Tigers hold Duke to 135 yards in final three quarters
Second-ranked Clemson struggled to move the ball early in Saturday’s 35-6 win over Duke, finishing the first quarter with just 32 yards of total offense, one yard on the ground, punting three times and failing to put points on the scoreboard.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils came out hot with 127 yards in the first quarter, but the Tiger defense flexed holding the Blue Devils to just six points on a pair of field goals.
The six points would be all Clemson (11-0, 8-0 ACC) would allow as it went on to score 35 unanswered points on Military Appreciation Day and Senior Night at Death Valley.
Duke had just 135 yards in the final three quarters and did not score.
Once again, the Tiger defense stepped up and kept the score manageable when the offense had issues getting things started. Holding the score to just six points and forcing Duke (7-4, 3-4 ACC) to kick a pair of field goals, it allowed Clemson’s offense to settle in before scoring 14 points in both the second and third quarters.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables was proud of how his defense responded to difficult circumstances early in the game. However, he was not surprised.
“We try to talk about it every week, so when it happens, we don’t say, ‘Oh my gosh what is happening?’ But say ‘We told you,’” Venables said. “It is so easy to think we are just going to roll out there, but they are fighting and have good coaches, they aren’t just making it easy.”
Venables remembered the Wake Forest game when Clemson didn’t score until late in the first quarter and held a 7-0 lead after the first quarter before winning 63-3. He makes sure to constantly ready the defense to bounce back when faced with adversity.
“We try to prepare over and over, this morning we told them they would get some resistance and hopefully by the late second quarter we start to get things under control,” Venables said.
Defensive end Clelin Ferrell proved vital for the Tigers’ defense, finishing the night with five tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss on his senior night. He also became the first Clemson player since Carlos Watkins to record double digit sacks in a single season.
As a freshman in 2015, Ferrell had a great fall camp but missed the first several weeks of the season due to an injury forcing him to eventually redshirt. Ferrell thought Saturday’s game was a microcosm of his career at Clemson.
“This was a great experience and it really showed the struggle of my first four years here,” Ferrel said. “In the first quarter we kind of struggled. That’s how my first year here was but we just progressed and got better.”
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliot is glad the defense can step up when his offense is waking up but he knows he cannot use that as a crutch for a slow start.
“As we move forward we cannot rely on the defense to bail us out while we are figuring it out,” he said. “We have to come out and establish our rhythm.”
At the end of the day Venables knows whoever squares up with Clemson is going to give their best shot, regardless of expectations, what the spread is or what the statistics show. However, he knows his team is talented and ready to perform in any circumstance.
“We don’t want to panic or try to do too much because things aren’t coming as easily as everyone in the stadium would want,” Venables said. “I think we are really good, but you can get bet on any Saturday that respect for the game lets you know how to respond when you get resistance.”