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Clemson Takes Duke 35-6

All in all, factoring in injuries and everything else, Duke probably exceeded expectations - at least for a half.

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Duke v Clemson
 CLEMSON, SOUTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 17: Linebacker Kendall Joseph #34 of the Clemson Tigers hangs on to quarterback Daniel Jones #17 of the Duke Blue Devils during their football game at Clemson Memorial 
Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

I’m not sure Duke ever really scared Clemson Saturday night, in Death Valley.

But they did get their attention, dominating much of the first half, before a late Clemson touchdown put the Tigers ahead 14-6 at intermission.

The walls caved in over the final 30 minutes, with Clemson pulling away for a 35-6 win.

Duke needed something pretty close to a mistake-free evening to have a real chance at springing the upset and they didn’t come close. Dropped passed, penalties, a missed field goal, too many sacks, even an ejection, linebacker Brandon Hill being sent off after a first half blow to the head among the miscues.

Duke led 6-0 after a period. Ironically, that probably spelled their ultimate demise. Duke couldn’t convert too long drives into touchdowns, settling for field goals from Colin Wareham, from 34 and 32 yards out.

Duke went 83 yards on their first field-goal drive, starting from their 2 after a penalty on a punt return. A false start at the Clemson 23 led to a 4th-and-2 field goal.

And I can’t fault Duke for taking the three points.

But Duke needed a touchdown on one of those drives.

Duke added to that 3-0 lead but it didn’t stand for long. The Clemson offense stalled early and they didn’t get their running game going until the second half. But Trevor Lawrence heated up in the second period, a 75-yard TD drive the immediate answer to Wareham’s second field goal.

The killer was an eight-play, 68-yard drive right before halftime, Lawrence hitting Justyn Ross for 19 yards and the score.

Clemson put it away early in the third quarter, needing only five plays to go 61 yards for the score making it 21-6. Their star running back Travis Etienne found his stride and that was pretty much it.

Duke did threaten again. But Wareham was wide right from 43 yards out, which is about the limit of his range.

The teams played out the string after that, or at least what is left of Duke’s ravaged defense. Ben Humphreys apparently re-aggravated a left-knee injury. He wasn’t even touched. But he ended the game on the sideline, on crutches.

Running out of linebackers doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Fingers crossed.

It’s hard to be happy about a 35-6 loss. But this isn’t a head-hanging loss, either. Right now, the ACC has 13 teams playing football and one team playing FOOTBALL. Clemson is just that much better than everyone else in these parts.

One could see this most vividly in the constant pressure Clemson’s NFL-ready defensive line put on Jones. Jones hit 24-of-43 passes but picked up only 158 yards on those 24 completions. Duke simply couldn’t give him enough time to throw anything downfield. T.J. Rahming barely averaged four yards for his nine catches.

And if those NFL scouts were looking for toughness, Jones showed them toughness in spades.

One game left in the regular season, a winnable game that could put Duke at 8-4, a remarkable record for a team ravaged by a tsunami of injuries. The team trainers may be the MVPs and they’ll have their duct-tape-covered-hands busy trying to cobble together a healthy team for Senior Day, against Wake Forest.

Twenty minutes after noon, at Wallace Wade. All the cool people will be there.

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