Will the third time be the charm for Duke?
In two games against ranked opponents this season, the Blue Devils have been manhandled by then-No. 25 Stanford and then-No. 11 Florida State. After being outscored in these two contests by a combined score of 98-20, Duke will get a third shot at taking down its first ranked opponent since 1994 when it hosts No. 10 Clemson at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday at 7 p.m.
Nine games into the season, the Blue Devils find themselves in unfamiliar territory—playing meaningful football late in the year and fighting for a shot at an ACC Championship.
“November football at night, that’s the first thought I have—I like that,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “November football at night means television. Television means meaningful football games. It’s a very positive thing.”
Following a 48-7 trouncing at the hands of the Seminoles last weekend, the Blue Devils (6-3, 3-2 in the ACC) will face a similar level of speed and talent this weekend when the Tigers come to town. Clemson (7-1, 4-1) has dangerous playmakers at the offensive skill positions, especially at wide receiver.
“They have as many weapons as anybody in football,” Cutcliffe said. “They can run it, they have great receivers, their quarterback has played at a high level for quite some time now and they execute.”
Junior DeAndre Hopkins has carried the Tiger offense this season, recording 58 receptions for 909 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sophomore Sammy Watkins has rejoined the lineup after missing time due to both a suspension and an injury. He made his presence known in Clemson’s 42-13 win against Wake Forest last week, dominating the Demon Deacons for eight catches, 202 yards and a touchdown.
Protecting against big plays will be the key for the Blue Devils this weekend. After allowing Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel to throw for 282 yards on just eight completions last week, Duke faces another dual-threat quarterback in Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. The signal-caller is one of the main reasons that in their four consecutive victories, the Tigers have looked like they could be the best team in the ACC.
“You’re not going to stop a team like Clemson—you have to minimize the damage,” Cutcliffe said. “We have to minimize some of the big plays we gave up last week. We can’t afford to let that become a theme.”
Boyd has not had much support from the Tigers’ offensive line this season. With 18 sacks allowed this year, Clemson has given up more sacks than their defense has recorded. Duke’s defensive line will hope to put pressure on Boyd, but suffered a large blow last weekend against Florida State when defensive end Kenny Anunike was injured. Anunike is listed as doubtful on this week’s injury report and likely will not be able to suit up against Clemson. Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, Dezmond Johnson or Jonathan Woodruff will likely take his place on the defensive line.
The Blue Devils’ most concerning injury from last week’s loss, however, will likely not affect this week’s matchup against Clemson. Quarterback Sean Renfree left last week’s game in the second quarter with a concussion, but has been cleared by team doctors to play against Clemson and is listed as probable on this week’s injury report. Although Renfree will likely be available for Saturday’s contest, no announcement has been made as to whether or not the redshirt senior will start. Backup Anthony Boone relieved Renfree against the Seminoles but struggled immensely, completing just 3-of-15 passes.
Returning home to Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke hopes to get back to its winning ways in front of its home crowd. The Blue Devils are a perfect 5-0 at home and have followed each of their first two road losses with a home victory, two streaks they hope to extend against the Tigers.
“We just want to protect our home turf,” defensive end Justin Foxx said. “We call it ‘Pride Rock.’ We want to protect our home field. Nobody wants to let somebody come into their house and beat them.”
Duke continues to gain exposure on the national stage in its most successful season in two decades. Saturday’s game, which will air on ESPN2, will be the Blue Devils’ third-consecutive contest in front of a nationally televised audience. Duke’s matchup with the Tigers has also drawn attention from one of the ACC’s largest bowl contracts. With bowl bids to be extended in just under a month, a representative from the Chick-fil-A Bowl will be on hand to scout the Blue Devils and Clemson this weekend.