It’s not very often that games in Wallace Wade Stadium hold major post-season bowl implications. It’s even rarer when the game carries significant implications for both teams. However, that will certainly be the case when Clemson (7-1) travels to take on Duke (6-3) under the lights for the Tiger’s last remaining road game on the schedule
A Clemson victory would mean staying the course. Since suffering a 12 point defeat at the hands of Florida State in late September, Clemson has reeled off four straight wins by an average of 20 points. Winning out will keep the Tigers in the hunt for an ACC Championship should the Seminoles slip up against Maryland or Virginia Tech. It will also mean continuing to move up the BCS rankings and possibly having the opportunity to gain an invitation to a BCS bowl game as an at-large representative.
For Duke, the Blue Devils are playing with house money. After securing bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994 with a 33-30 win over rival North Carolina, the Blue Devils have the opportunity to improve their bowl destination should they scalp any of their remaining three opponents. Clemson will present their toughest remaining challenge before the Blue Devils conclude the regular season at Georgia Tech (3-5) and at home against Miami (4-4). Duke is one of four ACC teams in the Coastal division with two conference losses and finds themselves as a major player in deciding who will represent the Coastal division in Charlotte at the end of the season. North Carolina is ineligible for any postseason play as a part of being on probation, leaving Duke, Virginia Tech, and Miami to face-off for the rights to be crowned division champs. Virginia Tech has the head-to-head tie-breaker with the Blue Devils thanks to a 41-20 win earlier this season in Lane Stadium. However Virginia Tech still has both Miami and Florida State left to play. Should they drop both of those games, Duke would control its own destiny should they take care of Georgia Tech and Miami at the end of the season. A win against Clemson this weekend, and Duke would really turn up the pressure on their division rivals.
However Duke will need to bounce back from their 48-7 defeat to Florida State last weekend if they are going to have a chance to upset the #13th ranked Tigers. Duke struggled in their first trip to Tallahassee since2007, giving up over 500 yards against the Seminoles. Clemson has scored over 40 points in six of their eight games this season and their 41 points-per-game average ranks tenth in the nation in scoring offense. In their last outing against Wake Forest last Thursday night, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd set a school record for most passing yards in a game with 428. He also threw five touchdown passes to five different wide receivers all in the first half. One of those touchdowns was to wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who broke the school record for most receiving yards in a single game with 202 yards. The previous school record had been 197 yard, a record Nuk Hopkins set earlier this season against Boston College. Expect the offensive fireworks to continue against Duke.
The Blue Devils defense is known for trying to stop the run by stacking the box and leaving their secondary in man coverage. Wake Forest employed a similar defensive strategy, focusing on stopping the run, but didn’t have the athletes to keep Clemson’s skill positions from getting behind the secondary. Should Boyd receive similar pass protection from the offensive line as he did against Wake Forest, Clemson fans have to feel pretty confident in the ability of the Clemson offense to put up points.
Duke will be hoping starting quarterback Sean Renfree recovers from concussion like symptoms he suffered against Florida State that knocked him out of the game. He’s expected to be a game time decision come Saturday and having him in the line-up will go a long way in providing the Blue Devils with their best chance to stage another upset on this already enchanted season.