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Clemson Vs. Duke: Tigers Start Slow but Erupt in the 2nd Half to Take Down the Blue Devils 35-6

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Clemson’s defense dominates and after a slow start, the Tiger offense comes alive in the second half to pull away from Duke.

NCAA Football: Duke at Clemson
Once again, the Clemson defense kept the opposing offense at bay.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

After a solid win last week at Boston College, Clemson returned to Death Valley to take on the Duke Blue Devils. Duke came in with a respectable 7-3 record overall, and 3-3 in ACC action. Their key offensive player is QB Daniel Jones with prototypical size and arm stength. It was Senior Day and Military Appreciation Day for the host Tigers.

Duke won the toss and deferred. The Tiger offense started at the 20 and Trevor Lawrence hit Tee Higgins for 12 yards. The Tigers got to 3rd & 1 and called a WR screen to Hunter Renfrow but it fell incomplete. After the punt, Duke took over at their 9. Short passes and a QB run got the Blue Devils a 1st down but the Tigers then forced a 3rd & 8 that Duke couldn’t convert. Amari Rodgers took the fair catch at the Tiger 35.

NCAA Football: Duke at Clemson
Christian Wilkins brings the heat on Duke QB Daniel Jones.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

A Travis Etienne run and a Rodgers catch got the Tigers to 3rd & 2 but again, Lawrence couldn’t connect with Renfrow and the Tigers had to punt. Duke took over at their 2 after a holding penalty. Another series of short passes moved the chains for the Blue Devils. Then the Tigers missed covering the Duke TE who got loose for 37 yards. A few plays later, the Blue Devils moved into the red zone. The Tiger defense forced a 3rd & long and Duke couldn’t convert and settled for a FG. Duke was up 3-0.

Derion Kendrick had a decent return but a holding penalty brought it back to the Tiger 11. Etienne lost 4 yards on a wide run on 1st down. Milan Richard picked up 8 on 2nd down setting up 3rd & 6. Rodgers couldn’t hang on to the ball on a crossing route, forcing the Tigers to punt again. Duke fair caught the punt at their 49. The Duke RB got loose down to the Tiger 29. The Tiger defense forced 3rd & 13 but A.J. Terrell committed pass interference, moving Duke to the 18. The Tigers got the Blue Devils to 3rd & 6 and held them, forcing another FG. Duke was up 6-0. After the kickoff, Clemson started at the 25. Tavien Feaster got 5 yards on 1st down as the 1st quarter expired. Feaster picked up the 1st down out to the 36. A couple of catches by Higgins moved it out to the Duke 38. Lawrence the threw a ball with great touch down the field to Justyn Ross down to the 2. Feaster then punched it in. After the Greg Huegel PAT, Clemson led 7-6.

NCAA Football: Duke at Clemson
Justyn Ross takes the ball down to the 2 yard line on a 41-yard pass from Trevor Lawrence.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

After the touchback, Duke started at the 25 and picked up 7 on 1st down. Dexter Lawrence got his 2nd deflected pass of the night but on the next play Duke QB Jones rolled right and connected to a receiver in the flat to pick up the 1st down. Christian Wilkins picked up a 2nd down sack and then Clelin Ferrell got to Jones on 3rd down. On 4th & 16, Duke punted. Rodgers took it back to the Tiger 26. An incomplete pass and a no-gain Etienne run made it 3rd and 10. Lawrence rolled left and Renfrow couldn’t make his typical spectacular catch. Renfrow stayed on the ground after the diving attempt and then went to the locker room. After the Will Spiers punt, which was almost blocked, Duke took over at their 38. The Tigers forced 3rd & 5 but Ferrell was offside. Duke got another 1st down but Trayvon Mullen made a great play on a misdirection WR screen to drop the receiver for a loss of 5. On 3rd down Jones scrambled but couldn’t make the 1st down. The Blue Devils committed pass interference on a 4th down fake punt and then had to punt. The ball sailed into the end zone for the touchback.

NCAA Football: Duke at Clemson
Derion Kendrick leaps over Duke defenders on a kickoff return.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers started at the 20 with under 7 minutes left. On 1st and 2nd down, Lawrence couldn’t connect with Rodgers and Higgins. Etienne had a false start to make it 3rd & 15. Lawrence had Rodgers open for the 1st down, but he sailed the ball out of bounds. With 6 minutes left, the Tigers punted down to the Duke 40 on a good roll. Isaiah Simmons tried to knock the ball down on a slant route by the Duke WR but his hand hit the receiver’s head and he was called for targeting. Review overturned it. On 3rd down, Wilkins got his hand on the pass and Duke had to punt. Rodgers took it at the 20 and was tackled immediately. The officials called for a review as the Duke defender appeared to make helmet-to-helmet contact with Rodgers. The review upheld the call.

Etienne got a yard on first down and the Tigers were called for holding but Duke declined it. Lawrence then threw a beautiful pass to Kendrick who was free down the sideline for a sure TD, but he took his eyes off the ball and dropped it. Clemson punted to the Duke 22. The Tiger defense held on 3rd & 1 and Duke punted. Rodgers caught it at the 32 with a bit over 3 minutes left. The Tiger offense then appeared to get its legs and they moved down the field to the Duke 31. Ross had a great catch and run to pick up 12 yards. Lawrence then threw a perfect back-shoulder fade to Ross for the score. With 1:16 left, the Tigers led 14-6. Duke took the kickoff out to the 22.

Duke v Clemson
Christian Wilkins celebrates a sack.
Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Duke tried several passes but got nowhere. Rodgers took the fair catch at the Tiger 35 but the Tigers were called for holding. Clemson started at the 25 with just under a minute left. On 2nd & 6, Lawrence missed Higgins over the middle on what would have been a long gain. On 3rd, the blitz nearly got to Lawrence and he threw it away. Clemson punted and Duke had 19 seconds to work with. They ran one play and the teams headed to the locker room with the Tigers up 14-6. It would be interesting to see what adjustments the Tigers would make on offense for the 2nd half after punting 7 times in 9 possessions in the 1st half.

Duke brought the kickoff out to the 25. The Tiger defense came out ready to play and forced a 3 & out. Clemson took over at their 39 after the punt. Etienne got loose for 20 yards down to the Duke 41. The Tigers kept moving as Rodgers converted a 3rd and short with a 7-yard catch. Somebody must have really gotten Etienne fired up at halftime. He took in in from 27 yards out to put Clemson up 21-6.

NCAA Football: Duke at Clemson
Travis Etienne breaks free against the Blue Devils.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The kickoff went for a touchback and Duke got a good start on their drive as they moved out past midfield. Ferrell got another sack to make it 2nd & 15 from the Tiger 45. Jones made a nice throw over the middle to make it 3rd & 1, and they converted it on a run up the middle. Tanner Muse sacked Jones and Duke ended up at 3rd & 7. Ferrell got a hand on the pass and Duke would have to settle for a FG attempt. The kick sailed wide right and the score remained 21-6 Tigers. The Tigers started at the 25. Kendrick caught a 32-yard pass down to the Duke 37. Lyn-J Dixon came in at RB and lost a yard on 2nd down trying to get to the outside. On 3rd and 2 Etienne went Beast Mode and took it in from 29 yards out. Clemson led 28-6 with 4:20 left in the 3rd quarter.

The kickoff went for a touchback and Duke started at the 25. Duke got a 1st down but the Tigers got to Jones on the ensuing 3rd down to force the punt. Clemson started at their 21. Feaster had a run and then caught a flare pass for good yardage. Lawrence then scrambled for 19 showing pretty good speed down the sideline. Rodgers dropped a sure catch for good yardage as he looked downfield before he secured the ball. Feaster took a shovel pass for a yard and the 3rd quarter ended. Adam Choice took a delayed handoff and trucked a Duke defender on the way to 12 yards. He got another 8 on 1st down and Lawrence lost a yard on a scramble. Choice couldn’t quite get to the marker on 3rd down and Clemson went for it on 4th. Choice moved the pile to convert. On 3rd and 7, Duke defended a pass to Trevion Thompson pretty well, but they were called for holding. Clemson had a 1st & goal from the 10. Lawrence hit T.J. Chase for the TD. Clemson led 35-6 with 11:12 left.

NCAA Football: Duke at Clemson
T.J. Chase celebrates his TD catch.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Duke took over after the kickoff touchback and didn’t do much. They punted and Rodgers took the fair catch at the 26. Feaster had a good 1st down run but the Tigers got to 3rd & 7 and Diondre Overton couldn’t make the catch on an out route. Carson King came in to punt and he booted it 47 yards to put Duke at their 28 with about 7 minutes left. I continue to be amazed at how fast X-Man Xavier Thomas can run for a man his size. Duke had their subs in (as did Clemson) and ended up having to punt.

Chase Brice came in at QB and scrambled for 5 yards on 1st down. Dixon had a couple of good runs to move the ball out to the 31. Brice and Dixon mishandled an exchange but Brice picked it up and ran for a 1st down. The Tigers then ran a few plays to finish the clock and come away with a 35-6 win.

So, the Tigers had a slow start, but pulled away in the 2nd half for a convincing win over the Blue Devils. Next week is the game we wait for all year as the USC Gamecocks come to Death Valley. Check back with us for reviews of today’s action and previews of next week’s game. Let’s hear you thoughts on today’s game and next week’s game against the chickens in the comments section below.