Even the special teams got into the act, creating a fumble early in the first quarter to go along with Justin Miller's punt return.
The win was impressive in that the Tigers manhandled Duke, but it is made more impressive coming off the big win against Florida State. This had all the makings of a letdown game, but the coaching staff and seniors did not allow it.
Here is how I graded the Tigers in the big win.
Not Another Chris, Please!
Probably the most impressive area in the Clemson win was the way the Tiger defense completely shut down the ACC's leading rusher in Chris Douglas. Douglas rushed 16 times for 62 yards (3.9 average), down from his 95.7 yard per game and 5 yards per carry average.
Much of that credit, of course, goes to Leroy Hill and John Leake at their linebacker position. Leake had 5 tackles and Hill had 4 in a game where plenty of reserves were on the field in the 4th quarter.
But the biggest credit due for shutting down Douglas has to go to the Tiger down lineman. Donnell Washington played the game of his career, amassing 7 tackles (2 for a loss) and 1 sack. Gaines Adams added 4 tackles and 2 sacks, as the Tiger defensive lineman controlled the line of scrimmage against a big Duke offensive line.
Pound The Ground
Statistically, Clemson was able to rush for a respectable 142 yards on the ground. However, you never got the sense that Clemson was controlling the line of scrimmage in the same degree as last week versus Florida State. Part of that could be attributed to Duke's schemes. Part of that can be attributed to Chad Jasmin getting the bulk of the carries on Senior Day. And part of that can be attributed to not making the big plays on the ground by breaking a tackle or such.
At any rate, the lack of production against the ACC's next to worst running defense is a cause of mild concern, especially heading into the biggest game of the year next week.
Aim To Kill
For only the 2nd time this year, Clemson stayed aggressive even though we were controlling the game. The quick 14-0 lead seemed eerily similar to North Carolina a few weeks ago, but the Tigers kept after Duke to the tune of a 24-0 halftime lead.
Clemson continued to pounce in the second half with Miller's punt return and Chansi Stuckey's first touchdown run of his career.
Nothing the coaching staff did late in the game suggested that they were content to run out the clock. And while you may ask for a little bit better execution in the 2nd half to get touchdowns instead of field goals, the intent was to keep the pressure on Duke and that is exactly what the Tigers tried to do.
Seeing Red In The Zone
Clemson continues to misfire inside the red zone, at times failing to get any points at all. Aaron Hunt missed a field goal and Charlie Whitehurst threw an interception to add to the two field goals Hunt did make. That is 4 trips inside the red zone where the Tigers were not able to score a touchdown.
That number is too high to beat really good teams, and fortunately Duke is not a really good team. It is hard to pin point what the problem is for the Tigers in the red zone, but it stems mostly from not having a dominating running game. The field shrinks in the red zone, and the lack of a vertical passing game that close to the end zone allows teams to better cover the Tiger passing game.
While Clemson's running problems from a year ago have been improved dramatically, the Tigers still need to take another step forward in the running game next year if we want to be a really good football team.
The good news is if we improve as much from last year to this year, we will be just fine in 2004 in the red zone.
Don't Even Think About It, Injury Bug
Ok, everybody can give out a nice sigh of relief. Clemson avoided any major injuries Saturday and will head to Columbia next Saturday about as healthy as you can possibly be at this point in the season.
Airese Currie sat out, and hopefully he will be healthy enough to play next Saturday in Columbia. Assuming Currie is able to play, the Tigers will be at full strength next Saturday (minus J.J. Howard).
In addition to staying away from the injury bug, the Clemson coaches were able to play a lot of young guys late in the game, giving them valuable minutes in live action. It was nice to see Chansi Stuckey get some reps as a wide receiver, and Stuckey looked good under center in the 4th quarter.
Overall, you have to be pretty excited about the lack of injuries in the game and overall how the game transpired.
· It was a disappointing crowd, and instead of bloodying up an otherwise perfect afternoon of football, I'll hold my tongue on this one. You know who you are if you were not there.
· I loved the purple jerseys in Atlanta with the white pants. The purple/orange combo was a little tough to get used to, but it is hard to argue with the results. Let me cast my vote for all white next week.
· It was great to see Clemson make a big play on a punt return. We have been waiting for it all year because of the talent returning punts for Clemson…and it finally happened. Add that to the Derrick Hamilton kick off return against UNC, and you have to say this year has been a marked improvement in the special teams game.
· Kudos for Hunt's 41 yard field goal, but what the heck happened on the 31 yarder? We are going to need those next week.
· Jad Dean looked great Saturday, booming most of his kicks in the end zone or very near at worst.
· There will, of course, be much debate about the South Carolina game this Saturday. Do yourself a favor and don't buy into the notion we are going to whip them up and down the field. Their staff knows all to well the importance of them winning. They understand what a loss would mean to their program and to Sir Lou. We will get their best shot, take it to the bank. I'll take a one point win right now and run like Airese Currie in the 100 yard dash.
Grading The Tigers Versus Duke
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