By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. (ESPN2) game: No. 9 Clemson at Duke.
Quarterback: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is coming off his best game of his career, throwing for 428 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Boyd owns six of the top eight single-game passing performances in school history— three of them coming this year. He also needs one rushing touchdown or passing touchdown to tie the school record for career touchdown responsibilities, which is owned by Woody Dantzler with 68 from 1998-2001. Duke’s Sean Renfree (1,885 yards, 11 TDs, 7 Ints) is listed as probable after suffering a concussion in the second quarter at FSU last week. The Blue Devils also like to bring in backup Anthony Boone (531, 5 TDs, 2 Ints) from time-to-time to mix things up. Advantage: Clemson
Running back: Duke Running back Juwan Thompson is listed as doubtful with what is being called an upper body injury. He is one of three running backs that have rushed for a combined 953 yards and scored seven touchdowns. Andre Ellington has rushed for 754 yards by himself for Clemson and has scored seven rushing touchdowns. He also has 10 catches for 150 more yards and another score. Advantage: Clemson
Wide receiver / Tight ends: In one game, Sammy Watkins doubled his receiving yards with a school-record 202 yards at Wake Forest last week and now ranks second on the Clemson team behind DeAndre Hopkins, who is seventh in the country in receiving yards (909) and is 10th in receptions (58). Duke isn’t too shabby at wide receiver, either. Conner Vernon already holds the ACC record for catches in a career and needs 82 yards to set the ACC record for receiving yards. Jamison Crowder, like Vernon, is high in the ACC in catches (53) and yards (645). Vernon has 54 for 761 yards. Both have scored five touchdowns. Let’s not forget that Desmond Scott has caught 45 passes for 453 yards with a score. Advantage: Clemson
Offensive line: Going into the Virginia Tech game on Oct. 13, Duke allowed only three sacks. In the last three games, the offensive line has allowed seven. Clemson has not fared much better, giving up eight the last two games, but the Tigers run the football much better than the Blue Devils and seem to be the more physical of the two lines. Advantage: Clemson
Defensive line: Clemson has gotten better and better at creating and getting pressure to the quarterback during its four-game win streak. With young guys like D.J. Reader, Josh Watson and DeShawn Williams improving up the middle, guys like Malliciah Goodman and Corey Crawford are not seeing as many double teams as they once were. Though the Tigers have not been getting pressure to the quarterback that much this season, Duke has not been much better. The Blue Devils have registered 19 sacks this year, but suffered a big blow Thursday when sack leader Kenny Anunike (lower body) was listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game. Advantage: Clemson
Linebackers: Tig Willard has been a beast the last few weeks, as he now has 62 tackles to lead the team, including a team leading five tackles for loss. Spencer Shuey, who has started the last two games at middle linebacker, has 49 tackles and has seemed to have made the difference since taking over as the starter. Duke’s linebackers have been the Achilles Heel for the defense this year and being down one more—reserve middle linebacker Kelby Brown (leg) is out—does not make things any better. Advantage: Clemson
Secondary: Like Clemson was last week, the Blue Devils are beat up in the secondary. Safety Brandon Braxton (lower body) is out for the game as is reserve safety Anthony Young-Wiseman (leg). Reserve cornerback Jared Boyd (leg) will also miss the game. The Blue Devils were already down two safeties from injuries earlier this season. While Duke is beat up, the Tigers are getting back cornerback Bashaud Breeland after missing last week’s game with an abdominal strain and corner Garry Peters, who left in the third quarter at Wake Forest with an injury and did not return. Both are listed as probable. Advantage: Clemson
Special teams: Clemson’s special teams play played a big role in last week’s victory at Wake Forest. Though Chandler Catanzaro missed his first goal of the season, the punting and kickoffs were much improved, and the coverage units by far had their best game of the season. But this week will be a big challenge for the Tigers. Duke punter Will Monday ranks 14th nationally in punts with a 44.3 yard average, while kicker Ross Martin is 14 of 16 on field goals. Punt returner Lee Butler ranks fifth nationally, averaging 17.0 yards per punt return, including a long of 65 yards. Advantage: Duke
Prediction: I thought the Tigers could score 50 plus on Duke and that was before the official injury report came across Thursday night. With their best pass rusher and a starting safety out of the game, plus two more defensive backs also out, I can’t see how the Blue Devils can stop Clemson’s explosive offense. Though the Clemson defense is getting better, Duke is still good enough on offense to put up points and will get its yards and a few touchdowns. But, the Blue Devils were not that good on defense to begin with and now they are even worse. No. 9 Clemson 62, Duke 27