Clemson Started Fast and Put the Game Away Early: After recent sluggish starts against other middling ACC foes, the Tigers started fast and strong against Duke scoring touchdowns on their first five possessions. By halftime, Clemson had a comfortable 42-17 lead and the game never felt in doubt. In past years Clemson has had trouble getting motivated for late season road games against teams playing out the string, but Clemson's back-to-back dismantling of Wake Forest and Duke is yet another sign this team has good leadership and maturity.
Offense Was Balanced and Explosive: The final stats simply say it all:
718 Total yards
339 Rushing yards
379 Passing Yards
34 First Downs
70% on Third Down Conversions
The transformation in this Clemson offense over the last two seasons is simply stunning, as the Tigers are both balanced and explosive, and a far cry from the "systemless" offense of 2010. Play-by-play announcer Mark Jones may have summed up the offense's performance the best when he said the game had "an Oregon feel" to it. When you're compared to the Ducks, you know you're pretty special.
Offseason Dedication Paying Off: Offseason reports of conditioning pointed towards two players who made big gains in their body composition and strength, and those two players were Nuk Hopkins and Tajh Boyd. As a result, it's no secret both of these players are seeing the fruits of their labor in their play this season.
Hopkins is having an All-Amercian year, and scored 3 more touchdowns against Duke raising his season total to 13. Hopkins is faster getting down the field, more explosive out of breaks, and stronger getting off the line, a testament to his hard work. He's not only making plays, he's making them look easy, and completely worked over a Duke secondary that includes some pretty good players.
Boyd lost weight in the offseason and has kept it off, enabling him to use his legs in the designed and scramble run games, making Clemson's offense just that much more lethal. When Boyd added weight during the 2011 season, the offense struggled. No such issues this year as Boyd has remained lean and effective.
Defense is doing enough: I've said all along that Clemson doesn't need their defense to win games for them, they just need the defense to keep them in games and give the offense room to do their thing. Over the last month, that's just what Brent Venables crew is doing, holding their last four opponents to 20 points per game. Under renowned offensive guru David Cutcliffe, Duke runs a sophisticated passing offense and has some quality players in quarterback Sean Renfree and receiver Connor Vernon. However, Clemson held the Blue Devils to 11 points and 50 yards below their season averages.
Backups earn valuable time: With the recent stretch of blowout games, it's been good for building depth and team morale for tons of backups to get some action. Cole Stoudt, Charone Peake and Zac Brooks were among those that saw lots of second half snaps and performed well.
Ellington Tweaks His Hammy: Andre Ellington opened the game with a 26 yard burst up the left side, but in doing so appeared to injure his hamstring. Post game reports indicated the injury is not believed to be serious, but with hamstring injuries you never really know until the player tests it out again. While backups Rod McDowell, DJ Howard and Zac Brooks all played well in Ellington's absence, none of these players can match the speed and ability of "Lil Bit", who Clemson will need in season ending games against NC State and South Carolina.
Still Loose Ends to Clean Up: It was a dominating performance and a nice road win, but Clemson still has some issues to tighten up that better teams will expose. Specifically, Clemson had 4 turnovers while creating none of their own, as well as 6 penalties for 65 yards. Defensively, too many Duke players bounced off Clemson tacklers after first contact, and the secondary had issues locating the ball in the air and losing receivers out of breaks.
The ACC is dreadful: Outside of Florida State and Clemson, the ACC is pretty awful, and that's hurting Clemson's chances of a potential BCS at-large birth should the Tigers win out.
Duke entered this week's game with Clemson controlling their own fate in the Coastal Division, yet lost to Florida State and Clemson by a combined 77 points. Had the Tigers and Seminoles not called off the dogs early in these games, that margin could have been 120 points.
NC State is the only team to defeat Florida State, winning 17-16 in Week 6. However, since that game they've lost two in a row, including a 33-6 loss this week at home to a Virginia club that was on a 6 game losing streak. NC State also lost earlier this season by 14 points to a Tennessee team that's lost all five of their conference games.
Miami is now the favorite to win the Coastal Division, but this is a team that was blown out in their two marquis out of conference games (Notre Dame and Kansas State) by a combined 77 points.
Virginia Tech, once the standard bearer in this league, looks completely out of sorts at 4-5. The Hokies were once known for playing great defense, running the ball, and outstanding special teams. Now, they just look poorly coached and lacking the talent we were accustomed to seeing in Blacksburg.
Maryland wasn't very good anyway, but now down to their 5th string quarterback (a converted linebacker), they mustered just 13 points on a Georgia Tech defense that hasn't stopped anyone.
Georgia Tech has a tough offense to defend but lacks the playmakers they had in Paul Johnson's first few years on The Flats. The Jackets also stand at 4-5 and look to be no better than 6-6 team this season.
Boston College is circling in the drain and will have a new coach in a few weeks.
Wake is Wake.
Only North Carolina looks to be a program on the rise, but with looming NCAA sanctions in Chapel Hill, who knows if they'll be able to sustain their momentum under first year coach Larry Fedora.
The bottom line is the league is a punchline, and in a system where strength of schedule and perceptions of voters determine who plays for the biggest paychecks, Clemson and Florida State will suffer until the overall quality of the league improves. As of right now, the rest of the league has a long way to go to achieving respectability.
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