DURHAM, N.C. – Following Tommy Bowden’s speech to the entire team Friday night, James Davis immediately stood before that same group and spoke of all the reasons why Clemson had to be, and would be victorious in its next game.
He let them know in no uncertain terms that a loss to the lowly Duke Blue Devils was completely unacceptable and that it wasn’t going to happen.
Davis couldn’t have been more right as No. 25 Clemson used several big plays, including a 70-yard touchdown run by Davis, to grab the 47-10 victory over Duke Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium. It was the biggest margin in a Tigers win ever in Durharm.
There was to be no monumental upset on this day like the one that took place between these same two teams in 2004, which is still Duke’s last conference win.
“I told that guys that we’re a totally different team than the one in 2004,” Davis said. “I told them that we’re still fighting for an ACC championship and that we can’t let a team like them stand in our way and that we’ve got too much to lose.”
With the win, Clemson (7-2, 4-2 ACC) keeps itself in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title. The Blue Devils (1-7, 0-6 ACC) continue their futility within the league.
However, through the first 28 minutes of the game, it looked as though the Tigers were going to be in for another one of those tight games in Durham as they held a scant 10-7 lead.
And why not expect a close one? After all, Clemson was just 4-4 in its last eight games in Wallace Wade.
“This place will lull you to sleep,” Bowden said, referring to the 20,457 fans listed as attendance. “It’s a little tough to get motivated up here.”
But things turned as quick as Bowden has ever seen it just before the half and in less than a minute, Clemson was up 19 points as opposed to only three.
With 1:10 left until intermission, quarterback Cullen Harper scampered in for a three-yard touchdown run to give the Tigers a 17-7 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Duke got pinned at its own 10.
Looking for an opportunity to score again, Bowden started calling timeouts after each Blue Devils run on first and second down. On third down, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis dropped back to pass, but was tackled in the end zone by Michael Hamlin and Cortney Vincent for a safety give Clemson a 19-7 lead with 0:45 left.
Then on Duke’s ensuing kickoff, C.J. Spiller fielded it at the 16 and dashed and juked his way for an 84-yard touchdown to make it 26-7 with 0:31 remaining.
The Tigers scored 16 points in 39 seconds to pull away and for all practical purposes determine the outcome. It’s the third fastest time for two touchdown scores in Clemson history. Ironically enough, the fastest two also came against Duke.
“You just try to squeeze as much as you can out of the clock,” Bowden said. “It’s just about managing time and our guys have to make plays. The timeouts would have been insignificant had we not made plays. That gave us great momentum going into halftime.”
What took place in those 39 seconds perfectly summed up the way the final three quarters went for the Tigers, who got great play on offense, defense and special teams. It might have been their best all-around performance of the season.
Even players like Rendrick Taylor, who had missed the previous four games with a hamstring injury, had a big day. He tied his career mark with four receptions and broke his career mark with 54 yards.
“I thought about the redshirt, but after Jacoby went down, I knew my role was going to be important and they needed me to step up,” Taylor said.
Special teams were solid in every phase as they set up or scored 19 points.
The defense stood out, too, as it held Duke to just 198 yards of total offense, tallied three sacks, recorded a safety and had an interception.
Other than the sluggish first quarter, the Tigers played about as well as they can play.
“We’ve scored (147) points in three games starting slow,” Bowden said. “It’s not really a concern. The best thing that indicates is that your players don’t panic. … I think that’s the sign of a mature team that doesn’t get rattled.
“We scored (147) points with a slow start. I’d hate to see a fast start.”