DURHAM, N.C. — Clemson entered the season hoping to win a second consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Time is running out for the 10th-ranked Tigers to make up lost ground in their division race.
Heading into tonight’s game at Duke, the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 ACC) haven’t lost since falling 49-37 at Florida State on Sept. 22. They have won every game by at least 14 points and have had no trouble putting up big scoring totals even with star receiver Sammy Watkins having a quiet sophomore season.
But with the ninth-ranked Seminoles (8-1, 5-1) sitting just ahead of Clemson and holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, Clemson can’t afford to stumble against the Blue Devils (6-3, 3-2).
“It’s more just playing to a standard,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “There’s so much out there for us to gain and we don’t want to let it pass us by in any sense. Every goal we had coming into the season is still attainable.”
The Tigers are coming off a 42-13 win at Wake Forest in which they racked up 534 total yards. That included a breakout game for Watkins, an freshman all-American who had missed three games because of suspension and illness.
Watkins had a school-record 202 yards receiving and his first touchdown catch of the season. Boyd threw for a school-record 428 yards with five touchdown passes.
Coach Dabo Swinney wants his players focused on improving their consistency instead of worrying about repeating the late-season fade from last year.
“As I tell our guys all the time, it’s about Clemson,” Swinney said. “That’s what we’ve talked about all year. It’s about our preparation, our focus, our attention to details, how we play the game and execute our plan to win. That has not changed. I’m excited about this last road game. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to finish strong.”
The game is just as critical for the Blue Devils, who find themselves in the unusual position of playing meaningful games in November. Duke has already secured bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994 and still is tied atop the ACC’s Coastal Division standings despite last weekend’s ugly 48-7 loss at Florida State.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said his team was disappointed by its performance against the Seminoles, but not discouraged or embarrassed.
“We left everything we needed to leave in Tallahassee for one thing,” he said. “We’ve made corrections that we felt were necessary and the rest of it was left there and didn’t come with us. … This team is hungry. Anybody that thinks ‘You’ve hit the sixth win and are all cool’ has really not watched this team.”
The Blue Devils are also 5-0 at Wallace Wade Stadium this year, tying a school record for home wins in a season. That included a comeback win in their last home game against rival North Carolina on a last-second touchdown pass in front of a packed stadium, a rare sight in Durham after years filled with struggle.
When Cutcliffe took over here in 2008, Duke hadn’t won a home game in nearly three years.
“Being able to win in front of your home crowd is important not only for your fan base but for your program with recruiting, to get people behind you,” senior quarterback Sean Renfree said. “Our record so far has gotten people talking about football here. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a packed game this weekend and as good of an atmosphere as we had against Carolina.”
The Blue Devils are hoping the Florida State loss has prepared them for this week.
“It is difficult, but I think it’s good to have them back to back,” Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “You get the two fastest teams in the ACC. We went against Florida State and we might’ve gotten a little surprised by their speed, but now we’re ready for Clemson’s speed.”