Game preview: Duke vs. Clemson

lkeeley@newsobserver.comNovember 2, 2012 


Duke running back Josh Snead (9) breaks through a gap for a first down in the fourth quarter as UNC defenders converge on him. Duke beats UNC 33-30 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C. Saturday October 20, 2012.


Duke is 5-0 in Wallace Wade this season. Clemson will put that streak to the test.

Duke vs. Clemson

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Wallace Wade Staduim, Durham

Line: Clemson by 12.5

TV/Radio: ESPN2, WDNC-620 AM, WKIX-102.9 FM

What they’re saying nationally about Duke:

ESPN’s Heather Dinich: The Blue Devils are already bowl eligible, but this team has got to prove it can be competitive against the upper echelon teams on their schedule. They simply have not done that this year, getting blown out by No. 14 Stanford (50-13) earlier in the season and No. 9 Florida State (48-7) last week. Now comes another huge test against No. 13 Clemson, a team that found its offensive groove again last week in a 42-13 win over Wake Forest. Clemson has won 15 of the past 18 in the series. Interesting note: this is the first night game played in the series, which began in 1934.

What they’re saying nationally about Clemson:

Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel: Welcome back, Sammy Watkins. The formerly injured Clemson star caught his first touchdown while amassing a school-record 202 receiving yards in the Tigers' (7-1, 4-1 ACC) 42-13 rout of Wake Forest (4-4, 2-4).

The Sporting News and Phil Steele both currently predict a Clemson-Georgia Sugar Bowl. And the Charlston Post and Courier’s Travis Sawchik notes that the Tigers have never played in back-to-back BCS bowls. Add it up, and Clemson should not be lacking motivation this week.

Key Player for the opposition: QB Tajh Boyd

While Clemson’s dynamic receiving duo of DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins are having successful seasons, it’s due in large part to the work for the Tigers’ quarterback, Tajh Boyd.

The junior has already topped most of the Clemson career passing records, and last week he added another one to his collection when he threw for a school-high 428 yards against Wake Forest. Boyd was 27-of-38 and threw for five touchdowns as well in the Tigers’ 42-13 road rout.

On the year, Boyd has thrown for 2,336 yards. He set the Clemson record last season with 3,828 in his first full year as the starter.

Boyd is an incredibly accurate deep-ball thrower,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “You know that going in, so you better do something about it.”

Key Matchup:

Clemson RB Andre Ellington vs. Duke’s defensive line

While the clear focus will be on shutting down the Tigers’ aerial show, Clemson does rank fourth in the ACC with an average of 180.4 rushing yards per game. Senior Andre Ellingtonranks second in the league with 754 yards on the ground for the year. Boyd’s running ability is also much improved this year, as he has rushed for 278 yards, more than he had through all of last season. The Blue Devils have surrendered an average 235.7 rushing yards in their last three games, and this week, Duke will likely be without DE Kenny Anunike, the most disruptive force on the defensive line. No one player will replace him, as Duke will use a rotation.

Key Mismatch:

Clemson DBs Xavier Brewer and Bashad Breeland vs. Duke WRs Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder

The Tigers have lost two defensive backs for the year due to injuries, and Breeland missed the Wake Forest game with an abdominal strain. He is expected to play this week, though, and will try to duplicate the shutdown performance Florida State used on Vernon last week. Vernon, Duke’s top target, was limited to three catches for 12 yards in Tallahassee, well below his average of six catches for 84.6 yards per game. The Tigers’ defense is a far cry from that of the Seminoles, though, as Clemson ranks tied for ninth in the ACC in total defense, giving up an average of 421.1 yards per contest.

Key Numbers:


Wins Duke has against ranked teams since 1994.


Duke’s November record under Cutcliffe


Minimum number of points Clemson has posted in its past seven games. That ties an ACC record set by the 1995 Florida State Seminoles for scoring at least 37 points in seven straight contests.

Pulse check:

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said his team left Tallahassee beat up physically and emotionally. The Blue Devils lost Juwan Thompson and Sean Renfree during the game (Thompson is doubtful to return this week, and Renfree has been medically cleared), and Anunike also will likely miss the Clemson game as a result of an injury sustained against Florida State.

Mentally, though, Duke will need to be tough enough to shake off the big plays the Tigers do make and not let them snowball like they did at Florida State.

“The biggest thing I watch is that they can steamroll you,” Cutcliffe said of Clemson. “They can let one or two plays that they’re going to make turn into six, seven or eight plays. You just can’t go there mentally. You’ve got to stay out of that mentality, and that’s a real challenge for young people.”

Tweet of the week:

“@aceboone7: True statement. #dukegang” —backup quarterback Anthony Boone

Their predictions:

ESPN’s Dinich: Clemson 42, Duke 28

CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman: Clemson 44, Duke 27

CBS Sports’ Shawn Krest: Clemson 41, Duke 28

Sports Illustrated’s Mandel: Clemson 37, Duke 20

My prediction:

I have no doubts that the Duke staff has done its best to prepare the secondary for Watkins and Hopkins. But if your opponent is just flat-out more athletic than you, there’s not much that can be done. Clemson will get more than a handful of long pass completions (because Boyd has the awareness and arm strength to get his receivers the ball), and Duke will be playing catch-up early.

On the bright side, though, the offense will put up more points than it did last week against Florida State’s elite defense. The Tigers have a few soft spots, particularly at cornerback.

Clemson 38, Duke 21

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