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Duke at Clemson
November 15th, 2003
Clemson hosts Duke sandwiched between the big win versus Florida State the previous week and the upcoming trip to Columbia to face arch-rival South Carolina. It will mark the final home game for Clemson seniors and their final ACC game. Clemson will have a chance to finish over .500 in conference play with a win versus Duke in addition to improving their bowl status in the ACC pecking order.
Duke is coming off a 2-10 season where the Blue Devils once again failed to get an ACC win. The lone Duke wins were week 1 versus East Carolina and week 5 versus Navy.
Clemson narrowly defeated Duke last year 34-31 an Aaron Hunt field goal. It was the coming out party for Charlie Whitehurst, who made his first start as a Tiger.
In the off-season, Duke gave Carl Franks (5-40 in 4 years at Duke) a three year contract extension. The move was seen as a vote of confidence to Franks, who has brought in decent talent to Durham as well as assembling a solid staff with him.
This will be the 11th overall game and the 7th ACC game for Duke in the 2003 season. The Blue Devils open the season at Virginia before returning home to host Western Carolina, Rice, and Northwestern, and Florida State in succession. The Blue Devils then travel to Maryland before again returning home to face Wake Forest and N.C. State. The Blue Devils then step back out of conference to travel to Knoxville to face Tennessee. The Blue Devil's final home game will be Georgia Tech the week before Duke travels to Clemson.
Key Returning Players For The Blue Devils
Duke probably returns more starters on both sides of the ball that almost any team in the nation. As the old saying goes, that could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing.
On offense, the Blue Devils return a starter at every position, led by a pair of running backs that are both talented and diverse. Fullback Alex Wade is a load to handle, and the smaller tailback Chris Douglas compliments him nicely. The pair gives Duke muscle and shiftiness along with the ability to slow down a game. Together, they have run for over 3,000 yards during their career at Duke. Tight end Andy Rowland is a John Mackey Award finalist, continuing a trend of solid Duke tight ends. Reggie Love returns to lead the wide receivers, which are all small other than the 6'-4" Love. The offensive line is experienced and big, averaging over 6'-4" and 315 pounds. Duke will start 4 seniors and 1 junior on the offensive line, led by tackle Drew Strojny.
On the other side of the ball, Duke returns 7 of the 9 starters from a defense that was pretty solid under the direction of Ted Roof. The linebackers are led by Ryan Fowler, who has led the Blue Devils in tackles for the last three years. Brendan Dewan returns after suffering a knee injury midway through the season to solidify his linebacker position. Senior tackle Matt Zielinski leads a small defensive line that averages only 260 pounds. Zielinski had 18 ½ stops behind the line of scrimmage last year, tops on the Blue Devil defense. The entire secondary returns, including senior strong safety Terrell Smith.
Place kicker Brent Garber and Punter Trey McDonald return to solidify the always dependable Duke kicking game.
|Running back Alex Wade is just one of a handful of returning players on both sides of the ball for the Blue Devils in 2003.|
Chris Douglas and Alex Wade are two very talented and dependable backs that Duke will use to pound opponents. If the Blue Devils can stay close or lead ACC games in the 4th quarter, these two can literally carry the Blue Devils to a win. In addition, they are running behind a very experienced offensive line that is as big and strong as any in the ACC.
Tight end Andy Rowland provides a dependable dump off target for quarterback Adam Smith. In addition to his blocking skills, Rowland has dependable hands and a knack for getting open underneath opposing linebackers.
The Duke secondary was one of the best in the conference last year, and they all return. Duke had the top rushing defense in the conference last year, and much of that credit goes to the secondary. Duke played a lot of man on the corners and pulled the safeties up for run support. Expect much of the same this year from the Devils, as Franks utilizes his talent on the corners.
Beyond Reggie Love, nobody stands out at the receiver position. Senterrio Landrum and Khary Sharpe are both smaller than 5-11 and neither weighs more than 200 pounds wet. For Smith to throw for 2000+ yards like he did last year, somebody will have to step up on the other side of the field that Love lines up on.
The defensive line is small, almost too small. Duke does employ a 3-4 scheme, which emphasizes the linebackers, but teams still will be able to push the Blue Devils around on the line of scrimmage. That puts a premium on the play at linebacker, which brings us to another weakness for the Blue Devils. The loss of Jamyon Small from last year forces the Blue Devils to start inexperienced junior Giuseppe Aguanno. His development will be a point of focus in August for the Blue Devils, and a key to the defensive success.
Duke is an improved team from last year, and they were competitive in 2002. The Blue Devils lost by 5 points or less in 5 of their 12 ballgames, including a narrow home loss to the Clemson Tigers. Franks is slowly building a team that should avoid winless seasons in the coming years if he is allowed to stay in Durham.
The cloud that hangs over the Blue Devils is the fact that they have won so few games the past 4 years. That mentality can get stuck in the heads of the players, who are just waiting for something bad to happen and for them to get beat. Franks must find a way to get these players to believe that they can win, a task that is harder than it may seem.
The Duke game for Clemson is sandwiched between emotional games creating a vacuum of horrors. It will be too easy in the week leading up to Duke for the Clemson players to look back at the FSU game and to look forward to the South Carolina game. This is one of those games that coaching is critical in keeping the players focused.
Clemson will be favored in the 15-20 point range.
Clemson knocks off a pesky Blue Devil team by a score of 31-20. It won't be easy, mainly because Clemson will be in that emotional vacuum between big games. But the Tigers will get the must needed win against a Duke team that, no matter how improved from a few years ago, is still Duke.
Clemson improves to 8-3 overall and finish ACC play at 5-3. The Tigers move up a spot in the polls to rest at #23 as they await the in-state battle with South Carolina.
Scott Rhymer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Scott and CUTigers.com publisher Roy Philpott are the co-hosts of the CUTigers.com Pregame Show on WCCP 104.9 FM, which airs 2 hours prior to the Tiger Tailgate Show on Clemson Gamedays.