5 observations and more from Duke football's first half against Clemson

Chandler Rivers lays out for a tackle during the first half of Duke's season opener against Clemson.
Chandler Rivers lays out for a tackle during the first half of Duke's season opener against Clemson.

The Blue Devils are back, and are staying competitive with No. 9 Clemson under the Monday night lights at Wallace Wade Stadium. After scoring first and carrying an advantage through much of the first half, Duke narrowly trails the Tigers 7-6 at the halftime break:

Five observations:

Not just a basketball school: With more than 45 minutes until kickoff, sections 10 and 11 — the typical student sections — were already halfway filled. By kickoff, the “Wade Wackos” had spilled into the neighboring sections. With their luminescent blue devil horns and waving white rally towels, Duke students have set the standard for season. 

Early stop: The Clemson offense ran five plays during its first series, the last of which was a third down that nearly ended in an interception by graduate safety Jeremiah Lewis. The Blue Devil defense held the Tigers to just 11 yards on that first drive before forcing the punt. After deferring the opening toss, Duke kept its defensive front strong. 

First on the board: For a game with a 13.5-point spread that the Blue Devils were on the wrong side of, getting on the board early was key. Duke did just that — after that first series stop, junior quarterback Riley Leonard and company drove the field, almost entirely on Leonard’s arm. Though the Blue Devils were stopped on the 4-yard line, sophomore kicker Todd Pelino knocked the field goal through to give his team the early lead. 

The Shipley effect: Clemson running back Will Shipley showed just why he earned 17 votes for preseason ACC Player of the Year. The Tigers quite literally ran their offense through the junior, who totalled 47 yards on the ground in the first half. Clemson ran the ball 10 times, accounting for more than a third of their offensive plays. 

An imperfect game: To beat the No. 9 team in the nation, Duke had to be perfect. It started out pretty close, but redshirt-senior receiver Jalon Calhoun fumbled a punt in the second quarter on his own 18-yard line. On their first red zone trip, the Tigers clawed their way into the end zone on third-and-goal, made the extra point and took their first lead of the game, 7-6. 

By the numbers:

Passing yards: The two offenses operated quite differently. With Shipley in the backfield and an inexperienced signal caller in sophomore Cade Klubnik, the Tigers naturally kept the ball on the ground a bit more, only totaling 28 passing yards through the first quarter and 85 by the end of the half. Leonard and the Blue Devils, however, notched 91 yards in the first quarter and 146 after 30 minutes of play. 

Yards per punt: When the offense fell short, graduate punter Porter Wilson did what he could for his defense. The 22-year-old knocked both of his punts 54 yards, pinning the Tiger lethal rush attack as deep as he could. While the Blue Devils would rather finish their possessions with points to their name, making Clemson work for every yard is the next best thing. 

Penalties: While yellow flags were few and far between, all three of Duke’s came before Leonard could get the snap off. The first false start was at the hands of graduate offensive lineman Jake Hornibrook on Duke’s first offensive play. Calhoun committed the second on a crucial third down after Clemson’s first touchdown and senior tight end Nicky Dalmolin committed one just before halftime. The Blue Devils need every yard they can get against this strong Tigers defense — unnecessary setbacks must be avoided for Duke to stay in the game.

A play that mattered:

With 5:11 to play in the first quarter, Clemson kicker Robert Gunn III lined up to attempt his first field goal of the game. The Tigers’ drive had come to a screeching halt at Duke’s 25-yard line after strong tackles by Brandon Johnson, Chandler Rivers and Lewis. Clemson’s attempt to even the score, however, ran into a 6-foot-3, 278-pound roadblock in redshirt-freshman defensive end Wesley Williams, who blocked the kick and gave his offense back the ball. Pelino made the identical kick, just a yard further back, the next quarter, to extend Duke’s lead to 6-0. 

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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