ChronChat: What does Duke football's win against Clemson mean for the rest of the season?

<p>Head coach Mike Elko started his second season with a statement victory against then-No. 9 Clemson.</p>

Head coach Mike Elko started his second season with a statement victory against then-No. 9 Clemson.

Duke made a statement under the lights at Wallace Wade Stadium Monday night, downing the then-ninth-ranked Tigers in dominant fashion. With one marquee win in the bag, is this a sign of things to come for the Blue Devils? The Chronicle’s beat writers offer their input.

What was Monday night’s biggest takeaway?

Winning ugly: The biggest thing that stood out to me Monday night was Duke’s ability to win sloppily. When playing primetime games against top teams, the plan often comes unraveled, forcing coaches and players alike to adapt on the fly and find a way to claw out a win. Against Clemson, the Blue Devils did just that, overcoming a muffed punt, a fumble in field-goal range and several costly penalties to topple the Tigers. A glance at the box score would suggest Clemson controlled the game, but the Duke defense simply refused to allow the Tigers to reach paydirt. If that toughness becomes a theme for head coach Mike Elko’s squad, Duke should compete in every game from here on out. -Caleb Dudley

‘Elko Era’: In a way that not even last year’s 9-4 season could, Monday night’s victory established a new era of Duke football. The Blue Devils will no longer enter games as an unknown and largely unproven squad, and with their success comes a target on their back. Duke is now entering the role of a contender, and one needs to look no further than Clemson to see how quickly a team can slip from that peak. However, Elko has led the Blue Devils to this point, and there is no reason to suggest that his and the team’s success will not continue. -Dom Fenoglio

Who was Duke’s player of the game?

Jaylen Stinson: His 5-foot-8 stature may not show it, but senior safety Jaylen Stinson was arguably the biggest man on the field for the Blue Devils. The Opelika, Ala., native logged nine tackles in the defensive battle, and most importantly, produced its greatest course-altering play. With the Tigers just a yard shy of the end zone, quarterback Cade Klubnik handed off to running back Phil Mafah, who had the ball knocked loose by graduate defensive end Anthony Nelson Jr. and Stinson was there to pick up the scraps. He raced 55 yards before he was shoved out of bounds, setting up Duke’s second touchdown of the game, all but putting the late-night showpiece to sleep. It’s fitting that redshirt senior defensive tackle DeWayne Carter called him a “dog” in the postgame presser. -Andrew Long

Riley Leonard: The junior quarterback led the Duke offense to 374 total yards, and while he struggled partially with accuracy — completing just 17 of his 33 passes — he picked up 98 yards on the ground. No play was bigger than his 44-yard scramble to the house in the Blue Devils’ first drive of the second half. Leonard seemed to be taken down by a number of Tigers in the backfield, but somehow evaded the defenders and gave Duke a lead it never gave back. His accuracy through the air will only improve, as Clemson provided one of the toughest defensive tests of the year and his receivers’ hands will improve. As the year goes on, Leonard will look to establish himself as a premier NFL talent. -Fenoglio

What do the Blue Devils need to tighten up?

Careless giveaways: The biggest thing, by far, is the hands. Duke’s offensive skill players dropped two passes and lost two fumbles, one of which resulted in Clemson’s only points of the game. While the offense did surge in the second half, it was kept out of the end zone in the first and was set back by four false starts. There is an abundance of talent on this offensive roster; it just has to clean up the easy mistakes. -Rachael Kaplan

Run defense: Clemson scored seven points, but the scoreboard doesn’t tell the whole story. The Tigers consistently moved the ball down the field against the Blue Devils in the second half. While the red-zone stinginess was extremely impressive, the rushing defense was not up to its standard from last year. Clemson ran for 213 yards, a steep increase from the 120.9 per game that Duke gave up a season ago. While Will Shipley and Mafah are two of the best rushers in the league, if Duke wants to compete with the likes of Notre Dame and Florida State, the front seven need to improve. -Ranjan Jindal

Is this a shakeup in the ACC?

Yes, and Duke will challenge: Undoubtedly. No matter if the team ends up having a down year, Duke knocking off Clemson — the decade-long gold standard in this conference — carries immense weight. Now, the Blue Devils have an ACC win under the belt that could go a long way in determining the final standings. Duke is firmly in position to make a bid at being one of the top teams in the league, in some minds just behind Florida State and North Carolina. With the Tigers struggling to start the year, the Blue Devils have a unique chance to pounce, and those dates with the Seminoles and the Tar Heels are circled on everyone’s calendars. -Dudley

Yes, the top of the league is much more competitive: One thing is for sure, Clemson’s name is not an automatic write-in to the ACC Championship game. That has been the trend for the past couple of years, but Florida State and North Carolina’s development into legitimate teams is unquestionably a difference from the recent past. The top of the league is stronger than it has been for a while, and Duke handed the Tigers their worst league loss since 2014. I don’t want to overreact after one game and there certainly is a long season ahead, but it does appear that the league is deeper and more up in the air than in recent memory. -Jindal

What does Duke’s win say about the team’s future?

Righting past wrongs: Even if Clemson found itself inside the 5-yard line three times after its opening touchdown and failed to score on all three occasions, even if it had two field goals blocked and surrendered the ball three times, Duke still had to capitalize on the mistakes. If history is any indicator, it wouldn’t. But change is in the air, and the resolute defensive play calling, Leonard’s arm and leg talent and the re-energized student section on display against the Tigers indicate that this win wasn’t a one-off. To be clear — the Blue Devils have several things they need to clean up if they hope to triumph against more quality opponents. Even so, there was plenty from Monday’s win to build upon, and all signs point to Duke doing exactly that. -Long

Hedge your bets: The million-dollar question: Is Duke just that good, or is Clemson just that bad? I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, and the AP poll agrees. The top-10 win of Monday night carries less umph with the 25 that now resides next to the Tigers’ name. And while the Blue Devils did jump into the poll themselves, slotting in at No. 21, the grandeur of Labor Day will wear off. Luckily for Elko and company, they have dates with No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 4 Florida State approaching — and quickly. Duke will have to repeat some of its holiday weekend magic to climb the polls and jump into the conference title contention. -Kaplan

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

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

Dom Fenoglio | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Sports Editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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