Durham, NC – The 10th-ranked Clemson Tigers continue their run at the ACC title, as they head to Durham this week for a matchup against the Duke Blue Devils.
The Tigers have had a few extra days to rest up following last Thursday's 42-13 rout of Wake Forest. With the win, Dabo Swinney's squad moved to 4-1 in conference play, just a half game behind Florida State in the ACC's Atlantic Division standings.
David Cutcliffe is enjoying the best season the Blue Devils have had under his reign and the best season since 1994 overall. Duke is 6-3 overall on the season and 3-2 in-conference, good for a first-place tie with Miami and North Carolina in the Coastal Division. The team took on the Seminoles last weekend in Tallahassee, but came up real short in a 48-7 lopsided loss.
Cutcliffe was quick to rally the troops after the loss.
"I would like to think what we saw was somewhat of an aberration when you have all three phases break down consistently and that's what we did," said Cutcliffe after the loss to FSU. "I told our team afterwards it was not a product of our preparation; we have a very committed team, we practice well. It was not a product of we are bowl eligible and we are going to shut down. That's not the case in my opinion. It is a product of playing a very good team that we didn't respond to that very good team."
Clemson holds a 35-16-1 series advantage all-time against Duke, but things are much closer in games played in Durham, with the Tigers holding a narrow 14-12 edge. Still, Clemson has been dominant of late, winning 15 of the last 18 meetings overall.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd had a huge day against Wake Forest, passing for a school-record 428 yards and five touchdowns. All-American wideout Sammy Watkins became the first player in school history to go over 200 yards receiving in the game, finishing with 202.
Watkins is happy he is finally getting back to playing well.
"I just played within the system and got open and got great balls from Tajh," he said following the win. "I'm just getting back in the groove, and I think next week it should carry on as well."
On the season, Boyd is the orchestrator of an offense that is putting up 498.0 yards of total offense, including 317.6 yards per game passing. Boyd has completed an efficient 67.7 percent of his throws, for 2,336 yards, with 20 TDs. Despite his eye-popping stats against Wake Forest, Watkins (32 receptions, 404 yards, one TD) has been overshadowed in the receiving corps by DeAndre Hopkins (58 receptions, 909 yards, 10 TDs) who has played at an All- American level.
Balance is a key to Clemson's success and tailback Andre Ellington provides that, rumbling for 754 yards thus far on 5.0 yards per carry, with seven TDs.
Clemson's defense has had moments of strong play, like last week against Wake Forest, but inconsistency has plagued the unit for the most part. The team is allowing a generous 421.1 yards of total offense per game, showing itself to be particularly vulnerable to the run (183.3 ypg).
The linebacker play has led the way for this unit. Jonathan Willard paces the team in total tackles (65), followed closely by fellow LBs Stephone Anthony (60) and Spencer Shuey (49). Safeties Rashard Hall (40 tackles, three INTs) and Jonathan Meeks (40 tackles, two INTs) are the top playmakers in the secondary.
Despite a poor offensive showing against Florida State last week, the Blue Devils have actually been quite productive on that side of the ball this season, averaging 31.9 ppg. A lot of that comes from a passing attack that generates 271.6 yards per game.
Quarterback Sean Renfree has spearheaded that attack, completing 68.9 percent of his throws, for 1,885 yards, with 11 TDs. However, Renfree was injured against FSU and is questionable for this week's game. Anthony Boone would get the start if Renfree was unable to go. Boone has had success this season in a limited role.
Regardless of who is under center, the top targets downfield remain the same in wideouts Conner Vernon (54 receptions, 761 yards, five TDs), the ACC's all- time leader in receptions, and Jamison Crowder (53 receptions, 645 yards, five TDs).
Duke's defense forced four FSU turnovers last week, but the squad needs to do that on a regular basis to become competitive against the upper echelon in the league. The Blue Devils are yielding 30.0 ppg this year, on 414.7 yards of total offense.
Safety Walt Canty has made plays all over the field and leads the team with 80 tackles. Fellow safety Jordan Byas is a distant second in stops (59), followed by cornerback Ross Cockrell (50 tackles), who is responsible for half (4) of the team's eight interceptions.