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November 3, 2012

Night flight





News flash for Clemson's remaining opponents:

This group of receivers? Pretty darn good. Certainly good enough to make a mockery of man coverage.

Dabo Swinney said a few days ago he was surprised by how much opponents have used single coverage against perhaps the best receiving corps in college football.

The Tigers saw more of it Saturday in a rare night game at Duke, and once again they destroyed it while running their record to 8-1 in a 56-20 victory at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Since a 49-37 loss at Florida State in the fourth week of the season, Clemson has won five consecutive games and the closest was a two-touchdown win at Boston College. Now the Tigers (5-1 ACC) return home for their final three regular-season games: Maryland, N.C. State, and South Carolina.

The Terps, Wolfpack and Gamecocks would be crazy to go man-up on the Tigers' wideouts. But heck, it's not as though previous opponents didn't have ample warning.

Last week, Wake Forest ganged up to stop the run and Clemson took the easy downfield pickings in a 42-13 victory. At least in that game the Demon Deacons could make the case that they had to stop Andre Ellington.

On this night, Duke couldn't use that justification because Ellington spent all game on the sidelines after suffering a hamstring injury on the first play.

It should be noted that the Blue Devils don't have the defensive personnel to hang with Clemson regardless of schematics. Their coach, David Cutcliffe, said earlier in the week that the best defense against this bunch was one that could use 12 or 13 players. And he was only partly joking.

Clemson racked up 718 yards - 379 passing, 339 rushing - and collected 34 first downs.

Ross Cockrell is Duke's best defensive back, having established himself as a solid cover corner. But Nuk Hopkins made the Blue Devils pay early for their decision against giving Cockrell help.

Clemson was all too eager to go for Duke's exposed jugular, using hard play-action by Tajh Boyd to assure single coverage on deep balls.

By the end of one quarter, Clemson was up 28-10. And the score didn't adequately tell the story. The Tigers had almost 300 yards in the first 15 minutes and had explosive plays of 58, 45, 34, 30, 26, 25, and 23 yards.

By halftime, they were up 42-17 and had amassed 487 yards and 20 first downs while totaling 12 plays of 20 yards or more. Boyd, who threw five touchdowns in the first half against Wake Forest, did the same before halftime in this one with three scoring strikes to Hopkins (58, 45, 5 yards), one to Sammy Watkins (30 yards) and one to Martavis Bryant (41 yards).

Boyd, who completed 14 of 19 passes for 314 yards in the first 30 minutes, added a 21-yard rushing touchdown with 1:52 left to create the big halftime bulge.

And the crazy thing is, it could've been worse. Two promising drives ended in Duke territory on turnovers, one on a fumble by Hopkins and the other on an interception by Boyd. The first half ended when a heave by Boyd was picked off.

The recipe for a Clemson defeat was supposedly a flurry of turnovers, but when Boyd threw another interception to end the Tigers' first possession of the second half Clemson had committed for turnovers -- and was up 25 points.

The offensive assault obscured some impressive developments from a defense that continues to improve. The Tigers forced Duke into three first-half three-and-outs, and that isn't all that easy against this high-precision offense. The Blue Devils exploited Clemson's secondary on occasion, most notably with a 77-yard first-quarter pass that burned Xavier Brewer, but the Tigers kept Duke one-dimensional by controlling things up front.

Hopkins finished with four catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. Watkins had six for 97 yards and a score. Both spent most of the second half watching from the sidelines - and, no doubt, hoping future opponents are crazy enough to leave them in man coverage.

*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.


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