Duke vs Clemson football first look: Odds, key matchup and Blue Devils player to watch

AUGUST 28, 2023 7:00 AM
Duke arose from a football abyss last season, emphatically ending a 13-game ACC losing streak to post a 9-4 overall record and the program’s first bowl win since 2018.
The Blue Devils became a competitive program under first-year head coach Mike Elko, who in his first season as a head coach at any level saw his team’s four losses come by a combined 16 points.
For an encore, Elko and the Blue Devils start of this season with an immediate jump into the deep end of the pool.
No. 9 Clemson, the reigning ACC champion and the preseason pick to win the league again this year, comes to Wallace Wade Stadium for a Monday night game to close college football’s first full weekend of games.
Playing a potential College Football Playoff team on Labor Day night, in the only game being played nationwide with an ESPN audience is a long way from the program Elko took over in December 2021. But after turning around a program that went 5-19 over the 2020 and 2021 seasons, he wants his team to embrace this challenge.
“Obviously Clemson has been the gold standard in this conference,” Elko said. “We’ve not shied away from that this entire offseason, that they’ve done so many things to kind of carry the ACC and be our representative for so long.”
“But if we want to get our seat at the table and we want to get talked about in that light, those are the games that we’re going to have to play. So to be able to play that game in Durham in front of a packed house on Monday night with everybody watching, that’s what you want. I think that’s what our players want. That’s what our kids want, and that’s what our program wants.”
Junior quarterback Riley Leonard, coming off a breakout sophomore season, said his teammates have the same opinion as their coach.
“I think opportunity is something that comes when you’re put at, you know, the best stages in the in the country,” Leonard said. “On Monday night, national television, it’s a way for us to prove to the contrary, that you know, last year wasn’t just a fluke, one year thing, we’re here to we’re here as a program to stay.”
Duke’s chances to win begin and end with how Leonard plays at quarterback. He rocketed on to the ACC scene as a sophomore last season, when he led Duke in rushing (699 yards, 13 TDs) while completing 63.8% of his passes for 2,967 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. Now he’s considered among the league’s top-five quarterbacks but faces a difficult task against a talented, experienced Clemson defense.
The Tigers have four defensive players on the preseason all-ACC team in linebackers Jeremiah Trotter and Barrett Carter, defensive tackle Tyler Davis and safety Andrew Mukuba.
Duke needs Leonard at his best to have a chance in this one.
The Blue Devils are armed with experienced players up front on defense, led by senior defensive tackles DeWayne Carter and Ja’Mion Franklin. Carter made the preseason all-ACC first team.
North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye gets off a pass before being brought down by Duke Blue Devils defensive tackle DeWayne Carter during the second half of Saturday’s game at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C.
North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye gets off a pass before being brought down by Duke Blue Devils defensive tackle DeWayne Carter during the second half of Saturday’s game at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C. Kaitlin McKeown
The Tigers don’t have any all-ACC first-teamers on their offensive line, but the return four starters in junior left guard Marcus Tate, senior right guard Walker Parks, senior center Will Putnum and sophomore right tackle Blake Miller.
Carter and Franklin aren’t Duke’s lone returning starters up front on defense. Defensive ends VJ Anthony and RJ Oben were starters last season as well. Elko feels better about his depth due to the emergence of freshman defensive end Wesley Williams, sophomore defensive tackle Aaron Hall and graduate student defensive end Anthony Nelson.
They’ll be tasked with slowing down Clemson running back Will Shipley, a first-team, all-ACC preseason pick at running back, and disrupting sophomore quarterback Cade Kulbnik’s rhythm.
The Tigers are the heavy betting favorite, having been installed as a 13-point road favorite over Duke. The over-under total is 56.5.

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