CLEMSON, S.C.—Duke is putting up a fight against No. 2 Clemson but will have to climb out of a hole, as the Blue Devils enter the break down 14-6. Here are some immediate thoughts on the first 30 minutes of what could be a primetime battle to the finish:

Five observations

  1. Although Duke had leaned on a five-wide attack to get things going much of the last two weeks, the Blue Devils went back to a more traditional attack Saturday. Duke had to keep some of its running backs and tight ends in to protect Daniel Jones, who was only sacked once in the half.
  2. Speaking of Jones, the redshirt junior is showing more poise with each game. Although the Blue Devil receivers struggled to get open downfield, Duke's signal-caller did his best to buy time and create some badly-needed offense.
  3. The Blue Devils' young defensive backs—Leonard Johnson, Lummie Young IV, Brandon Feamster and Jordan Hayes—have excelled in sealing the edge and coming up to stop the Tigers from creating any chunk plays on the ground.
  4. Clemson wideout Hunter Renfrow attempted to make a diving catch with 9:36 to play in the second quarter, but couldn't hang on after what appeared to be a serious injury as his head skid across the ground. Renfrow would limp off the field with assistance, and the senior didn't return to the game in the half as he headed straight to the locker room.
  5. After just one real big play for the Tigers to set up their first score of the night, Clemson got things going and took control with an eight-play drive to cash in before the half. The hosts used a bunch of short gains to march into Duke territory before the Blue Devils ceded a 36-yard touchdown pass with 76 ticks to go before halftime.

By the numbers

  • Zero first-quarter yards for Travis Etienne: Plenty of stats could've very well summed up the first 15 minutes of Saturday's game. But the Duke defense shut out the Tigers' leading rusher and the hosts struggled mightily to make any offense happen—Clemson picked up just one first down, which came on its very first series of the night.
  • Blue Devils control the clock: Up against one of the, if not the best, front fours in the nation, Duke led the time of possession battle, 18:19 to 11:41, despite not leading on the scoreboard. The Blue Devils utilized a balanced attack to keep the clock rolling and ensure that the Tigers couldn't rack up points and put the game out of reach early. 
  • Duke goes 4-of-12 on third down: The Blue Devils knew they'd be in need of points against Clemson. Although they snagged the first six points of the night, the Tigers' red-zone defense was key to making sure Duke didn't get out to any big advantage in the opening minutes. And the Blue Devils struggled to find any type of offense afterwards.

A moment that mattered

After a pair of stops to open the game—including a three-and-out on Clemson's second series—Duke put together a 13-play, 83-yard drive to get on the scoreboard. Although the offense stalled in the red zone, a great play-action setup from Jones gave tight end Daniel Helm time to wriggle free of a defender and pick up 37 yards and get into Tiger territory. The Blue Devils' longest play of the half then eventually got the visitors in range for a Collin Wareham field goal from 34 yards out.