Duke is coming off a miserable offensive performance last week against Wake Forest. Despite facing one of the ACC's worst defenses, the Devils were only able to gain slightly over 200 yards of total offense. This week, Duke will face a slightly stingier defense down in Death Valley. The Tigers are in the middle of the pack in the ACC in rush defense, pass defense, total defense, and scoring defense. The Tigers are led by all-ACC candidate DB Tye Hill. Hill has emerged from the shadow of departed CB Justin Miller to lead the Tigers in interceptions. Duke will also have to account for LB Anthony Waters on every play, as he is currently 3rd in the ACC in tackles. Junior DL Gaines Adams has been the star up front, leading the Tigers in sacks.
Duke must be able to establish their ground game early. The tailback trio of Re'Quan Boyette, Justin Boyle, and Ronnie Drummer are all capable of doing damage. QB Zack Asack must find a way to get the stagnant Duke passing attack moving. The Devils are dead last in the country in passing offense, even behind strictly option teams like Rice. WR Eron Riley is starting to emerge as Duke's top deep threat in the passing game, but Asack must remember the TE tandem of Ben Patrick and Andy Roland. They have been largely ignored in the passing game this season, which is a large reason for Duke's struggles.
When Clemson has the ball:
Word out of Clemson is starting QB Charlie Whitehurst will likely sit this weekend's contest out, due to a sore arm. He will be replaced by Junior Will Proctor. The Devils should remember the last time the Tigers unveiled a new signal caller. Duke was the first victim of Charlie Whitehurst as he ripped through the Devils in his 2002 college debut. Proctor will probably not be as big a factor as Whitehurst was. Clemson has changed their offensive identity a bit since that day. Sensational freshman RB James Davis is 4th in the ACC in rushing average. The Tigers are much more physical along the offensive line this season, which has given them a bit more consistency moving the ball.
Duke will need to find a way to force Proctor to beat them throwing the ball. The Devils have been very inconsistent stopping the run, giving up over 200 yards per game on the ground. Still, the Devils have played well at times, but have been on the field way too many snaps this season. The Duke defensive line has to hold the point of attack against Clemson's large offensive line. Freshman MLB Mike Brown now leads the Devils in tackles, and gives Duke a legitimate thumper in the middle. When Clemson does decide to pass, the Duke front seven must provide a pass rush so the defensive backs don't have to cover forever. DB John Talley has given up some big plays this season, but still is among the conference's best ball-hawks.
Clemson placekicker Jad Dean has been busy this season. He leads the conference in scoring and once made 6 field goals in a single game earlier this year. He provides the Tigers with a reliable option should they have to settle for three points. Punter Cole Chason has not had a good season, averaging only 36.1 yards per punt. As a team, Clemson nets less than 30 yards per punt attempt, worst in the conference. PR Chansi Stuckey and KR Duane Coleman provide Clemson with reliable options in the return game.
Duke has nearly worn out punter Chris Sprague. Still his 40+ yard average puts him in the middle of the conference statistically. Kicker Joe Surgan has only attempted 4 field goals on the season, making three. Still, his leg gives Duke a scoring option if they can get inside the opponents 40-yard line. The Duke punt and kick coverage units started the season very poorly, but have been performing brilliantly of late. KR Ronnie Drummer is one of the most dangerous players in the ACC when healthy. PR Chris Davis is having a solid season, averaging over 9 yards per return.
Duke Keys to the Game (80's song titles):
Olivia Newton-John - "Physical": In recent games, Duke has been out-muscled along the line. The opponents are just pushing the Devils around. Also, other than MLB Mike Brown, the defense has not been tackling well. The Devils are not popping pads like you would expect out of an ACC team. They must meet the Tigers at the point of attack and deliver hits with authority. Let Clemson know that this will not be an easy game.
Bonnie Tyler – "Holding out for a Hero": Duke looks like a leaderless team that desperately needs someone to step forward and make some big plays. Rather than waiting for someone else to make the play, Duke needs someone on each side of the ball to step forward and make things happen.
Kenny Loggins – "Footlose": To the untrained eye, Duke looks like a timid team, waiting for something to go wrong. The Devils need to play care-free and loose and not worry about making mistakes. Football is a fun game to play, and Duke needs to loosen up and have some fun.
Matchup to Watch: Duke QB Zack Asack vs. Clemson DBs
Asack has struggled to find any sort of rhythm throwing the football. The Clemson defensive backfield has talent and experience. Jamaal Fudge and Tye Hill are two of the conferences best at their respective positions. Asack must take what the defense gives him and not force throws into coverage. If the Tigers are able to turn Duke over a few times via interception, The Devils' goose is cooked.
Duke will be a decided underdog on Saturday. Right now, Clemson is a 4 touchdown favorite. The Devils have not held a conference opponent under 35 points. It seems to be a hopeless situation right? It could indeed be a repeat performance, but something tells me that Duke will play much better this week than last Saturdays' debacle. Still, the revamped Tiger offense is much more physical than they were in Duke's upset victory of a year ago. Clemson will look to try and put the Blue Devils away early. Expect the Tigers to try and see what Proctor can do through the air to get the Blue Devils on their heels. If they are able to build a double-digit lead, the offense will switch gears and run right at the Duke defense. James Davis could have a huge day if Duke doesn't bring their "A" game.
For the Devils, the formula is simple. They have to score more points to win ballgames in the ACC. As of right now, Duke is averaging less than 9 points per conference game. Clemson will score points; it is up to the Blue Devil offense to get some points on the board early. It would be great if Duke could somehow mix in a defensive or special teams score as well. Any help the Duke offense can get would increase Duke's chances dramatically.
In the end, this game will follow a similar path to the rest. Duke will make a few plays early and stay in the game with a score or two before halftime. They might even take the lead going into the locker room. However, the 3rd quarter will see the Tigers assert their dominance in the trenches. James Davis will break off at least one long TD run and Duke will turn the ball over at least twice. The Devils will have to wait for another week.
Clemson – 38
Duke - 17