This week Clemson (7-1, 4-1 ACC) hits the road to travel to Durham to take on the 6-3 (3-2 in ACC) Duke Blue Devils in Wallace Wade Stadium. The Tigers should be able to impose their will running and passing the ball against the Blue Devils. And if Blue Devils quarterback Sean Renfree is unable to play, they should be able to do so on defense as well.
The No. 9 Clemson Tigers are coming off a 42-13 throttling of Wake Forest in Winston-Salem last Thursday night. The Blue Devils are coming off a big 48-7 loss to Florida State last weekend. This will be a matchup of two high-powered offenses with the Blue Devils averaging almost 32 points per game and the Tigers averaging 41 points per game.
The Tigers offense has to be licking their chops coming into this game as the Duke defense has struggled this season, giving up 30 points per game. Last week, the FSU offense had a field day against the Blue Devils, racking up 560 total yards of offense (299 passing, 261 rushing).
The Duke defense is led by their secondary, and their top five tacklers all come from that unit. Walt Canty leads the group with 80 tackles, followed by Jordan Byas who has 59 tackles and two interceptions and Ross Cockrell is third on the team with 50 tackles and four interceptions.
Duke also has a formidable pass-rusher on the defensive line in Kenny Anunike, who has six tackles for loss and five sacks. However, Anunike is doubtful to play at the moment, and he would be a huge loss for the Blue Devils.
Clemson is coming off of a performance where they scored 35 points in the first half last week, and then put it on cruise control.
Tajh Boyd set the single-game passing yardage record and threw five touchdowns. Boyd is having a great season so far, throwing for 20 touchdowns and running for another four. Sammy Watkins finally had his breakout game, setting the Clemson single-game receiving record with over 200 yards.
The Duke secondary has good ball skills, but they do not have the speed or athleticism to keep up with Clemson, which is pretty much the theme of the whole matchup. Clemson outclasses Duke in terms of athleticism on their offense, and it should be another big game for Boyd, Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins.
Who will win this ACC matchup?
The Tigers defense has improved greatly over the past few games, but they are still giving up more than 24 points per game. This Duke offense is capable of scoring big numbers, but they are coming off of a dismal performance against the Seminoles last weekend.
The big story for the Blue Devils is the health and status of quarterback Sean Renfree.
Renfree is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, but he suffered a head injury last weekend, and it is still uncertain if he will play. Renfree can really throw the ball around with over 1800 yards passing and 11 touchdowns on the season. If Renfree cannot play, the job will fall to Anthony Boone. Boone is much more of a running threat, and at 6-feet and 235 pounds, he is a load to bring down. However, he's not as much of a passing threat.
Conner Vernon, the ACC’s all-time receptions leader, leads the receiving corps for Duke. He has 54 catches, 761 yards and five touchdowns on the season. Jamison Crowder and Desmond Scott also provide threats on the outside for the Blue Devils.
The Tigers defense is coming off of its two best performances of the season, giving up 17 points to Virginia Tech and 13 points to Wake Forest. A big lift for the defense came with the insertion of Spencer Shuey into the starting middle linebackers role. Shuey is a solid run defender and has really helped to get everyone lined up correctly before the play.
The defensive line has stepped up their play lately as well, with guys like D.J. Reader, Josh Watson, Corey Crawford and Malliciah Goodman beginning to make plays in the past few games.
The secondary for Clemson is a bit thin now due to some injuries, but Bashaud Breeland is expected back this Saturday. Rashard Hall, Jonathan Meeks and Garry Peters have become more consistent recently, and these players will have their hands full against Duke.
The key to this matchup will be if Renfree can play for the Blue Devils. If he does play, the Tigers defensive line should be able to get some pressure, but Renfree will be able to exploit the secondary if he has enough time. However, if Renfree cannot play, the Tigers should be able to contain Boone, and a lot of that will be because of Shuey and Tig Willard.
Going into Wallace Wade Stadium is always a bit scary for the Tigers. From the comatose environment to the seating capacity of just over 30,000 fans (most of which will be wearing orange) to having your locker room 100 yards away from the stadium, it is just a different place to play.
However, there is expected to be a large group of Clemson fans traveling to Durham, and that should help the Tigers wake up for this prime-time game.
The running theme of this game is that Clemson seems to outclass Duke at pretty much every position. The Tigers have a lot more talent and depth than the Blue Devils, and they should be able to win this game handily.
This game kicks off at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.
For more Clemson sports (and sports in general) updates and thoughts on everyday life as well, follow me on Twitter @K_Mart10. You can also check out my podcast, "The OT with KT," on iTunes or on Podomatic.com at http://theotwithkt19478.podomatic.com/