Tigers overcome slow start to beat Duke, stay unbeaten
By Alex Maminakis
CLEMSON — Slow start? No problem.
Despite a sluggish first quarter for Clemson on Saturday, and a first half in which the Tigers collected 195 yards and punted seven times, the No. 2 team in the country found its rhythm in the second half at Memorial Stadium and beat Duke soundly, 35-6.
The Blue Devils only managed two field goals in the first quarter, and didn’t score the rest of the night.
But the Tigers (11-0, 8-0 ACC) didn’t lead until early in the second quarter when Tavien Feaster found the end zone for a two-yard score, and Duke continued to threaten with its efficient quarterback, Daniel Jones, keeping the game in reach.
Clemson’s growing lead and strong defense, however, soon secured the win for the Tigers.
“I’m really proud of our team for how they responded in the second half. Obviously, we did not get off to a great start,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. “I was really disappointed in how we started, but it’s a four-quarter game. I challenged them at halftime to see how they could respond. To win 35-6 against a good football team…I’m really proud of our guys and how they responded.”
Reviewing the game’s final stats, it’s easy to forget Clemson’s slow start. The Tigers racked up 459 total yards, 208 of which came on the ground, and limited Duke (7-4, 3-4) to 262 total yards, 10 punts and no touchdowns.
The senior day and military appreciation day win gave Clemson its fourth ever 11-0 start to a season, and it gave this year’s senior class 51 total wins — an ACC record.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence passed for 251 yards and two touchdowns, breaking Kyle Parker’s school record for touchdown passes by a freshman (20).
Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow left the game injured in the second quarter and didn’t return, but he did catch a pass in his 39th consecutive game, breaking Artavis Scott’s team record of 38 straight games with a reception.
Swinney only said Renfrow “is being evaluated. Nothing specific.”
And tackle Mitch Hyatt made his 53rd career start to break kicker Chandler Catanzaro’s school record for career starts.
The Tigers know they didn’t start the game the way they needed to, but they were able to regroup in the second half and put the game away.
“We didn’t start how we wanted to, obviously, but we knew what we had to do,” Lawrence said. “We wanted to leave no doubts. We wanted to come out, play well and execute and do the things that we were doing the first half.”
One thing Clemson didn’t do in the first half was run the football effectively — just 10 times for 17 yards — but the ground game came alive in the second half, and Travis Etienne finished with 85 yards rushing on nine carries with two touchdowns. His 17 rushing scores this season ties a Clemson single-season record.
Freshman Justyn Ross led Clemson in receiving with 76 yards and a score, and he made some big plays to help jumpstart the offense just before halftime.
“We started off slow, and someone needed to make a play, so I felt like I had to step up, make a big play and help us win for the seniors,” Ross said. “I’ve definitely grown a lot since the first game.”
Clemson’s defense had another strong performance Saturday against one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks, and the Tigers sacked Jones — who threw for 158 yards — four times with nine tackles for loss and allowed just 104 yards on the ground.
Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins made his 41st career start to break Jim Stuckey’s school record for starts by a defensive tackle, and with defensive end Clelin Ferrell’s two sacks Saturday, he now has a career-best 10.5 on the year and is the first Clemson player with double-digit sacks in a single season since Carlos Watkins in 2016.
Plenty of records were matched or broken in the win over Duke, but Clemson is just happy to get the win, stay undefeated and advance to its state championship with South Carolina next week at home before it heads to Charlotte, N.C., for the ACC Championship game.
“We came together as one and put all our power into it. It was fun to see. … It was fun to be there,” defensive tackle Albert Huggins said. “I had a great time. It was good to actually buckle down as a defense and hold them to six points.”
“I feel like we’re hitting our stride right when we need to,” Ferrell added. “Obviously, you want to be playing well when you’re about to go into the state championship game, so it’s good to be hitting our stride right when this game happens.”
firstname.lastname@example.org | (864) 882-2386
Follow on Twitter @alexmaminakis