started the drive with a 20-yard run and finished it with a 27-yard run that made it 21-6 early in the third quarter.

The Blue Devils put together another long drive but missed a 42-yard field goal. The Tigers took over at their own 25 and scored in just six plays. The key play on the drive was a third-down throw to Derion Kendrick that covered 33 yards. Three plays later Etienne bounced off of multiple tacklers and bullied his way into the end zone on a 29-yard scoring run, and the Tigers led 28-6 with 4:20 to play in the third.

Etienne is now tied for the Clemson single-season record for rushing TDs in a season (17), held jointly by Lester Brown (1978), James Davis (2006) and Wayne Gallman (2016).

The Clemson defense forced another Duke punt and the Tigers put together the longest scoring drive of the night, covering 79 yards in 13 plays. Lawrence capped off the drive with a 10-yard bullet to TJ Chase in the end zone, and the Tigers led 35-6 with 11:21 to play in the contest.

Lawrence broke Kyle Parker's school record for touchdown passes by a freshman (20) and now has 21 touchdown passes on the year.

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