No. 10 Clemson at Duke 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)

Duke secondary prepares for Clemson's air show

A week after facing Florida St., Duke must try to contain Hopkins, Watkins and Co.

lkeeley@newsobserver.comOctober 31, 2012 

— Duke isn’t going to stop Clemson’s dynamic receiving duo of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins.

But the Blue Devils sure hope they can limit their effectiveness.

“You’re not going to stop a team like Clemson, you have to minimize the damage,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Wednesday. “We’ve got to minimize some of the big plays we gave up last week. You can’t afford to let that become a theme. We have to have a game offensively where we try to keep them off the field, which we couldn’t accomplish.”

Watkins and Hopkins represent the most dangerous duo Duke (6-3, 3-2 ACC) has faced this season. And they’re coming to town, along with the rest of the No. 10-ranked Clemson squad (7-1, 4-1), following Duke’s worst pass defense performance of the season.

Last week in Tallahassee, Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel only completed eight passes – but they went for 282 yards and two touchdowns (that’s 35.25 yards per completion).

Clemson, meanwhile, boasts a more equally (if not more) effective quarterback in Tajh Boyd, who is 10th in the nation in passing efficiency and leads the ACC in total offense at 326.8 yards per game, thanks to his dual-threat abilities.

His primary targets – Watkins and Hopkins – are among the ACC leaders as well. It was Watkins who was voted the ACC Preseason Player of the Year after winning ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2011, but, it is Hopkins who is tied for the lead the ACC with 10 touchdown receptions. Hopkins, a junior, has 58 receptions for 909 yards, with four 100-yard games so far.

Watkins showed signs of the ability many had been expecting to see all season last Thursday at Wake Forest, racking up 202 receiving yards in a 42-13 rout. That set a school record, breaking the one Hopkins set this season when he collected 197 against Boston College.

“I did read and notice (Wake Forest) coach (Jim) Grobe’s comments afterward, and he plays them every year, he was just shocked at their speed and how fast they were,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s improved. Obviously those guys have. So you have to prepare yourself for the shock, and you have to compete every snap.”

Duke can’t mimic Watkins’ or Hopkins’ size or speed – Hopkins is listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and Hopkins at 6-2, 205 – in practice. As far as schemes go, Clemson doesn’t use anything out of the ordinary, cornerback Ross Cockrell said. The Tigers just let their playmakers do what they do best.

“They pretty much just rely on their athleticism,” Cockrell said. “They’re pretty good receivers in open space. You don’t have to do much to get them open.”

On paper the physical mismatch looks rather similar to what Duke faced last week, but the Blue Devils will have the benefit of playing at home, where they are undefeated this season. It will be the first memorable prime-time November game in Durham in years, giving Duke a chance to redeem itself after last week’s showing.

“You better believe we’re disappointed that we didn’t perform well on a big stage,” Cutcliffe said of the Florida State loss. “We’re not discouraged. We’re not embarrassed by that fact, it’s just a fact. We didn’t play well.”

As far as specific plans for stopping Watkins and Hopkins, Duke is going to emphasize technique, just like last week. If Cutcliffe could, though, Duke would get more creative.

“Play with 12 or 13,” he said when asked what he thought Duke should do defensively. “They have as many weapons as anybody in football.”

Keeley: 919-829-4556

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