Clemson loss caps brutal 2-game stretch, leaves beaten-up Blue Devils hoping to regroup
DURHAM, N.C. – Duke can certainly use some time off.
The Blue Devils head into a bye week after a 56-20 loss to No. 10 Clemson on Saturday night, which capped a brutal two-game stretch against the Atlantic Coast Conference's two best teams. Lopsided losses in both games has threatened to drain some of the momentum that came with the long-struggling program becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 last month.
"What I told them afterwards was at this point there is a lot left to do, but the No. 1 goal is getting better," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "...There's a winning season hanging out there for us. There's a winning ACC record, something that hasn't happened in a while. But none of that is going to happen without the No. 1 goal of getting better, just playing like a clean football team that knows what we're doing and how to do it."
Last week, Duke lost 48-7 at Florida State. Then came Saturday night, with the Blue Devils managing more offensive success but finding no way to slow Tajh Boyd or the Clemson receivers sprinting downfield for big gains.
The loss dropped Duke (6-4, 3-3 ACC) a game behind Miami for the ACC's Coastal Division lead.
"We definitely have things to play for," cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "We played the two best teams in the ACC, I think, and we didn't put our best foot forward. We've got a bye week, we're going to continue to work hard and we've got two more games yet."
For Clemson, Boyd threw for 344 yards and tied a school record with five touchdown passes for the second straight week. DeAndre Hopkins caught three of those TD tosses in the opening quarter for the Tigers (8-1, 5-1), who scored 42 points by halftime and rolled to their fifth straight win — all by at least 14 points.
Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant also had first-half touchdown catches, helping Clemson rack up nearly 500 yards by halftime and 718 for the game.
The win moved Clemson into a tie with No. 9 Florida State atop the ACC's Atlantic Division, though the Seminoles beat the Tigers in September for the head-to-head tiebreaker in the division race to reach the ACC championship game.
It was Duke's first loss in six games at Wallace Wade Stadium this season.
Boyd threw for a school-record 428 yards with five touchdown passes in an easy win at Wake Forest last week, then added another five TD passes by halftime against Duke. He also ran for a 21-yard score to give Clemson a 42-17 halftime lead, setting up the Tigers for a stress-free second half.
The Tigers played almost the entire game without Andre Ellington, the ACC's second-leading rusher. Coach Dabo Swinney said afterward that Ellington tweaked a hamstring on a 26-yard carry on the game's first offensive play. But it didn't matter with the Clemson passing attack humming so well.
Boyd hit Hopkins for a 5-yard touchdown 2½ minutes in, then connected with him again over the middle for a 58-yard TD on a ball that slipped by Cockrell's outstretched arm for a 14-3 lead midway through the first.
Boyd and Hopkins connected again minutes later, this time for 45 yards out in a sign that Duke's secondary — featuring three players that had been named ACC defensive back of the week — was in for a long night. Boyd found Watkins for a 30-yard touchdown for a 28-10 lead with 16 seconds left in the first quarter, then found Bryant for a 41-yard TD midway through the second.
Boyd left the game late in the third quarter. Hopkins finished with four catches for 128 yards, reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the season while also setting the program record with his 22nd career touchdown catch.
Sean Renfree threw for 240 yards and a 77-yard scoring pass to Jamison Crowder for the Blue Devils, while Brandon Connette also had a touchdown pass.