Roy Martin: Clemson vs Duke Post-Game Analysis

by - Correspondent -
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Two different Clemson teams took the field on Saturday.

On one hand you had the defense. They turned in a great performance, especially considering it seemed like they were on the field all day and were put in some very tough situations.

On the other hand you had the offense and special teams. It was as if the coaches took a group of guys out of the stands, threw some pads on them, and tried to do the impossible – look very bad against a below average defense.

The ineptness of the offense ultimately cost Clemson the game. More importantly, it may have erased all of the momentum generated during their four game win streak and put them in a must win situation this week if they are to attain a bowl berth.


How can a team go from having their best game of the season against a pretty good defense to having their worst performance in recent memory against a bad defense?

It is simple; they failed to execute even the most basic of fundamentals.

Most of the problems started with the offensive line. They looked confused, if not lost. Whether rushing four or bringing the house on a blitz, Duke was able to put pressure on Charlie Whitehurst all day long.

The offensive line did not look like they were mentally ready to play. And by that I do not mean the coaches did not have them prepared. It was quite the opposite.

They looked as if they thought all they needed to do was walk on the field and the Duke defenders would simply fall down. Instead of attacking and exploding into their blocks, they sat back on their heels and tried to catch the Blue Devil lineman, linebackers, and blitzers.

The end result was their lack of attitude erased any advantages they may have had because of their physical superiority. In fact, they were so lackadaisical that Duke looked like a better group of athletes.

That is expected on the basketball court, but should never be the case on the gridiron.

With the exception of Airese Currie, the receivers did not provide much help when Charlie did have time to throw. They were lazy in their route running and were once again plagued with a number of dropped balls.

Kelvin Grant again had a big drop on what would have been a third-down conversion. To use an over employed football cliché, he looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane, at least in recent weeks.

His problems have been more mental than anything, but you get the point. Charlie could not have walked up and handed the ball to him any better than he delivered that pass on Saturday. The coaches apparently agreed because he did not see the field the rest of the day.

The running game actually looked good for a better part of the game. Reggie Merriweather continued to shine as he ran hard. And even though the Tiger’s ground attack was the lone bright spot for the offense, there were plenty of moments when it looked anemic.

The lack of protection and more than one reliable receiver plagued Charlie Whitehurst the entire game. He was trying to carry the passing attack on his shoulders and it showed even when he had time. He never got into a rhythm and rarely looked crisp on his throws.

Other than the running game, the only real bright spot for the offense continued to be the play of Currie. He made some acrobatic catches by making outstanding adjustments on poorly thrown balls. He looked like a “big” receiver the likes of Kevin Youngblood or Rod Gardner on a few catches, as he was simply more physical than the defensive backs.


If the season ended today, the defense should be named the team’s MVP.

They had their backs against the wall all day long and managed to stand tall on nearly every occasion. Twice they held Duke to field goals after the Blue Devils began in excellent field position and forced a turnover on a third drive.

Duke struggled all afternoon to get anything going on the ground. Their only success came on through the air. They did it by attacking the middle of the field, which has been a weak spot for Clemson all season. In their defense, it is a weak spot for lots of defenses.

Where they were hurt the most, especially in third down situations, was the deep square in.

That is not the lone responsibility of the defensive backs. Those plays are slow in developing. As such, the defensive line must apply more pressure. Otherwise, any decent quarterback can complete that pass a majority of the time.

In the end it looked like the defense simply gave out. They were on the field for just over 36 minutes, but it seemed like much longer. They began to miss a few too many tackles and did not get good pressure as the game progressed because they were worn out.

As a result, Duke’s touchdown drive came almost solely through the air. It was the defense’s only bad drive of the day. Unfortunately, it came at a very inopportune time.

Corey Groover and Tramaine Billie continued to look good despite their relative lack of experience. Billie has been a very pleasant surprise filling in for Eric Sampson. He has tackled well and shown a knack for getting to the ball.

Speaking of Sampson, he saw his first action since breaking his jaw earlier in the season. He made a couple of big plays and did not look very rusty at all.

The Tigers were in man coverage a good part of the game. Duke did a good job of recognizing the coverage and dumping it to the back as a safety valve.

A linebacker is generally responsible for taking the back on such plays. It appeared that the linebacker charged with that responsibility on many of those plays was either caught inside on play action, or simply busted the coverage, because there were a number of times that the back was too wide open.

Despite some missed tackles, seemingly blown coverages, and a poor pass rush, the defense deserved to win this game. Duke had their hands tied for all but one drive of the game. There is not a coach in the game that would not be pleased with the way the defense played.


Horrid is the word that best describes how the special teams played.

It started on Duke’s second kickoff when they blooped one to around the 25-yard line. Clemson botched an attempt at a fair catch and Duke recovered what ended up being a long onsides kick.

It continued when an errant snap ricocheted off one of the upbacks in the punt formation and Duke recovered around the Clemson 20-yard line. At first it looked like the upback may have stepped into the path of the ball. However, replays showed is angled to the left from the get go.

Many blamed it on the unusual punt formation used by Clemson, but that seems like sour grapes more than anything. It is that formation that has allowed Clemson to have excellent punt coverage all season. The fact is the snap has to be online no matter what punting style is used.

The Clemson return game never got going because Duke did a good job of kicking away from Justin Miller on kickoffs and their punter had some great kicks when called upon. It is hard to get a return going when punts hang as long as Duke’s did.

Even so, Clemson has to do a better job of maintaining their blocks. Too many times on Saturday – and the season, for that matter – the opposing teams gunners were allowed to get good releases and basically ran downfield untouched.

The gunners are the backbone of any pro style-punting unit because they are generally the first guys downfield and are charged with establishing contain. If they are allowed to do their job the other eight guys (excluding the punter) have a much easier time doing theirs.

Jad Dean had a tough time reaching the end zone on his kickoffs, but it seemed to be designed more than anything. He was also kicking against a very stiff wind at times.

He looked to have recovered from his bad performance at Miami when he was true on his two field goal attempts.

And give credit to the Duke kicker. His career long coming into the game was 45 yards. His game winning 53-yarder was nearly perfect.


I do not have a strong enough vocabulary to describe just how awful this loss was.

The easy thing to do at this point is to pick the game apart play by play and say it is the fault of the coaches. Ultimately, the coaches are responsible for everything that happens on and off the field, so that assessment is hard to refute.

You would be hard pressed to find any game where a coaching staff does not make mistakes. There are always questionable calls. Sometimes that is because the guys on the other side of the field just get lucky or do a better job.

I do not feel that was as much the case Saturday as it was the Clemson players just did not do what they have been taught. The Tigers are more gifted physically than Duke, so much so that their advantage in that aspect of the game should have made up of for bad calls in certain situations.

The offense and special teams just did not show up. Place the blame on whomever or whatever you like, but it still does not negate the fact that the players have to take some responsibility at some point.

Granted, they are still kids in so many aspects and we all know that kids are unpredictable, if not unreliable. The offense finally showed a sense of urgency on their touchdown drive but it was too little too late.

Yes, there was a very questionable no call on Clemson’s final drive that resulted in an interception. Against a team like Miami or Florida State that might be an argument as to why the game was lost.

Such is not the case against Duke. The game should have been decided long before that. The offense basically reaped what they sowed on Saturday and it cost them the game.

The end result is they are now in the unenviable position of having to win the most important game of the season to secure a bowl berth and a winning record in the regular season.

If they begin searching for the reason why they are now facing such adverse conditions, they need not look any further than a mirror.

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