After a 42-35 win over archrival North Carolina to clinch the program’s fifth winning season in the last six years, the Blue Devils will hit the road to face No. 2 Clemson, which will be Duke’s highest-ranked opponent since Florida State in 2013. The Blue Zone takes a look at a key player for each team:
Duke: Linebacker Ben Humphreys
As Ben Humphreys winds down his Duke career, the Mater Dei product has been taking over extra duties with fellow linebacker Joe Giles-Harris out last week against North Carolina, notching eight tackles in the win over the Tar Heels. He’ll have his work cut out for him this week too, as Clemson boasts a top running back in the country in Travis Etienne and Giles-Harris’ status is uncertain.
Etienne is a bulky 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds who has run over defenders to the tune of 8.5 yards per carry on the season. The sophomore has a trifecta of three-touchdown games, but he isn’t going to be a finesse back who makes a lot of plays in the receiving game. Etienne is a power back with the only goal of running through the defense, and Humphreys will have to step up and keep the Clemson back from putting the Tigers in short yardage situations. In what could be the defining moment of his Duke career, the senior captain will have to step up in primetime if the Blue Devils want to make this a game.
Clemson: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence
After taking over the starting duties for senior Kelly Bryant in Week 5, Lawrence has looked like anything but a true freshman for the Tigers, giving a jolt to the Clemson offense that the team lacked following DeShaun Watson’s departure. The top-ranked quarterback in his class, Lawrence has only failed to lead his team to 40 points twice in his starting tenure, giving head coach Dabo Swinney’s squad a potent offense to go along with their usual stout defense. Lawrence has shown poise and good decision making all year with only four interceptions, and the only way that the Blue Devils have a chance to pull this one out is if the consensus five star decides to finally show his age.
Clemson will need Lawrence to take care of the ball and not put the Duke offense in great field position, something that helped the Blue Devils in an upset win over Miami. The Tigers give the Cartersville High School product a lot of trust, as a future projected top-five pick should have. But, Lawrence will be the only individual in Death Valley on Saturday who could single-handedly lose the game, if he has a rare off night.