Before every football game this year, The Chronicle is going to sit down with a football writer from the opposing school’s student newspaper to get the scoop on their team and season.
This week, The Chronicle’s Daniel Carp spoke to The Tiger News’ Sports Editor Robbie Tinsley about this weekend’s contest between Duke and Clemson.
The Chronicle: The Blue Devils suffered a lopsided 48-7 loss on the road last week to Florida State, but return home to Wallace Wade Stadium this week where they are 5-0 this season and have rebounded from both of their first two road losses with home victories. How important is home-field advantage to them in this game?
Robbie Tinsley: You look at college football and it’s just a different animal going on the road and being at home. I wouldn’t expect the same Duke team that we saw against Florida State to be on the field Saturday. It’s just a completely different beast. I think if Florida State had come to Clemson this year it might have been a much different game than had Clemson gone to Florida State. You can’t say that without acknowledging the importance of home-field advantage.
TC: The Tigers have a very talented cast of wide receivers, which have caused significant matchup problems for opposing teams this season. What will Duke have to do to neutralize the high-flying Clemson offense?
RT: There’s just so many teams that don’t give DeAndre Hopkins the credit he deserves. From doing our segment where we’ve talked to a lot of sports writers it’s been criminal how little he’s been mentioned in the run-up to each game by my counterpart. Now that you’ve got Sammy Watkins coming back, it’s easier said than done but Duke has to keep the ball in front of them and make Tajh Boyd make consecutive throws and drive Clemson down the field.
TC: On the defensive side of the ball, what is the matchup Clemson worries about the most when they see the Blue Devil offense?
RT: Renfree or not, Conner Vernon playing against a secondary that’s hurt has to be the matchup that scares you the most. I think it begins and ends at that. If Clemson can’t get pressure on whoever is the quarterback and they allow him to stay in the pocket and find Vernon every time I think you’re going to have a very high-scoring game and a game that’s going to be tough for Clemson to win. So that’s the matchup they’ll probably be keying on all week, Vernon against whoever lines up across from him.
TC: The lone bright spot from Duke’s loss to Florida State was its ability to force four turnovers. This is a defense that has had a nose for the ball all season long. How important is it to Clemson to win the turnover battle this weekend?
RT: Clemson doesn’t lose many games in which they win the turnover battle. When Clemson started to slide last year, it was when they started coughing up the football. I think that’s definitely something that Chad Morris, the offensive coordinator, harps on. I think in his mind, if the offense doesn’t stop itself, there won’t be many times where you’ll stop them.
TC: What will be the X-factor that determines whether or not Duke can pull off an upset this weekend against the Tigers?
RT: I think the key will be Duke’s ability to defend the next guy on Clemson’s offense that doesn’t have the focus on him. If the defense is focusing on Hopkins and focusing on Watkins or focusing on Andre Ellington it’s going to be that next guy up that gets the ball. Can Duke cover all of Clemson’s weapons on offense? That will be the question. If they can’t it will just be that much tougher for Duke to win this game.
TC: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday?
RT: I think there are a lot of Clemson fans who think this game is going to be a cakewalk, but I don’t see that happening. I think this is going to be a lot tougher game than they realize. But in the end I think it’s just too many weapons for Duke to manage in a game where a lot of points will be put up. I’ll go Clemson 42, Duke 31.