Clemson, SC – The phrase “a game of two halves” perfectly summarizes this purple-clad, cold affair as Clemson won 35-6 to advance to 11-0 against Duke.
Clemson’s first quarter play didn’t match the electric atmosphere before the game, as Duke took control of the game early. Clemson’s first two drives ended when Lawrence’s two passes to Renfrow on third and short fell incomplete.
Usually, Clemson’s defense gives the offense time to figure out their rhythm, but star quarterback Daniel Jones had other plans. While the Blue Devils couldn’t capitalize on their drives with touchdowns, a pair of 32 and 34-yard field goals in the first quarter gave Duke a 6-0 lead to end the first quarter and Clemson fans a heart attack.
For a brief glimpse, the Clemson offense found its rhythm – a 41-yard strike to Justyn Ross was followed by a two yard rushing score by Tavien Feaster to put the Tigers up 7-6 early in the second quarter. The euphoria didn’t last as Clemson’s next two drives were three and outs.
A Trevor Lawrence laser to Hunter Renfrow on third down normally brings cheers in Death Valley, but when Renfrow drops the ball and has to go to the locker room due to injury, the purple clad Tiger faithful were eerily silent in respect for Renfrow.
In between Clemson’s three and outs, Daniel Jones led an unusual eight play, eleven-yard drive. Duke’s fourth down conversion succeeded on a brilliant fake quick-punt play, but a mysterious offensive pass interference call negated the result and forced a punt. Officials called a targeting play on Isaiah Simmons that was overturned, but if it stood it would have been a contender for the worst targeting call of the year. When Duke punted, sophomore linebacker Brandon Hill targeted Amari Rodgers and was ejected from the game.
Trevor Lawrence delivered a beautiful would-be touchdown pass that Derion Kendrick dropped on third down to give Duke the ball back. Duke couldn’t muster any offensive success, and this time Clemson capitalized on their second chance.
The throws from Lawrence that were previously incomplete were hitting the receivers in stride, and Justyn Ross caught the last two passes for 31 yards and a score to put the Tigers up 14-6 near the end of the half.
At the half, Clemson had ten rushes for 17 yards against one of the nation’s worst rushing defenses. The second half would be a far cry from the first half starting from the opening whistle.
After a Duke three-and-out, the moment Tiger fans were waiting for arrived. Etienne burst off a 20 yard run to open the drive, and a few plays later he rushed 27 yards to put the Tigers ahead 21-6.
Duke marched down the field before missing a long field goal, losing whatever momentum they had and turning the game in favor of Clemson for good. Clemson’s next scoring drive featured two big plays – a 33-yard catch by Derion Kendrick and a 29-yard touchdown rush by Etienne late in the third quarter.
Adam Choice was the featured ball carrier (four rushes, 25 yards) on Clemson’s next drive (13 plays, 79 yards) that ended in a ten-yard touchdown pass to veteran receiver TJ Chase early in the fourth quarter.
In the first half, Clemson averaged five yards per play but only outgained Duke by 20 yards – as well as dreadfully failing to convert any of their seven third down attempts. Clemson had ten rushing attempts for 17 yards, while Duke had 71 rushing yards on 17 attempts.
The second half looked more like the game Clemson fans expected. Clemson scored 21 points to Duke’s zero points, rushed for over seven yards per carry as opposed to Duke’s 1.8 yards per carry, and the Tigers had over 250 yards to Duke’s 87 yards.
Daniel Jones completed 24 of his 43 passing attempts for 158 yards in his valiant effort, but Trevor Lawrence had the better game as he completed 21 of his 38 for 251 yards and two scores. Clelin Ferrell’s two sacks pushed him into double digit sack range – he is the first Tiger to achieve this since Carlos Watkins in 2016. Etienne rushed for 81 yards on nine attempts, and he tied the single season rushing touchdown record for a Clemson player with 17. Clemson had yet another game with over 200 yards passing and rushing.
Clemson’s first string defense still has not allowed a touchdown since their September 29thwin over Syracuse, and the Tigers are 11-0 heading into their rivalry game with the Gamecocks. On a day where favored teams struggled heavily, Clemson managed to put Duke away by making halftime adjustments to avoid an upset.