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Clemson Faces a Serious Road Test — College Football Week 5 Preview

Kent State v Clemson
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Three top 10 teams face road tests in hostile environments this week. Upsets are very possible. Here’s a preview of the week’s most interesting games:

Friday, September 29

Can Duke’s Defense Stop the Hurricanes?
Duke v North Carolina
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(14) Miami at Duke | Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.; 7 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

Two undefeated teams will clash in an Atlantic Coast Conference battle in North Carolina this Friday night. Duke (4–0, 1–0) has won its games with defense; they rank second in the nation against the run (65.3 yards per game) and 11th overall. To win, the Blue Devils will need to keep Miami running back Mark Walton in check and add to the seven turnovers they’ve already forced this season.

The 14th-ranked Hurricanes (2–0) haven’t played much due to the havoc that Hurricane Irma caused with their schedule. That could make them less than sharp. Their defensive front seven has spectacular potential and very well could cause problems for Duke quarterback Daniel Jones. The Blue Devils need to sustain drives and keep Miami’s offense off the field. They also need to finish the game out, something they didn’t do last time the contest was in Durham. Remember?

Is this the Week USC Gets Upset?
Stanford v USC
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(5) USC at (16) Washington State | Martin Stadium, Pullman, Wash.; 10:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
Fifth-ranked USC (4–0, 2–0) is undefeated, but it hasn’t had an easy win yet and that’s something that should concern all Trojans fans. Heisman hopeful Sam Darnold has underperformed, throwing seven interceptions against nine touchdowns. Darnold and his receiving corps will need to be much better on the road against 16th-ranked Washington State than they have been over the first four games — all of which were in doubt at some point.

Head coach Mike Leach will have the Cougars (4–0, 1–0) primed for the upset. WSU quarterback Luke Falk and running back Jamal Morrow have the type of dynamic talent that can put points on the board against any defense. If USC doesn’t bring its best game, they could see their college football playoff hopes dashed for this season.

Saturday, September 30

Is Georgia Ready for Life in the Top 10?
Samford v Georgia
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(7) Georgia at Tennessee | Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.; 3:30 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Seventh-ranked Georgia (4–0, 1–0) has already had impressive wins over Notre Dame and Mississippi State this season, but life in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) means that there is a new challenge every week. This Saturday, the new-to-the–Top 10 Bulldogs will be tested by Tennessee (3–1, 0–1), a team that would likely be ranked if not for allowing a flukey game-winning touchdown pass to Florida two weeks ago.

The Volunteers need to stop Georgia running back Nick Chubb and quarterback Jake Fromm from taking over the game and running up a score that the Tennessee offense can’t match. The Bulldogs need to keep Vols running back John Kelly from controlling the tempo. Kelly will likely need to get over 100 yards for Tennessee to pull the upset at home.

Can Auburn Stay Alive in the SEC?
Auburn v Missouri
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(24) Mississippi State at (13) Auburn | Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.; 6 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

The depth of the SEC has never been more evident than it is for this Saturday’s game between 24th-ranked Mississippi State (3–1, 1–1) and 13th-ranked Auburn (3–1, 1–1). Both teams have just one loss (to a ranked team) on their record, but neither is likely to be in the chase for the SEC title unless they win-out. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

The Bulldogs will need quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to put up more than the 83 yards passing he had last week in the loss to Georgia. The Tigers secondary is suspect, so he should have opportunities. Auburn’s Jarret Stidham has been solid when he’s had time to pass. If the Mississippi State pass rush can’t get to him, he could put up big numbers, too. Don’t be surprised if this game is more shootout than defensive struggle.

Can Clemson Keep Winning With Defense?
Kent State v Clemson
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(2) Clemson at (12) Virginia Tech | Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va; 8 p.m. (ET) on ABC

Second-ranked Clemson (4–0, 2–0) has looked like a team that’s prepared to defend its national title. Even during last week’s gut check win over Boston College, the Tigers never seemed to doubt they’d prevail. They’ll need more of that confidence this week when they travel to Blacksburg to face equally undefeated Virginia Tech (4–0).

The Hokies defense must get to Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant and force turnovers. The Tigers offense sometimes sputters under Bryant and until it clicks, lesser teams will have a chance to exploit it. Tech will need to put its offense in good field position to score, because the third-ranked Clemson defense is downright suffocating, allowing just 227 yards and 9.3 points per game. If the Hokies can’t at least establish the run and control the clock, they won’t stand a chance, even at home.

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