Clemson University

Tigers wary of Devils Clemson remembers Duke's last ACC win

Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper has already matched the Tigers' single-season TD record.
Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper has already matched the Tigers' single-season TD record.

DURHAM, N.C. -- Tommy Bowden has Clemson clicking again. The 25th-ranked Tigers have won two straight in convincing fashion and are bracing for a season-ending stretch of three big games gainst ranked teams.

So, why all the worry about Saturday's meeting with lowly Duke?

Probably because in 2004, the last time Bowden's team visited typically laid-back Wallace Wade Stadium, the Tigers left with an embarrassing loss -- and the Blue Devils claimed their most recent Atlantic Coast Conference victory.

"All you can go by is history," Bowden said. "It has been a stadium in which we have had trouble over the years."

Clemson's seniors were freshmen on that mid-November day three seasons ago when Duke scored 10 points in the final 90 seconds, capped by Matt Brooks' 53-yard field goal as time expired for a 16-13 win.

Since then, the Blue Devils (1-7, 0-5) have reeled off 22 straight losses in league play.

The Tigers (6-2, 3-2) face defending league champ Wake Forest, unbeaten Boston College and rival South Carolina in the coming weeks, and that could make this the perfect trap scenario -- if, that is, the opponent were anyone other than woeful Duke.

"We have an environment that is going to be challenging, so we'll see," Bowden said. "But I like what has happened the last two weeks with our team's ability to focus and not get distracted."

The Xs and Os certainly favor Clemson, a 16-point favorite which faces a Duke team that ranks 90th or worse nationally in six of the nine major statistical categories.

The Tigers boast the nation's third-best defense against the pass -- bad news for a Duke offense that relies almost exclusively on quarterback Thad Lewis' right arm and has virtually no rushing game. The Blue Devils had 9 yards rushing last week at Florida State and haven't had a 100-yard rusher in a game all season.

"If guys are going to drop back eight (defenders), you have to be able to run the ball," Lewis said. "We have to work on all cylinders."

Two-thirds of the way through the season, Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper already has tied the school record with 21 touchdowns and figures to break it against a Duke defense that half the time has allowed its opponent to score at least 40 points.

"There is just not much that he is doing poorly," Bowden said.

If Harper doesn't gash the Blue Devils, the one-two punch of James Davis and C.J. Spiller might -- both running backs are coming off 100-yard games against Maryland.

"We're talking about perhaps the best backfield combination in America," Duke coach Ted Roof said. "It's quite a challenge to be able to try to slow that machine down a little bit because this football team is as talented as what we've played, very explosive in every phase."

The Blue Devils have made progress, however slight, in at least keeping things closer than expected for longer stretches -- they trailed Florida State 9-0 at halftime last week, and pulled within three points in the fourth quarter of an eventual 10-point loss at Miami.

Still, facing such an apparent mismatch on paper this week, their only hope seems to be history: Clemson is just 13-12 all-time in Durham, leaving Roof to hope his undermanned team somehow can even that record.

"Our fans have been so loyal, we want them to experience some good times and have reason to celebrate out here," Roof said.