The Clemson Tigers welcome the Duke Blue Devilsto Death Valley this coming Saturday knowing their first mission has been accomplished. With the victory over Boston College last weekend, Dabo Swinney’s guys locked up the ACC Atlantic Division title and will play the champion of the Coastal on Dec. 1 in Charlotte.
But there is obviously so much more to do, and winning their side of the ACC is not the ultimate goal. With several other one-loss teams in the mix for a College Football Playoff spot, the Tigers want to win their remaining games to get to stage two: securing a place in the final four.
And Clemson should win each of its remaining games, including this one against 7-3 Duke. The Devils come in off a Victory Bell win over North Carolina, but they have not beaten the Tigers since 2004 and have lost 27 of the last 32 meetings between the two schools.
Duke at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -28
Three Things to Watch
1. Battle of the quarterbacks
Everyone around college football knows about Trevor Lawrence. The true freshman has been sensational, especially over the second half of the Clemson season. With Travis Etienne already over 1,000 rushing yards, Lawrence hasn’t been asked to carry the entire load, but what coaches have asked him to shoulder, he has handled with ease. On the other side, Daniel Jones is the primary force of the Duke offense with nearly 2,000 yards throwing and over 300 on the ground despite missing time with a collarbone injury. Against Carolina, Jones had a massive game, throwing for 361 yards and running for 186 more. It will be fun to watch Lawrence’s pure ability versus Jones’s experience.
2. Will the Clemson defensive front take over another game?
In the past three games, Clemson has allowed 69 total rushing yards. Part of that number is the result of sack yardage; the Tigers have had 15 sacks for a total of 95 lost yards in those three contests. Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence have all had sensational careers, but during the past month they have played some of their most dominating football. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe would be thrilled if running back Deon Jackson could make an impact, but there is also the fear that any yardage on the ground will come from Jones running away from the rush.
3. Can the Duke defense survive the recent string of injuries?
Linebackers Ben Humphreys and Koby Quansah have battled ailments this season, but at least they are scheduled to play at Clemson this week. Many of the other top Duke defenders are either out or questionable for the game on Saturday. All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert has played just two games this year with a hip injury, and the injury problems have only gotten worse since. Leading tackler Joe Giles-Harris missed the Carolina game with a knee injury, and his status for Clemson is up in the air. Duke's No. 2 tackler, safety Deondre Singleton, broke his ankle against UNC and will miss the rest of the season. And the team also lost reserve lineman Ben Frye to an ACL tear suffered against the Heels. A healthy Devils defensive front could give Clemson's weakest offensive link — the line — some problems. Unfortunately, the Duke defense is not even close to being at full strength.
Clemson is coming off its most sluggish offensive performance in over a month. Granted, Boston College has a formidable defense, and the cold, windy conditions in Chestnut Hill were not ideal for putting up big offensive numbers. But it will be interesting to see if that was a blip due to those factors or a sign of a trend that might continue. I’m guessing the former. It is supposed to be 60 degrees and clear in the South Carolina upstate on Saturday, and in the nice conditions Clemson will get rolling again. The Duke offensive line won’t be able to contain the all-world Clemson front, and Trevor Lawrence will connect with Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers on some big pass plays, which will open up gaps for Trvis Etienne and the other backs. Clemson wins easily over the banged-up Devils and then quickly shifts its focus to the guys from Columbia.
Prediction: Clemson 41, Duke 10
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.