Coming off a crushing defeat at Florida State, Duke returned to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday to defend their undefeated home record against Clemson. Despite a strong showing early, the Blue Devils fell to the Tigers talented squad 56-20. Here are the grades of Duke’s successes and failures.
Pass: You can’t say quarterback Sean Renfree didn’t try to equal the performance of Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. Renfree completed 59% of his passes with no turnovers and one touchdown. However, it was his receivers who were surprisingly inconsistent in crucial third down situations. Jamison Crowder had an impressive touchdown reception on a 77-yard strike from Renfree and finished the night with 167 yards gained. Conner Vernon also had five receptions for 47 yards. The supporting cast of receivers was not strong, dropping easy catches that would have possibly changed the outlook of the game for Duke.
Rush: Although the rushing attack accrued more yards, 85 total, than it did against Florida State, there was much to be desired from Duke’s top backs. Without Juwan Thompson in the lineup due to an injury, Duke was unable to get the rushing game off to a good start. Running backs Jela Duncan and Josh Snead were used sparingly as Brandon Connette and Shaquille Powell led the team in carries. The run plays were predictable at best leaving Duke little room for error.
X’s and O’s: Duke really did not have it together for this game. The Blue Devils need to reexamine their offensive game plan going into bye week. The games against Georgia Tech and Miami will define this season for Duke and the offense will be central to the success or failure of this team. The play calling and execution were predictable and did not put the Blue Devils in the best position to compete. Duke held greater possession time yet failed to convert on thirteen of nineteen third down attempts and had under half as many yards gained as Clemson.
Pass: Even though Duke intercepted Boyd three times on the day, the Tiger quarterback had 344 yards in the air for five touchdowns on the day. Duke played well in short yardage situation but was beat multiple times down field by Clemson’s more athletic receiving core. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins had three touchdowns and 128 yards through the air. The Blue Devils had difficulty keeping pace with the Tiger skill players and had trouble making tackles to force third down situations.
Rush: Duke’s rush defense has been a point of weakness all season and the Tigers exploited that void. Clemson had three less yards on the ground than the entire Duke offense had. The Tigers ran the ball for the majority of the second half and averaged 6.5 yards per rushing attempt. The Blue Devils were overpowered at the line of scrimmage and were often forced into making tackles down field. Boyd had nine carries for 72 yards and one rushing touchdown. Clemson running back Roderick McDowell also contributed with 83 yards on thirteen carries. Duke has to improve its run defense to defeat Georgia Tech and Miami.
X’s and O’s: The stats speak for themselves. The defense was demolished in this game, giving up 28 points in the first quarter alone. If Clemson had not scaled back its offensive attack so early, the score could have been much higher. The one bright spot on the day was that Duke recorded four turnovers, three interceptions and one fumble. It’s a good sign that the Blue Devils are starting to be more aggressive. However, 34 first downs, 56 points, and 718 total yards of offense speak for themselves. Duke needs to upgrade its talent and change its approach to protect against big plays if the team wants to be considered one of the stronger ACC programs.
Special Teams: B
Kicker Ross Martin continues to be a pillar of consistency for the Blue Devils. He made both of his field goal attempts including 46- and 47-yard attempts. Punter Will Monday had to kick nine times and the effect on such high usage seemed apparent. Monday averaged under 40 yards average on his punts for the first time in a few weeks. Duke mishandled a fake punt situation late in the first half and was unable to get anything going in the return game.