Clemson Football is one week away from opening the 2023 season in Durham against the Duke Blue Devils.
Duke was 9-4 overall in 2022, head coach Mike Elko’s first season. Most people expected the Devils to be last in the conference and that Elko would need multiple seasons to rebuild the program. The quick turnaround was viewed as a major surprise.
As we move into the 2023 season, there are two typical opinions we see from fans. Some have respect for what Elko accomplished in Year 1 and consider an opening game on the road to be a challenge for the Tigers.
They also respect the play of Blue Devil quarterback Riley Leonard, who returns to lead an experienced starting lineup.
Other fans lean into Duke’s historical reputation as a lower-tier ACC program and expect Clemson to blow them out. In other words, no matter how good Duke could be, a team with ambitions to go back to the playoffs should win handily in Durham.
It is easy to dismiss the “Duke is a pushover” opinion as the uninformed judgment of casuals, but a review of the statistics from 2022 indicates the Blue Devils’ schedule might have been a contributing factor in their success.
The highest-ranked defense that Duke faced in 2022 was the Pittsburgh Panthers. Per teamrankings.com, Pitt ranked 21st in opponent yards per game and 42nd in points allowed per game. No 2022 opponent for the Blue Devils ranked in the top 40 in points per game allowed.
Pittsburgh defeated the Blue Devils 28-26 last season in a competitive contest. Leonard had three touchdown passes and one on the ground. The Blue Devils made a late charge to get within two points but couldn’t convert their two-point try with 47 seconds left.
The Clemson Football defense should be much better than any defense that Riley Leonard and the Blue Devils faced in 2022
In contrast, Clemson was 19th in opponent yards per game and 20th in points allowed per game in 2022. The yards allowed were similar, but the Tigers were stingier with points allowed.
On the other side of the ball, Duke’s 2022 defense was good, as you would expect it would be under Elko’s tutelage. The Blue Devils were 56th in opponent yards per game and 25th in opponent points per game. They were the opposite of Pitt – they gave up yards but tended to tighten up around the end zone.
I respect Elko and Leonard and I still lean towards respecting Duke as a challenge for the Tigers in their first road game of the season. However, after understanding how the Blue Devils’ 2022 schedule broke towards opponents that didn’t rank well on the defensive side, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Clemson defense hold Leonard and the Duke offense in check on Labor Day evening.