Roy Martin: Clemson vs. Duke Preview

by - Correspondent -
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These are the games that coaches hate.

After winning four in a row to seemingly turn around what once looked like a disastrous season, Clemson travels to Durham looking for their sixth victory and bowl eligibility. Most think that is against the Duke Blue Devils.

Tommy Bowden knows better.

The scene is set for Duke to pull off a big upset. Clemson is coming off one of the biggest victories they have had in a long time. Arch rival South Carolina looms on the horizon.

Those factors make it easy for a group of 18 to 22-year-olds to look past the league’s worst team.

Clemson’s last trip to Durham was more of a battle than a tune-up. Down by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, it took a school record 420-yard passing performance by Charlie Whitehurst, a key fourth-down play, and a last second field goal by Aaron Hunt to win the game.

The coaches can only hope that game will remind the players that strange things can happen. After all, the unimaginable is what makes college football so much fun.


The offense finally managed some sustained success against Miami. That trend needs to continue this week if they are going to finally find themselves before the season is over.

There is no doubt the tools are in place for this offense to put up some big numbers. The problem all season has been an inability to gel as a unit. The losses of Derrick Hamilton, Kevin Youngblood, Greg Walker, and William Henry hurt more than most predicted.

Both tackles and the two leading receivers are gone from a unit that found its groove late last season. The loss of the tackles has been the most damaging. Tackle is the most important position on the line, especially the left tackle in the case of a right-handed quarterback like Whitehurst.

Barry Richardson and Marion Dukes have performed admirably at times, but they simply lack the experience needed to utilize all of their abilities. To make matters worse, Dukes is playing out of position. As I have stated before, he is better suited as a guard.

The wide receivers have struggled as well. Seven of Whitehurst’s interceptions have come on balls that should have been caught. Again, much of that can be blamed on a lack of experience. Airese Currie is the only returning player with any significant action.

Duke has been out gained in all but two of their games (The Citadel and Wake Forest). They are giving up 439.4ds per game and 29.9nts. Opponents are converting 41% of their third down opportunities.

The one bright stat for their defense has been their 21 takeaways. That ties them for first in the conference with Florida State and Virginia Tech. They have forced thirteen interceptions and eight fumbles. Five of those interceptions directly led to touchdowns.

Sophomore cornerback John Talley is an all-conference candidate. He has four interceptions on the season, two of which he has returned for touchdowns. He also leads the ACC in passes defended (17) and interception return yards (172).

He had the best game of his young career this season against Maryland. In that game he tallied eight tackles, four passes broken up, and an 85-yard interception for a touchdown.

Their linebackers are the most experienced unit on the team. Senior Giuseppe Aguanno and junior Brendan Dewan have started 22 and 28 games, respectively. Both have logged around 1900 plays during their career and Aguanno is tenth on Duke’s all-time tackle-for-loss list.

They turned in a scrappy performance against Florida State last week. It was a 9-7 game in favor of FSU at halftime as they forced the Seminoles to settle for three field goals in the first two quarters.

They did give up two touchdowns and two field goals in the second half on their way to a 29-7 victory, but they managed to put up a rather astounding number considering they lost. Florida State was 0-for-11 in third down situations.

There is nothing secretive about the best way to score against Duke. Clemson has superior athletes that need to simply execute. Unforced errors are what keep a team like Duke in the game.

They are giving up 229.4 yards per game rushing. This week would be a fine time for Reggie Merriweather and the offensive line to fine tune the success they have had in recent weeks.


Clemson’s defense has done an about face in the last four games. The turnaround in statistics has been staggering.

                   First 5 Games Last 4 Games 
Points Per Game             31.2 12.5 
Yards Per Game             421.8 265.0 
Rush Def.                  223.0 72.5 
3rd Down Conv.              .466 .323 
Takeaways                      3 10 
Sacks                         16 20 
4th Quarter Pts.              35 9 

Despite giving up 17 points and nearly 350 yards last week, it was probably their best performance of the year. Do not get me wrong; registering 11 sacks, recording a shutout until the last play of the game, and holding Utah State to negative rushing yards was big.

The Miami win was bigger for a different reason.

Clemson was able to hold Miami scoreless in the second half after looking porous on a couple of drives in the first half. They continued to battle against a more talented squad and made adjustments on the run – most notably, defending the toss sweep – that showed the desire you want from your players and the flexibility needed from coaches.

The Tigers have been hurt all season by passes over the middle, especially by tight ends. That is an area of the field Duke likes to work, as tight ends Ben Patrick and Andy Roland have been very productive.

Patrick has 27 receptions for 255 yards and 1 touchdown. Roland has 15 grabs for 188 yards and 3 touchdowns. The third tight end, Calen Powell, has only two catches on the year but both have gone for touchdowns.

In all, the tight ends have six of Duke’s nine passing touchdowns. Stopping those guys in third-down and red zone situations is going to be key.

Sophomore Mike Schneider and senior Chris Dapolito have been the men running the offense, although Schneider is the one that has stepped forward as the leader. He has attempted five times as many passes as Dapolito and played in all nine games. Dapolito has only played in seven, having started three.

There is nothing exciting about their meager 165 yards passing per game. The only stat that is truly worth noting is 18 different players have recorded receptions for Duke. No one can accuse Ted Roof of not trying to spread the wealth.

Running back Cedric Dargan has been a beacon of hope. Although he has seen action in only five games because of injuries, he has been very productive. He has gone over the 100-yard mark in three of those games. His 77.8 yards per game would rank eighth in the ACC if he had played in enough games to be eligible.

He will spend most of his time running behind tackle Christian Mitchell. The senior has 35 career starts to his name and has been on the field for nearly 2600 snaps. Other than Jim Moravich’s three starts last year, he is the only lineman to start any games before this season.

The defense needs to do the same as the offense – keep it simple. Correcting the bad tackling and mental mistakes will be the focus this week.

Defensive backs and linebackers tend to get greedy in these types of games because they try to make plays against an undermanned offense. They will take angles or go after balls they normally would not attempt to get because they feel athletically superior. They are, but playing like that is the quickest way to even things out.


Justin Miller comes into the game leading the nation in kickoff returns. The Tigers are ranked third overall in that category.

Duke ranks first in the ACC in giving up only 16.2 yards per kickoff return despite not having a touchback all season. Unless there is one heck of a wind blowing on Saturday, Miller will get a shot at making a big play. It goes without saying that someone’s ranking will fall after Saturday.

Cole Chason has not put up huge numbers this season but he has been very consistent. His average has been around the 40-yard mark most of the season and he has had 14 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line. The coverage unit has been solid all season save for a 49-yard return against Georgia Tech.

Jad Dean did all that was asked of him last week on kickoffs. He limited Miami’s Devin Hester’s big play potential by squibbing the ball. His kickoffs have been good all season other than a few that have gone out of bounds.

Dean did struggle with his field goal attempts. It is not like he was missing chip shots and showed exceptional leg strength on all of his kicks. It will be interesting to see how he reacts this week if given the opportunity to kick.


There is no doubt Clemson should win this game and win it rather easily.

They have shown the desire to fight all season, which is sometimes the hardest attribute for a good team to display. Handling success is another factor that potentially good teams sometimes lack.

That will be the single most important aspect to this game. If they can put last week behind them and focus on the task at hand, they will win. That is what the coaches want to see. Knowing how to fight through adversity and handle success may be polar opposites in many respects, but it is that ability to handle the good and the bad that foster success.

These kids are just that – kids. It is nearly impossible for them to not look ahead to the biggest game of the year or focus on what they did against Miami. It is human nature.

Clemson may look a little sluggish to start but they will settle in soon enough and take care of business. It may not be the blowout many want, but it will look easy in the end as they win 31-13.

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