Keys to the Game

The newly invigorated Clemson Tigers (6-4) entertain an equally invigorated Duke Blue Devil (3-7) football team in Death Valley Saturday at 1:00. Both teams are coming off of upsets of massive porportions.

It also will make the final home game for a host of Clemson seniors, including Khaleed Vaughn, and Gregory Walker among others.

Duke is coming off its biggest win the past 3 years last week in whipping Georgia Tech 41-17. The Blue Devils also have wins this year over Western Carolina and Rice. The Blue Devils have been competitive in some of their losses, most notably to Maryland (33-20), N.C. State (28-21), and Tennessee (23-6).

Clemson has an opportunity to win 2 games in a row for the first time since a three game winning streak against Furman, Middle Tennessee State and Georgia Tech back in September.

The Tigers also will be trying to ensure a winning conference record for the first time since 2000.

Here are my 5 keys to the game on Saturday.

Not Another Chris, Please!
Chris Barclay of Wake Forest does not exactly elicit fond memories for the Tiger Nation. Barclay carved up the Tiger defense two weeks ago to the tune of 163 yards and two touchdowns.

Anybody want to guess who is leading the ACC in yard per game? None other than John Lovett's mind as he develops a game plan to stop Duke.

Douglas and the Blue Devils have the ability to keep the ball away from Clemson if Douglas can hammer out the 5 yards per carry that he currently averages. The Blue Devils actually lead the conference in time of procession, a stat that Clemson does not particularly want Duke to control Saturday. Similar to what Wake Forest was able to do, the Blue Devils can minimize the processions the Tigers have and keep the Clemson offense from developing any rhythm.

For Clemson, it will be a chance at continuing the success in stopping the running game last week as well as completely washing away the running game debacle from Winston Salem.

Pound The Ground
The only team to date that the Tigers have played that has been as poor as Duke is defending the run is the North Carolina Tar Heels. Clemson pounded out 223 yards rushing and 14 rushing first downs against the Tar Heels, and the Tigers can shoot for similar numbers Saturday against Duke.

Duke is giving up 167 yards a game on the ground, which ranks 8th in the ACC only ahead of UNC. Because the Blue Devils will have to devote so much energy to stopping the Tigers' vertical passing game, holes should hope up for Duane Coleman and Chad Jasmin.

Clemson is not looking to grind out a win Saturday, but if the Tigers can run the ball effectively they will be able to take some shots down field to get some easy scores on the Blue Devils. Nothing in the statistics suggest that Clemson will be shut down in the running game, so let's see if the offensive line and running backs can step up and be a force Saturday.

Aim To Kill
Other than Clemson's 33 point victory over Georgia Tech in September, the Tigers have not been able to cruise to any easy conference victories. In fact, if you take out the Tech game, the Tigers' are averaging only winning by 9 points a game…and that is including the 16 point win over Florida State.

Part of that has to do with parity in college football, but most of that can be attributed to a lack of killer instinct in the coaches and players. Even the non-conference wins over Furman (11 points) and Middle Tennessee State (23 points) did not raise eyebrows around the nation.

Duke is a good enough football team to come into Clemson and compete until late in the 4th quarter and possibly win the game. However, Clemson is good enough to run Duke back to Durham by 25+ points.

With the season winding down next week in the biggest game of the year, a shot of pure confidence could go a long way. How can Clemson get that confidence? Show no mercy on the Duke Blue Devils.

Seeing Red In The Zone
Duke is dead last in the ACC in both red zone offense and red zone defense this year. Most of us think the Tigers struggle on offense in the red zone at times, but the Tigers are 5th in the league in red zone offense. By that measure, I'm sure you can understand how frustrating it must be for Duke.

On defense, the Tigers are 2nd in the league in red zone defense as apposed to the last place Blue Devils.

So, there is an obvious advantage to Clemson in this category. On paper, it would appear Clemson should be able to put points on the board if they can drive into Duke territory on Saturday.

Conversely, the Blue Devils have self destructed with turnovers and missed field goals as they have driven into the red zone. Hence the importances of not giving up any cheap touchdowns to Duke, making them earn every yard they get inside the 20.

Don't Even Think About It, Injury Bug
Other than Airese Currie has been on and off banged up, but it is hard to complain considering what has happened to our Tigers the past few years.

So, let's not start getting banged up now.

With the most important game of the season only 10 days away, a devastating injury may cloud the situation for the South Carolina game. Healthy, the Tigers may be a few points favorite, but if Charlie, or Duane, or Justin get banged up Saturday, all bets are off.

This also takes me back to the above key about killer instinct. Go out Saturday and take care of business and some reserves can come into the game in the 4th quarter and relieve the starters.

Don't get me wrong, a one point win Saturday will be fine. You just have to be greedy in this world and I want a bigger win so we can rest up some of our guys for next weekend.

But please, oh please, no big injuries Saturday. We need all personnel on board for the trip to Columbia. Knock on wood!

Rhymer's Prediction
Carl Franks. There is an air of scariness to the Blue Devils, something that has been missing for many years in Durham. As a side note, if they don't give the job to Roof they are the biggest fools in the history of that University.

With all that being said, Clemson is bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic. Clemson should win, and the Tigers should win big.

There is no reason to expect a squeaker, although that is very possible. After last week's performance, we know what Clemson is capable of, so let's see if they can show some consistency. I think we will.

Rhymer's Pick
Clemson 31 Duke 13

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