It took the Tigers a half to wake up, and the first quarter was an outright disaster. The 6-0 deficit to Duke after a quarter probably featured as an “upset alert” in a few other games. A combination of drops and an anemic running performance led the Tigers to open the game with three consecutive three and outs. Clemson didn’t have a single yard running the ball until the last play of the first quarter.
Daniel Jones was playing pretty well to open the game, with Duke’s running game giving him a more balanced offense than many had expected. As Duke was forced to pass their way into the game Jones began to get rattled and lost the well-designed play-action looks that had been getting Duke receivers open downfield. The further the game went the more Jones looked to throw it quickly or scramble out of trouble. That’s both an understandable impulse against this defensive line and just a thing he tends to do. The defensive ends tried to separate his soul from his body on a couple of option plays, I’m not sure what else he could do.
The Tigers opened the quarter with the ball, in 10 personnel, with Lawrence handing the ball off on a zone run RPO. There was a six man box, but the inside linebacker vacated his gap to cover an out route by the slot, easy read and five yards for a first down.
If Clemson wants to run 10 personnel against top teams they have to be able to make plays like this work. Faced with the option of having Lawrence or Etienne running the ball on a zone read better DC’s will be able to force it into Lawrence’s hands too often over the course of a game. The Tigers offense can still use the zone read effectively, but they have to have other ways to run the ball on a six-man box.
The next play Lawrence found Higgins an hitch route underneath soft quarters coverage, Higgins was able to fight for a first down. Clemson shifted to un unbalanced formation, faked a jet sweep, gave Feaster the counter handoff and saw him tackled behind the line of scrimmage by a blitzing overhang defender. When counter works it’s often a big gain, but the amount of moving parts involved fake leaves it susceptible to pressure. Duke brought pressure from the edge again on 2nd&11, sending the nickel and linebacker on a classic overload fire zone. Higgins was open on an out route between the corner playing his deep third and the defensive end playing the seam. Great block by Feaster to give the play time to develop.
Clemson, moving the ball for the first time all game, took a shot on the ensuing 1st&10. The Tigers came out in 11 personnel, running a play action pass and max protecting. Duke was running a delayed cover 1 blitz, the middle of the field safety couldn’t get to a go route to Ross on the sideline and the corner covering him got beat. If not for the deep safety tripping him up Ross would have had a touchdown.
The Tigers came out in 12 personnel at the goal line, with two tight ends to one side and two receivers to the other. Clemson ran a zone read, forcing the defense to respect the keep by having both tight ends potentially lead blocking for Lawrence (and Milan Richards chip blocked the read key, to help tilt the scales towards a handoff). The handoff to Feaster easily scores, and Clemson takes a lead they won’t let go of.
Clemson generally did a great job limiting TJ Rahming, holding him to just 4.8 YPC, but lost him on a bubble screen away from stretch action. Duke came out in a quads formation on 2nd&3, Clemson’s defensive line stunt wasn’t able to get home but Lawrence recovered to knock down a wide open pass. Clemson’s underneath defenders had bit on a screen and go. Jones sprinted out on 3rd&3, finding Rahming on an out route after he shook his defender with a pick play for the first down.
As an aside, the camo pants weren’t our best idea. Love the purple uniforms.
Rahming nearly came open on a bang-post RPO, but the throw was contested by Denzel Johnson and the pass was dropped. The Tigers ran their 3 down front on the next play, with Austin Bryant moonlighting as an outside linebacker in pass coverage. He wasn’t needed to rush the passer, Lawrence and Ferrell met in the middle almost immediately.
Ferrell jumped the snap count on the third and long but didn’t make the tackle, forcing Jones to scramble. Ferrell still got the sack because his motor is terrifying. The defensive line got to go fishing, which is great! They have a long day wrecking offenses, they deserve a break.
Rodgers, who has been having an up and down year as a returner, set the offense up with a nice return.
Clemson ran an inside zone + post RPO on 1st&10, overthrown. Lawrence made the right read but the ball is overthrown. Etienne gets a handoff on a draw play but a stunting nose tackle scrapes across to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage. Facing 3rd&10 the Tigers come out in trips, Duke sends three, Lawrence scrambles out of the pocket and throws an out route to Renfrow. Renfrow drops the one handed attempt and goes down hard.
Duke opened the drive in empty, Clemson responded with their three down front, five man rush, quarters, pass complete to the tight end in the slot. Empty again, spacing concept, pass overthrown. 3rd&5, offside by Clelin Ferrell. 1st&10, empty again, Clemson in a three man front, drops eight, Ferrell presses but doesn’t drop back in coverage in time, pass complete. 2nd&3, empty vs 3 down, stick route complete just short of a first down. 3rd&1 and Duke comes out in the T formation for a QB sneak, the Blue Devils are able to push a wall of bodies for a first down.
Duke ran empty again on 1st&10, motioning into quads and having Jones roll out to the four receiver side before throwing a screen to the lone receiver. Dave Cutcliffe is a tricky bastard and I say that as a compliment. The Tigers are in cover 1, and Mullen is able to stick with his man and make a tackle for a loss. Duke comes out, yet again, in empty. I’m not entirely sure why they’ve abandoned the running game this early, and if they are they have to get Deon Jackson the ball in the passing game. Holding Duke’s two best skill players (Rahming and Jackson) to 23 touches and 110 yards was a win for the defense. Tigers send five, cover 1, Joseph comes free and forces an early throw, overthrown. Jones did a good job throwing passes well out of danger, it may have cost him some deep balls but the Blue Devils also left without a turnover. 3rd&15, four man rush, Ferrell almost has the sack but Jones shakes him and scrambles outside, a pursuing Wilkins tackles him well short of the first down. 4th&4, offensive pass interference, punt.
1st&10, camera cuts back to the action late, seam route to Rodgers falls incomplete. 2nd&10, Clemson comes out in 4 wide, Duke sends 4, cover three behind, the right side of the line and Etienne fail to pick up a stunt, Lawrence throws a contested corner route incomplete.
The Tigers have yet to convert a third down at this point in the game, and rarely had a good chance to. False start didn’t help. 3rd&15, 10 vs. 3 down dime, four man rush, out route to Rodgers on the sideline overthrown.
Duke takes the field in 11 trips, Tigers in nickel, RPO fade is aggressively broken up by Mullen who is in man coverage on the backside receiver. 11 vs. nickel, a slow developing iso + slant RPO puts Jones in trouble, takes a hit but gets the pass off, dropped. Clemson fans should take some solace in the fact that at least both sides were dropping passes like crazy. 3 man rush quarters vs. empty, pass knocked down at the line by Wilkins.
11 vs. 4-2, inside zone handoff to Feaster tackled after a yard. The Tiger front + Milan Richards is struggling to get a push on the Blue Devils.11 vs. 4-2, offensive line loses another stunt, Cervenka holds to avoid a sack but the penalty is declined. 10 vs. dime, four man rush and pass dropped by a wide open Derion Kendrick. Another third and long leads to another punt.
11 vs. 4-2, all the Blue Devil receivers and compressed, making this an almost double wing formation, iso handoff good for seven yards. 11 bunch vs. 4-2, inside zone handoff almost met by Tre Lamar, tackled by Muse. 3rd&1, condensed 11 vs. 4-2, iso tackled immediately by Dexter Lawrence in the backfield.
Outside of the touchdown drive Clemson have managed just one first down so far, the defense kept this close without a lot of early help. Tigers take the field in four wide, Lawrence has time, no one open downfield, pass to the flats dropped by Etienne. 10 vs. 4-2 quarters, slant route caught for a first down by Higgins. 10 vs. 4-2 quarters, the nickel is at safety depth, fade + outs, fade to Rodgers complete. 2nd&1, 11 vs. 4-2, inside zone handoff good for a first down. 10 vs. 4-2 cover three, comeback to Rodgers complete. Clemson has been taking advantage of the outside corners on most of their successful passing plays.
Empty vs. 4-2 quarters, seam route to Galloway dropped. It’s still nice to see him getting open, if he can develop he’s a different level of pass catcher than we currently have at tight end. Credit to Duke safety Lummie Young IV, of Anderson S.C., for forcing a few drops with big hits. 10 vs. 4-2 quarters, screen to Ross backside, doesn’t get great blocking but fights for a first down. 11 vs. 4-2 cover one, play-action, Garrett Williams chips the blitzing OLB, and Ross abuses a corner on a deep route. Tigers touchdown, 14-6.
Duke empty vs. Tigers 4-2, six man rush, pass broken up by Simmons. Empty vs. 3 down, out tackled immediately by Muse. Offsides. Empty vs. DOD, fade route covered perfectly by Shaq Smith on what looks like a broken play.
10 vs. 4-2 quarters, comeback + outs, comeback complete to Thompson. 10 vs. 3 down dime, 4 man rush, cover three, out route complete to Kendrick. 10 vs. 3 down dime, Duke showing blitz, five man rush, deep post overthrown. 10 trips vs. 3 down dime, overload fire zone blitz not picked up, Lawrence hit as he throws, incomplete.
Duke ran the ball to close out the half, having to be excited to come into the second half in Death Valley down only one possession.