by Mike Potter
It’s a cold fall evening in November and the game is on national TV.
The Blue Devils (6-3, 2-2 ACC) are guaranteed their best season since at least 1994, and are right in the thick of the race in the Coastal Division. And the opponent is No. 10 Clemson (7-1, 4-1), the traditional power of the ACC from back when it had seven teams.
It’s not a complete sellout, but there’s certainly a respectable, noisy crowd on hand as the Blue Devils take on a team they haven’t beaten since 2004.
Clemson is a big favorite, but the Blue Devils haven’t lost at home this season.
They do tonight, as Clemson rolls up 718 yards total offense in a 56-20 romp.
Clemson gets on the board first, taking the opening kickoff and scoring at the end of an eight-play, 75-yard drive.
Ross Martin gets the Blue Devils on the board at 8:44, when his 46-yard field goal completes a 12-play, 54-yard march.
Clemson comes back with a 58-yard Boyd-to-Hopkins bomb up the middle, with Catanzaro’s boot making it 14-3 at 7:25.
But Duke retaliates with its own lightning strike, as Sean Renfree hits Jamison Crowder on a 77-yard connection and Martin adds the try at 7:02. It is the longest play against Clemson’s defense this season.
Boyd again finds Hopkins for a 46-yard TD at 5:20 with Catanzaro converting.
And with 16 seconds left in the quarter Boyd finds Sammy Watkins from 30 yards out to finish a seven-play, 80-yard excursion. Catanzaro converts and it’s 28-10.
Duke comes back at 13:12, when Brandon Connette connects with David Reeves from 18 yards out to finish a five-play, 75-yard drive. Martin adds the try and it’s 28-17.
The Tigers tack on another at 9:29, when Boyd finds Martavis Bryant on a 41-yard scoring connection and Catanzaro’s kick makes it 35-17.
It goes to 42-17 with 1:52 left in the half when Boyd goes up the middle on a 21-yard keeper and Catanzaro converts.
Clemson tacks on more with 7:01 left in the third, as D.J. Howard bulls in from a yard out to finish a 10-play, 69-yard drive.
Martin hits a 47-yard field goal with 1:56 left in the quarter and it’s 49-20.
Clemson gets its last TD with 13:16 left on a 12-yard pass from Cole Stoudt to Charone Peake.
Boyd completes 16 of 23 passes for 344 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions, rushing for 72 yards on nine carries for Clemson.
Hopkins catches four passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns for the Tigers. Watkins catches six passes for 97 yards and a TD while Roderick McDowell rushes 13 times for 83 yards.
Renfree completes 23 of 39 passes for 240 yards and a TD for the Blue Devils, with Crowder catching seven passes for 167 yards and the TD.
They said it …
Cutcliffe: “We’ve had a difficult time now for eight quarters, not playing as well as we can play. We know Florida State and Clemson are talented teams, but for us to finish — and this has been an outstanding team — like we want to finish, we’ve got to play clean across the board. We’ve got to block crisply, we’ve got to tackle. We’ve taken care of the ball and taken it away. But we’re not getting points off turnovers, and those are what good football teams do.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney: “I’m proud of our team. These guys just continue to respond and get better. I’m proud of them for finishing tonight. This is kind of the end of our road season, and it’s the second time in 15 years we’ve had four road wins. You win games on the road and you have a chance to be a real good team. It’s not easy to win on the road in this league or any league.”
Duke CB Ross Cockrell: “They’ve got a lot of talent — quarterback, running back and on the outside. It’s on par with Florida State, I’ll say that. Boyd was accurate, it was very evident he was on his game and they made plays. … We definitely have things to play for. We played the two best teams in the ACC, I think, and we didn’t put our best foot forward. We’ve got a bye week, we’re going to continue to work hard and we’ve got two more games yet.”
Crowder: “We just didn’t execute. We had a couple of dropped balls. We’ve got to focus more, and that’s what hurt us in the second half. Hopkins and Watkins are the best of the best. It was a joy out there watching them to see how they run their routes. I was trying to pick up on things I can work on from watching them.”
What does it all mean?
That Clemson is one of the most talented teams in the country, and that Duke is going to have to fight to finish above .500.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Boyd’s third touchdown pass to make it 21-10.
Duke: Lost 2.
Clemson: Won 5.
Clemson leads 36-16-1.
Clemson vs. Maryland, Nov. 10, TBA
Duke at Georgia Tech, Nov. 17, TBA