This year’s Duke contest is much different from the last. Clemson went into that game riding the momentum generated from a huge win over Miami. They proceeded to have their worst performance of the year in a 16-13 loss.
There are those that call Saturday’s match up a revenge game. Although it may assist a team in becoming more focused on the task at hand, I have never felt revenge plays much or a role in how a team performs on the field.
In fact, I think revenge sometimes hinders a team’s performance. They become too focused on making big plays to ensure a decisive victory and end up tripping over their own feet.
A letdown should not be a concern this week, but not performing up to the level they are capable of achieving is. The number of close games this team has endured in the last year has both positives and negatives. Limiting the negatives is the important aspect this week.
The biggest question for Saturday is whether or not Charlie Whitehurst will start. Based on the limited number of conversations I have had this week, not only will Charlie not start, I do not think he sees the field except in the case of a dire emergency.
Will Proctor will get the nod and Cullen Harper will be his backup. Rob Spence has a lot of confidence in Proctor’s abilities, so much so that he wanted to insert him to begin the second half last week.
Many think Proctor is more of a natural fit for Spence’s offense because of the added threat of his mobility. He performed well under pressure against Texas A&M, but it should be noted that a lot was not asked of him.
He has received a majority, if not all, of the reps with the first team in practice this week. As has always been the case at Clemson, he has been the most beloved player on the team while manning the role of backup quarterback. He now passes that baton to Harper, if only for a week, and the pressure of being under the microscope will provide a different type of tension than what he faced in the first game of the year.
Helping the cause will be the return of James Davis. The freshman running back saw limited action last week because he had yet to recover enough to make an impact. The medical staff has been encouraged with his progress this week and will outfit him with less restrictive padding than what he wore against Tech.
It should be a big week for he and Reggie Merriweather, as Duke is giving up 209.2 yards per game on the ground. Clemson was so successful on the ground last year in Durham that many blame the loss on Mike O’Cain’s reluctance to stick with the ground attack. The Blue Devils are coming off of a loss to Wake Forest that saw the Deacs roll up 419 yards rushing on 51 attempts.
Sophomore linebacker Patrick Bailey was lost for the season in the loss to Florida State. His loss hurt a linebacking corps that was already starting true freshman Michael Brown. The best player in the group appears to be Brendan Dewan, who had a career high 14 tackles against Clemson in 2004.
The star of the defense is junior cornerback John Talley. The South Carolina native has five interceptions this season and 11 for his career. He was on most preseason all-ACC lists and made at least one preseason second-team all-America team. His five picks are a big reason why the Blue Devils have nine interceptions in their last eight games and are giving up under 200 yards a game through the air.
The running game is going to be the key to victory for the offense. Any success Merriweather and Davis have will alleviate some of the pressure the offense may feel because of Whitehurst’s absence. It will also help a play action game that has suffered somewhat in previous weeks.
Look for the tight ends to have more of an impact than they have had to date. Proctor’s mobility likely means they will employ more bootlegs in order to move the pocket and give him the added option of using his feet.
Duke is the only team in the league to have three running backs with a 100-yard rushing performance. Re’quan Boyetter had 123 against Florida State, Justin Boyle notched 113 versus VMI, and Ronnie Drummer registered 101 in the Miami game. Duke had 191 yards and three touchdowns against FSU and as a team they are averaging 137.6 yards a game and 3.6 yards per carry.
The running game has been the focus for an offense that is hitting opponents with a mere 93.9 yards a game passing. They have been playing musical chairs again this year with their quarterbacks. Junior Mike Schneider and true freshman Zack Asack have split time all season, with Asack earning the top spot in recent weeks.
Schneider was an efficient 21-of-30 last year and led the Blue Devils on the drive that tied the game in the final minutes. Asack has started four games and is completing just 48.6% of his passes with six interceptions and four touchdowns. Schneider’s completion percentage is 47.6% with no touchdowns and five interceptions.
Tight ends Ben Patrick and Andy Roland are a big part of the passing game. They are among the active ACC leaders in receptions, yards, and TDs and combined for 8 catches and 80 yards last year. Their role has been intensified because of the loss of wide receiver Jomar Wright. Clemson has struggled with tight ends for years, so finding a way to limit their production will be important.
Duke is converting on just 32% of their third down conversions, which is one of the biggest reasons why they are registering just over 15 points a game. They were successful at times last year because the Tigers gave up big yards on first and second down. Success early in each series will help force the Blue Devils to rely on a passing game that has failed them miserably this year and limit the amount of success they have on the ground.
The linebackers will have an opportunity to boost their egos because they will be asked to do a lot against a team that does not match up well from a physical standpoint. Their tackles for loss number should go up and do not be surprised to see an interception from the group because of emphasis on their tight ends and attacking the middle of the field.
Duke found a lot of success with 10 to 15 yard crossing patterns last year because the front did not apply a lot of pressure. That is a hole in a zone defense that can be attacked if the quarterback is given time to let the route develop. The defensive line must not allow those types of patterns to develop.
Clemson struggled mightily with Duke’s pooch kickoffs last year. It is unlikely they will use the same plan of attack this year because Justin Miller has moved on, but they need to be ready just in case Ted Roof decides he does not want the ball in Aaron Kelly’s hands. They are giving up just under 21 yards a return.
On the flip side, they are averaging around 22 yards per return. Ronnie Drummer has a 100-yard return and a 25.2 yard average. The kickoff unit performed up to par last week and should have another good effort on Saturday.
Freshman Joe Surgan is 4-of-5 this year with a long of 47. Three of his four attempts from 40-plus yards have been good.
Punter Chris Sprague has been on the field a lot, as he has 64 attempts in nine games. His 41.1 yard average includes 17 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line and just one touchback.
Cole Chason…there really is not much to say. Get it done once and for all or find someone else.
Duke has played 14 true freshmen in each of the last two seasons. They now have 17 offensive and 9 defensive players listed on the depth chart that are freshmen. That is evidence of the improvements Ted Roof is making on the recruiting trails, but it also shows how badly they have been decimated by injuries and the lack of talent that was in place when he took over.
Roof is a good coach but he does not have a lot with which to work. Duke is far and away the worst team in the conference and their level of talent is more than just a few notches below that of Clemson.
There is no reason whatsoever for the loss last year and, regardless of what the players and coaches say, there has to be a few lingering effects. The team cannot let those thoughts creep to the forefront if they are to win this game in a manner in which they are capable.
This is not a time to get fancy or force big plays. The coaches need to stick with the basics and the players need to play within the system. It may not be the recipe for an exciting performance the fans would like to see, but it is what this team needs more than anything with three games remaining.
Leaders need to step up in order to ensure things are kept under control and the game plan is executed as close to perfection as possible. Two things will happen if that occurs. First, some confidence is built heading into the FSU game. Secondly, the big victory they so desperately need will come.
It is hard to judge what will actually happen because I have been fooled by these seniors and junior too many times this season. Until they prove me wrong, I have to go with the trend. The Tigers win 31-7.