In 1988, Duke had an offense that was tearing up the ACC.
Under second-year head coach Steve Spurrier, the Blue Devils were averaging an ACC best 31.6 points per game and were ranked sixth nationally in total offense. Duke was slinging the football all over the field behind 1988 ACC Player of the Year Anthony Dilweg, who was leading the nation in passing.
When Duke came to Clemson’s Death Valley on October 15, 1988, it was 5-0 and ranked No. 22 in the country. The 11th-ranked Tigers were coming off a come-from-behind win the week before at Virginia and were 4-1 and 2-0 in the ACC.
The pundits felt because of Spurrier’s offensive mind, and Dilweg, the Blue Devils had a legitimate shot to come into Death Valley and beat the Tigers in a nationally televised game on ESPN. In the week leading up to the game, Spurrier said his team was not going to be intimidated by Clemson and was not scared to come to Death Valley and have 83,000 people pulling against them.
“We heard them talking to the media all week and how they were not scared to play us, and they would not be intimidated to play in Death Valley. It made us mad,” said Clemson linebacker Levon Kirkland.
It was Kirkland’s coming out party against the Blue Devils. After redshirting in 1987, Kirkland was sharing the starting role at outside linebacker the first half of the 1988 season. He earned the start against Duke and was ready to show what he could do against Duke’s high-powered offense with millions watching at home on television and in front of the Homecoming crowd.
Kirkland was unblockable. He lived in the Blue Devils’ backfield and forced Dilweg into one bad pass after another.
“We just kept coming at him, we did not stop,” Kirkland said.
Clemson raced out to a big lead and by halftime Spurrier was throwing his signature visor on the ground repeatedly.
“There’s not a lot to say,” Spurrier said after the game in the Washington Post. “We got whipped on both sides. They just thoroughly beat us about every way you can.”
The Tigers rolled up 533 total yards, including 388 on the ground in stomping the Blue Devils 49-17 in front of 83,500 fans at Memorial Stadium.
On the defensive side, Clemson harassed Dilweg all afternoon. Dilweg, who averaged 357 yards per game coming in, was just 22 of 51 for 251 yards and was intercepted four times.
“It just all boiled down to getting our attitude right,” said Clemson cornerback James Lott.
The Tigers threw for 145 yards, all in the first half, as they built a 21-0 first-quarter lead. The big play came on a trick play when DeChane Cameron, the third-string quarterback, lined up at tailback and threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to flanker Gary Cooper.
Quarterback Rodney Williams followed a Gene Beasley interception, with an 11-yard scoring pass to Cooper. That gave the Tigers a 21-0 lead.
Clemson led 28-14 at halftime but blew the game open to start the second half when Kirkland forced a fumble on a sack of Dilweg and the Tigers recovered. Fullback Tracy Johnson then scored five plays later for the second time in the afternoon and the rout was on.
“We looked like the team we should this afternoon,” said Danny Ford afterward. “I was glad to see it. I don’t think we played that good the last few weeks.”
Duke finished the 1988 season 7-3-1, while the Tigers went on to win another ACC Championship and was 10-2.
–photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications
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