C.J. Spiller. Three games in a row, Spiller has proved the most dynamic offensive player on the field. His performances forces one to wonder if the ACC title game would still be within reach had Spiller recovered from a sprained ankle in time for Georgia Tech, which Clemson lost 21-17.
Aaron Kelly. Doesn’t matter how many were screen passes — 217 catches are a bunch. And Kelly ranks ahead of Desmond Clark, Peter Warrick and Torry Holt on the ACC career-receptions list. The 6-foot-5 senior needs 129 yards to eclipse Terry Smith (1990-93) for the school career receiving yardage mark.
The defense. Clemson yielded 168 yards, the fewest surrendered to a BCS conference team since routing North Carolina 52-7 in the fourth game of the 2006 season. After yielding a harmless six-play, 30-yard drive to open the game, the unit forced seven three-and-outs during the next eight drives.
What went right
Clemson needed a dominant performance for self-esteem purposes, and it got one. Manufacturing ways to get Spiller 17 offensive touches by early in the third quarter is a positive. Credit coordinator Vic Koenning for finding the motivational buttons to push to keep the defense performing.
What went wrong
After showing signs of progress against superior defensive fronts the previous two games, the offensive line took a step back in terms of physical push and pass protection. ... Clemson generated sacks, but would the pressure have come too late against better competition. ... Redshirt freshman backup quarterback Willy Korn said his right shoulder is healthy, but his medium- and long-range throws indicated otherwise.
In seven of their past nine meetings, Clemson has beaten Duke by at least 24 points.
According to interim coach Dabo Swinney, left tackle Chris Hairston was taken out during the first half as a precautionary measure after Clemson started expanding its lead. He sustained a concussion in the previous week’s game.
“We won, and the fun’s in the winning.” —
Koenning denied the Tigers played more man coverage than usual. Perhaps, but they didn’t play the same type of man defense. Clemson pressed its corners to the line of scrimmage and dared Duke to throw over the top — a philosophy players quietly suggested had Swinney’s fingerprint all over it. Taking that much risk has not been a trademark of Koenning’s defensive philosophy.
Virginia (5-5, 3-3 ACC) was a surprise front-runner in the Coastal Division before two consecutive losses. The Cavs have a pair of projected first-round NFL draft picks: senior left tackle Eugene Monroe and senior linebacker Clint Sintim, who leads the ACC with 11 sacks.
— Paul Strelow