Roy Martin: Duke vs. Clemson Postgame Analysis

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Justin Miller had a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown which was the first since 2000.
Justin Miller had a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown which was the first since 2000.

Clemson’s victory over Duke was just what they needed. After notching the biggest regular season win in school history against Florida State, the Tigers needed to have a good all-around performance. Even though Duke is nowhere near the caliber of opponent Florida State is, the 40-7 victory proved a lot.

It showed the Tigers have made some very important mental strides. There are too many times that a team will follow up a landmark victory with a huge letdown. When you consider Duke was sandwiched between Florida State and South Carolina, it is easy to see why Clemson could have easily forgotten to show up on Saturday.

Instead, Tommy Bowden had his team focused on the task at hand as they easily handled the Blue Devils. More than anything, the victory showed that the maturation process that has been in motion all year, might finally be producing dividends. Recovering from the Wake loss was a great sign. Coming out of the gates the way they did against Duke may have been an even better sign.


Clemson had a good offensive performance. For the second straight week the coaches stuck to the basic game plan they have used for most of the season while sprinkling in a few wrinkles. The no huddle offense, in which Charlie looks to the sideline for the play after setting the offense, was still very prevalent. Some fans have grown weary of such an attack, but it has been working. One thing to note is that the Tigers usually still snap the ball with the same amount of time on the play clock as most teams that huddle.

The combination of Duane Coleman and Chad Jasmin was once again very successful. The two compliment each other very well. Coleman has improved tremendously since the Georgia game by becoming a better player each and every week. His emergence as a receiver out of the backfield has given the Tigers another weapon that they can use against blitzes – the screen pass.

More Duke Coverage
Postgame Audio Video Highlights Postgame Notes

Charlie Whitehurst became the first 3,000-yard passer in Clemson history. It was a great accomplishment for the sophomore because it came in the 11th game of the season. The 12-game seasons that have been scheduled the last two years are not the norm. His feat will not need an asterisk when it is logged into the record books.

The offensive line again did a good job of protecting the running backs and quarterbacks. Ron West has become comfortable with a 10-man rotation in the latter part of the season. All 10 guys saw plenty of action. Because Clemson’s offense has been averaging a high number of plays each game and their pace can sometimes be anything but slow, developing this depth is paying off.

Chansi Stuckey assumed the role of Slash as he had playing time at both wide receiver and quarterback. He showed his athleticism with some exciting runs and he notched the first rushing touchdown of his career. One thing worthy of noting is how sharp he looked on his two pass attempts. Granted, two attempts are not enough to begin judging how good of a quarterback someone is, but he showed good zip and accuracy on the run. He looked much better than he did earlier in the year. His apparent improvement is a testament to how good of a quarterback coach Mike O’Cain is.

The only real negatives were a few missed scoring opportunities and some missed reads. Duke picked off two passes in the end zone. Both of the interceptions came after the game was firmly in hand, but that is still no excuse. Whitehurst has to cut out those mistakes against good teams.

He also appeared to miss a couple of reads that cost him shots at wide-open receivers. The one that sticks out the most was when he tried to force a ball into a well-covered Kevin Youngblood, instead of looking off to a wide-open Derrick Hamilton for what would have been another sure touchdown. Again, Charlie is a young quarterback and these types of mistakes are to be expected.

Possibly his most unusual pass of the year came on a designed run. The option play that Derrick Hamilton scored on was a forward lateral. The result was an excellent scoring play, but the Tigers were fortunate Whitehurst had not passed the line of scrimmage. Hamilton must maintain a better pitch relationship in the future.

Nitpicky? Yes. But, they are worth pointing out because it is these minute details that can make all the difference in a tight contest.


Duke spent much of the day on their side of the field. They never mounted any drives that were serious scoring threats. Their lone touchdown was the end result of a 25-yard, one-play drive after a Clemson fumble.

Clemson did a very good job of completely shutting down the Blue Devil defense. In fact, Clemson did such a good job that all Duke could muster was eight punts, two interceptions, and only 174 yards of total offense. That is not a bad performance when you consider Duke has the biggest, most experienced line in the ACC, as well as one of the better backs.

Speed was the biggest factor in their success. They were flying all over the field. There were numerous times when the Tigers had eight and nine guys on the pile before the referees could blow the whistle.

The entire front four had a very good game. Donnell Washington was the first lineman to lead the team in tackles since the South Carolina game in 1997. He, DeJuan Polk, Eric Coleman, and Trey Tate are the biggest reason why Duke struggled to get anything going. They stuffed the run and applied good pressure on passing downs.

Gaines Adams and Vontrell Jamison continued to show improvement as they made a strong case for more playing time. Those two, along with Mo Fountain, have played very well this season and could be one of the most athletic trios Clemson has ever had at defensive end.

The secondary gave up a big pass play of 26 yards on the first drive, but played nearly flawlessly the rest of the game. That one play accounted for nearly half of Duke’s 57 passing yards. Jamaal Fudge stopped a scoring drive with an interception, but he could not outdo Justin Miller, who had an acrobatic pick earlier in the game.

The performances by the front four and secondary made it an easy game for the linebackers. They did not get as much action as they have in past games, but they still played well. Leroy Hill added a couple of more tackles for loss to his resume and John Leake made the most of his limited opportunities.

A lot of reserves made an appearance on the last couple of Duke drives. Todd McClinton had a successful return after sitting out the first 10 games because of seizures. It was good to see a guy that has gone through so much make a return.


Aaron Hunt had his longest field goal of the year. Unfortunately, he also missed a 27-yarder and had an extra point blocked. The missed field goal ended a streak of 11 straight conversions. In his defense, the snap appeared to be as tough one for Cole Chason to handle. Still, a good kicker always takes the blame for a miss.

Cole Chason only punted twice for an average of 37.5 yards. Both punts were covered as well as the coaches would like, and resulted in fair catches.

The return game got a big boost from Justin Miller’s explosive return. He benefited from some great blocks and used his speed to make the rest happen. He and Hamilton are a tough combination because of their different styles. Miller relies on speed and power, as he likes to get north/south. Hamilton is more like a squirrel crossing a busy street. He dances around and relies on his quickness. Miller became only the second player in Clemson history to have a punt return and kick return for a touchdown in his career.

Jad Dean is still very inconsistent when it comes to putting the ball deep into the end zone. The good thing is that he gets a lot of height on his kicks that do not result in touchbacks. The result has been a much improved coverage unit.


The outcome of the game was a pleasant surprise for most Clemson fans as the outcome was never in doubt. The game was full of positives. The few negatives were things that can easily be corrected.

Clemson beat the Blue Devils in a way fans have grown accustomed to over the years. Still, the ease with which they beat them was somewhat of a surprise considering how inconsistent Clemson has been throughout the season. The team has become extremely focused the last couple of weeks. Maybe the Wake game was a much-needed wake-up call.

Whatever the reason for this renewed vigor, the Tigers have now put together two very good victories for the first time all year. If they continue their focus and improvement, the chances of a third such victory will greatly increase.

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