CLEMSON — Much has changed since the last time Clemson and Duke got together. The ACC’s cross-divisional scheduling precludes opposing-division teams from truly getting to know one another, and the Tigers and Blue Devils are a perfect example. Since the two last faced off in 2008, Clemson has shaken its play-down-to-a-foe tendencies, and Duke is no longer the league doormat. In fact, the Blue Devils are bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994.
One of the ACC’s worst football environments has taken a major step forward, which Clemson will see first hand when it visits Wallace Wade Stadium for a 7 p.m. Saturday kickoff. David Cutcliffe has made Duke respectable, and a legit challenge for the ACC’s best teams.
Duke runs a potent no-huddle attack that specializes in tempo and moving the ball through the air. Senior quarterback Sean Renfree averages 235 yards passing per game, and the Blue Devils sometimes use a system where backup Anthony Boone (5 TD, 2 INT in 91 pass attempts) is on the field at the same time. Senior wideout Connor Vernon (54 receptions, 761 yards, 5 TD) is the ACC’s all-time receptions leader, and Jamison Crowder (53 receptions, 645 yards, 5 TD) is also dangerous. Desmond Scott has 45 receptions for 453 yards and a touchdown as well. David Cutcliffe also likes to mix in a physical, powerful run game, but doesn’t have a dominant back. Three tailback average at least 30 yards per game, led by Jela Duncan (42.8 ypg, 4.8 ypc).
Duke has scored at least 33 points in six of its nine games this season, surpassing the 40-point mark three times.
Junior defensive back Ross Cockrell is a ballhawk; he leads the ACC in passes defended, with 15, and his four interceptions tie N.C. State’s David Amerson for the league lead.
The Blue Devils have struggled to measure up to top competition. They’ve averaged 41.6 points per game in their six wins, and totaled 40 points (13.3 ppg) in their three losses – at Stanford, at Virginia Tech and at Florida State. Duke is allowing an average of 30 points per game, ninth in the ACC and 82nd nationally. They’re allowing 165.1 yards rushing per game (seventh in the ACC and 66th nationally), good news for a Clemson group which struggled to move the ball on the ground against Wake Forest. Kenny Anunike’s five sacks are tied for sixth in the ACC, but the senior defensive end is expected to miss this week with a lower leg injury suffered against Florida State.
Exactly five years after its last visit to Wallace Wade Stadium (a 47-10 whipping of Duke), the Tigers return for what should be a far more exciting atmosphere. The Blue Devils have gone from being one of the nation’s worst teams to bowl-eligible on Cutcliffe’s watch, and their no-huddle offense should be a big test for a Clemson defense which struggled with such looks a year ago. However, it is hard to imagine Duke neutralizing an offense which has scored at least 37 points in an ACC-record tying seven consecutive games. The Tigers appear focused and ready to start a strong stretch run tonight.
Prediction: Clemson 45, Duke 28