Last week, the Duke offense made a big statement to the rest of their opponents, "We are going to run the ball right at you. Stop us." Duke piled up a staggering 254 yards on the ground against a Georgia Tech defense that was giving up 95 yards per game coming in. The Devils' offensive line got a great push, and controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the afternoon. The running of Chris Douglas didn't hurt either, as he gained a career-best 211 yards. Expect Duke to stick with the ground-first game plan. Clemson has good overall athleticism on the defensive side, so the Duke offense will be tested this week. The Tigers are giving up 153 yards per game rushing, so they can be run on. Middle linebacker John Leake and outside linebacker Leroy Hill are the main run-stoppers. Duke will need to be able to throw the ball some, as Clemson surely will stack the line. Clemson is a bit more successful in pass defense, giving up 205 yards per game. This unit is led by cornerback Justin Miller, the ACC top interception man from 2002.
When Clemson has the ball:
Sophomore quarterback Charlie Whitehurst leads the Clemson offense. He burst on to the scene last year against Duke, where he led the Tigers back from a 2-touchdown deficit in the 4th quarter to defeat the Devils. He is a good passer that can also tuck the ball and beat you with his legs. The best part of the Clemson offense is definitely their wide receivers. Airese Curry, Kevin Youngblood, and Derrick Hamilton are probably the best trio of receivers in the ACC. All 3 are among the league leaders in receiving yardage per game. The Duke secondary will be severely tested this week. Clemson began the year trying to employ a power running game to control the clock. This has met with mixed results, as the Tigers are 7th in the conference in rushing at 124 yards per game. They have reverted back to more of an aerial attack now. Georgia Tech was able to run on Duke, but I have a feeling that Clemson will ride the horse that has carried them in the past. That horse is the passing game.
Duke keys to the game:
1. Coverage – The Clemson receiving corps is a tall task for anyone, literally. The top 3 receivers for the Tigers are at least 6'3", and they all can run. Duke is in a little bit of a pickle with regard to the matchups. Cornerbacks Kenny Stanford and Brian Greene bring different assets to the table. Greene is big and can match up physically. Stanford is short, but can match up speed-wise. Whatever Duke does on defense, they are going to need outstanding coverage from these two, along with reserve CB John Talley to successfully slow the Tigers down.
2. Control the Clock – The best way to stop any offense is to not let them get on the field. Duke leads the ACC in time of possession. They do this by running the ball and shortening the game. It is imperative that the Devils are able to sustain long drives and take huge chunks of time off the clock. The less number of possessions Clemson gets, the less opportunity they have to score. With the WR-DB mismatch that Clemson owns, it is imperative that Duke keeps them off the field.
3. The Front 4 - When focusing on the Clemson WR vs. Duke DB battle it will be easy to forget the most important factor of the equation, getting pressure on Whitehurst. The best defense against a passing attack is to make the QB hurry. That forces hasty decisions, which lead to mistakes and in this case, bad throws. The Duke defensive line will need to be able to mount a pass rush on their own, without help from blitzing linebackers. The linebackers will be needed to help in coverage. If Duke can get to Whitehurst and force bad decisions, they have a chance to get the Clemson passing game out of rhythm. If that happens, Duke will be in excellent shape to win the ball game.
The Devils are facing a completely different opponent from the one they faced a week ago. While Georgia Tech tries to win games with a conservative offense and a stout defense, Clemson will try and beat you passing the ball to their outstanding receivers. This will be a stern test for the Duke defense, as they haven't done a good job matching up with top-notch wide receivers. Getting pressure on Whitehurst with the front-4 only will allow Duke to drop more in coverage and help the defensive backs out. Offensively, Duke needs to score early, so they are not pressured into start throwing the ball. If Duke does have to throw the ball, they must be efficient. Duke only completed 8 passes last week, but those 8 passes netted 141 yards. That is the sort of efficiency Duke needs to be successful.
I don't think either team has a momentum advantage, since they both won huge games last week. Clemson will score via the pass 3 times this week. Duke must be able to score points as well to match them. Duke will run the ball and control the clock. They will eventually wear down the Clemson defense. Chris Douglas has been the offensive star for Duke the past 3 weeks. Douglas will play fine, but I think someone else will step up this week. My guess is Mike Schneider will have one of his best games to date as a Blue Devil. Duke goes to Death Valley and wins for the first time in over 20 years.
Clemson - 24