Mood of the Team
The mood on the team these days is nothing but positive, and rightfully so. A 24-17 upset road win over nationally ranked Miami has a way of curing a lot of problems, and it has done nothing short of that with this football team.
Naturally this week, the biggest concern is that there could be some kind of let down against a team that's yet to win a game in conference play.
"That's what everyone has been saying this week," said Bobby Williamson. "Everyone's talking about a let down. But here's the thing, we aren't 8-0. We need every win we can get, and we want win number six just like when we went to Miami trying to get number five.
"Duke's a hard team, and they play hard. You can't let their record fool you. If you go in there with an attitude that you are going to show up and beat them, then they'll beat you."
Of course, a majority of the team also knows that six of the last seven games that Clemson has played in Wallace Wade Stadium, have been decided by seven points or less.
In other words, nobody is expecting a cakewalk Saturday in Durham. The team has been bombarded this week by the importance of this game in terms of the postseason, as well as the fact that they have to play well to win.
The Game Plan
First and foremost, it's important to note that this isn't your typical Duke team, especially on defense. While the program may not offer the best talent in the league, the Duke defense is not afraid to force the issue with man coverage.
They also get to the football after making the first hit, compiling 21 takeaways (tied for first in the ACC) through the first nine games of the year.
Nevertheless, Duke has struggled almost as much as North Carolina has on the defensive side of the ball this year, ranking next to last in the conference in rushing defense, total defense, and scoring defense.
The Blue Devils also give up more yardage on the ground (229), than through the air (210).
Guess who may have a big day Saturday for the Tigers?
For the first time in a long time, you may actually see a running back get over 25 carries. If Reggie Merriweather was tired after Saturday's win over Miami, he'll be exhausted Saturday afternoon after getting the ball so many times against Duke.
Defensively, Clemson defensive coordinator John Lovett called Duke's starting tight ends, the best in the conference earlier this week. One of those tight ends, Ben Patrick, caught six passes last week against Florida State. He currently leads the team with 27 receptions on the season.
QB Mike Schneider has been solid, completing over 60% of his passes the last three games, but the Blue Devils are expected to use more of RB Cedric Dargan to see if they can open some holes against a confident Clemson defensive front.
"It's all about focus," said Mo Fountain. "We plan on going on and playing with the same intensity the last four weeks. We know that we have to play well for us to win. The defense has to set the tone, and the offense feeds off that.
"You've got to create your own enthusiasm when you play at Duke, but I don't think it's going to be too hard with what we've got at stake. Our whole thing this season has been to take it one game at a time, and right now we are just focused squarely on Duke, there's no looking ahead."
It's extremely important Saturday that Clemson comes out, and sets the tone for this game early on. If the Tigers can establish a lead in the first quarter, then it could be smooth sailing down the home stretch.
However, if Duke comes out and grabs momentum, it could be a dogfight.
In the end, Clemson is too talented on both sides of the ball to expect this to be a close game in the fourth quarter. The motivation of the team also appears to be there in full force. There's a reason why Duke hasn't won a game in the conference this year, and it's not becuase of coaching or effort- it's talent.
Furthermore, the understands that a loss would not only even the Tigers record at 4-4 in the conference, it was also leave the last game of the year as the only opportunity to claim a spot in the postseason.
And nobody wants to see that happen.
Finally, in talking with a multitude of players throughout the week, it's easy to see that this team has regained its swagger, and its confidence.
From the sidelines of the Orange Bowl last weekend, it was easy to tell that after Reggie Merriweather scored to make it a seven-point game in the third quarter, the team's spirits were lifted to where they were just one year ago.
And just like last year, they pulled out a massive upset over a ranked team on national television.
Now, they have to do just like last year once more, and take care of business against an inferior opponent in the Duke Blue Devils. It won't be easy, but a win would guarantee the Tigers a spot in the postseason for the sixth year in a row, and that's something we all should be celebrating considering where this team was just five short weeks ago!
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