5 Keys To Drowning Duke

Clemson travels up to Durham Saturday in a game that is even more critical than any must-win game of the Tommy Bowden era. Not only do the Tigers desperately need a win, you sure wouldn't want to be the first team in the conference in more than two years to lose to Duke.

Tommy Bowden's teams have averaged 56 points a game versus Duke under his reign, and I would be shocked if the Tigers even sniffed that amount Saturday. Here are my 5 keys to the Tigers getting a win in Durham Saturday.

Where is your head, boys?
The answer to the above question is…who knows? It will be a difficult challenge for the coaching staff to keep the team from disintegrating ala 1998. Senior leadership is obviously very important. Altroy Bodrick and Nick Eason will be instrumental in keeping this team from believing they don't have anything to play for. The fact is, the Tigers still have plenty to play for.

But the greatest onus on having the team ready to play Saturday will fall on the coaches. This coaching staff must find some way to get this team to play with heart against a team that most look at as a joke. Tough job, but they get paid nicely to do that job well. We'll see Saturday.

Coach Bowden has said this week that the coaching staff may simplify things, especially on the offensive front, in order to give the line its best chance to succeed. Sounds good in theory, but we'll have to wait and see if it turns out to work. Sometimes simplified is not good. I remember Danny Ford, admittedly, took only 7 offensive plays to Columbia to play the Gamecocks in 1987. The 20-7 loss did not chalk one up for simplified is better approach. But, there may be something to this theory with this team.

I think we can all agree that what has been done the past 3 weeks is not working on the offensive line. At least try something, simplified or not, to try and jump start this unit. If simplified does not work Saturday, you can always go back to complex for the North Carolina game. You are not going to out-smart the Blue Devils anyway, considering their average SAT score.

Don't Press
Having scored over 50 points a game against the Blue Devils the past three years, it would be easy to start pressing if you don't have a 20 point lead at the end of the first quarter. But Duke is not going to lay an egg, and the Tigers are not good enough to run the Blue Devils out of Wallace Wade.

The result should be a game that is not decided until late in the 3rd quarter or early 4th quarter. Clemson coaches, players, and the fans that make the trip to Durham should all understand that before the fact. If Clemson feels pressure to put the Blue Devils away early, that sword could turn around and stab them directly in the stomach as the game drags on. Be patient, play your game, and get a win without beauty in Durham. That would be a-ok with me.

Throw A Curve Ball
If anybody reading this would be ashamed if Clemson threw something at Duke that the Blue Devils have not see on film with Clemson, then their optimism overrides mine. There is no shame in pulling a little Tom-Foolery on the Devils, albeit trick plays or simply different plays called from familiar formations.

Clemson fans have grown accustomed to calling the plays before the snap based on formations and personnel. The Duke coaching staff is not stupid, they see the same trends. Lining up in a formation that screams run, then throwing the ball unexpectedly would be a good thing for once in a blue moon. And I don't think you will hear Bernard Rambert or Yusef Kelly complain if Clemson ran the ball when the whole stadium expects pass. There is no shame in being sneaky…just ask the 1999 Clemson coaching staff.

How About A Long Field?
They say the walk from the locker rooms at Wallace Wade is about as long as a walk from Clemson to Pendleton. If it is not, it sure looks like it from the stands of the Rose Bowl East.

I would love to see what the Clemson defense could do with an afternoon of long fields in front of them. Will they consistently give up points if Duke has to drive the ball 70 or 80 yards? Or, gasp, what about a 95-yard drive after a punt was pooched inside the 5-yard line? I have a sneaky suspicion this defense can be even better if the offense and special teams gives the defense a long field most of the afternoon. At the very least it would be nice to see…since we have not seen it to date this year.

Predicting this game is like playing the South Carolina Powerball Lottery. To get a pulse of this team's mental state is hard, and Wallace Wade is not exactly the kind of place that will fire you up. But, this coaching staff owes the players, and fans, to have this team ready to play Saturday. We may learn more about this coaching staff Saturday than at any other time this year.

This one will be closer than most of us what like to believe. A nail biter is coming, and the team that makes the least mistakes in the 2nd half will walk away with a win in front of 15,000 or so folks. My hope, and prediction, is that it will be Clemson.


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