Potent Tigers do it again

DeAndre Hopkins

Chad Morris' offense is a machine. There's just no other way to describe it.

Tajh Boyd is on top of his game right now, and he has so many weapons at his disposal that it's almost not fair for the opposing defenses. The system is just too good, and it's being run by a quarterback who is just too good. It all adds up to something Clemson fans have never seen before. Think about this: The Tigers rolled up 718 yards in their 56-20 win over Duke on Saturday night, and Andre Ellington, the key to the running game, had one carry. That's right, one.

Even with Ellington out, the Tigers rolled up 339 yards rushing as Roderick McDowell had 83 yards on 13 carries, and Boyd (9-72), Zac Brooks (12-67) and D.J. Howard (13-65) all had at least 65 yards on the ground.

And Boyd had another magical game through the air.

For the second straight week, Boyd had five touchdown passes in the first half. There are many Clemson fans who can remember the days when the Tigers wouldn't have 10 touchdown passes in a season, much less in two weeks.

But that's just how strong this offense is right now.

Boyd completed 16-of-23 passes for 344 yards and the five touchdowns, and the Tigers' quarterbacks – Cole Stoudt came on for mop-up duty – finished with 379 yards total through the air, spreading the ball around to nine different receivers.

Those receivers were led, of course, by DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. Hopkins had four catches for 128 yards and three touchdowns and couldn't be covered by the Duke secondary in the first quarter. Watkins had six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown as he took another huge step forward to getting back to his usual form. Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake also had touchdowns, and Jaron Brown had yet another big-time catch as the wide receiver unit continues to grow each week. Remember how bad the Clemson receivers were just two years ago? That seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? The Tigers' 56 points were their most this season, and they have now scored at least 37 points in every game since opening the season with a 26-19 win over Auburn.

A LITTLE SLOPPY: The only real problem on offense Saturday was the Tigers left quite a few points and yards on the field because of turnovers.

It's rare that a team turns the ball over four times when its opposition has no turnovers and still wins, much less wins by 36 points. But that's what the Tigers pulled off Saturday in Durham.

Boyd had three interceptions, although one came on a final-play heave at the end of the first half. His other two interceptions were forced into coverage, but it's hard to be too critical of a quarterback who has thrown for 25 touchdowns this season (and for more than 2,600 yards) with just nine interceptions.

The other turnover was a fumble by Hopkins after he made a catch and was fighting for yards. It certainly was a sloppy play, but at least the effort was there, and it wasn't just a silly mental mistake.

The Tigers haven't had those kinds of problems for the most part this season (they entered the game with a plus-seven turnover margin), so it was a surprise to see the turnovers Saturday. Last week, the only thing to be picky about was a large number of penalties in the win over Wake Forest.

In neither game did those problems really have an impact. But the Tigers need to clean those things up moving forward.

A STEP BACKWARDS? The Clemson defense had made a lot of progress this season after a slow start, and it did hold Duke to fewer than 100 yards rushing, which was the second straight week the defense has accomplished that. Duke finished with 342 total yards.

But the secondary struggled some against the Blue Devils, especially in the first quarter and early in the second quarter.

There were a lot of open receivers – and some bad technique displayed by the Tigers' defensive backs – as Duke stayed in the game for a quarter-and-a-half.

Duke's Sean Renfree and Brandon Connette combined to throw for 257 yards and had several big plays, including Renfree's 77-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder that cut Clemson's lead to 14-10. The Tigers got some help a couple of times from big drops by Blue Devils receivers on plays that could have kept drives alive.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have some work to do with that unit this week as it reverted to some of its bad habits from earlier in the season. Venables has to be pleased with his defensive line and linebackers as they were strong against the run (Duke averaged 2.6 yards per carry) and got some pressure on the Blue Devils' quarterbacks with four sacks.

But the secondary continues to be a concern.

HITTING THE HOME STRETCH: Focus has been a theme of this Clemson season throughout, but this year's team has passed with flying colors in that department.

Now the Tigers need to keep that up with their final three games coming at home. They can't relax just because they will be at home against Maryland, N.C. State and South Carolina.

That's what last year's team did down the stretch as it seemed to be impressed with its 8-0 start before stumbling home. This year's team has a chance to finish off a special season with three home wins. Even if Florida State doesn't lose and the Seminoles go to the ACC title game – don't count Florida State's trip to Virginia Tech on Thursday as a win just yet – Clemson has a real chance to do something special.

Maryland and N.C. State are really struggling – Maryland is down to a fifth-string quarterback and N.C. State lost to Virginia on Saturday -- so it would be easy to count those games as wins. But the Tigers will need performances similar to what they came up with the past five games to keep their winning streak going.

Since losing to Florida State, the Tigers have been right on point with their effort and their performances, and that needs to continue against the Terrapins and Wolfpack. If Clemson keeps playing to its own standard and keeps that standard high, it should win those games, but the Tigers can't get caught up in their 8-1 record or their five-game winning streak.

After that comes the annual rivalry game with South Carolina. The Gamecocks are hobbled some without Marcus Lattimore, but if they keep winning and Clemson does the same, we could be headed toward a very special Nov. 24 at Memorial Stadium.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley

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