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Clemson Suffers Upset at Duke

Clemson Suffers Upset at Duke

On Labor Day night the Tigers went into Durham to face a tough Duke team on the road. From the start of the game, it was easy to tell this Blue Devils team came to prove something. Head Coach Mike Elko called Clemson the “golden standard” of the ACC and saw winning this game as an important step for his program. From the first whistle, Duke looked like the better team and never let up. Clemson did not make it easy on themselves either though. The offense still struggled to make plays downfield, had turnovers in the red zone, and put the defense in too many bad positions to continue to make the plays they needed to. All of this resulted in a disappointing 28-7 loss for the Tigers.

Offense Still Struggling

Coming into Week 1 there was so much hype around this new-look Clemson offense. There was a promise of more explosive plays in a quarterback-friendly offense. In the game though, the story was a bit different.

The plays were called to go deeper down the field with the ball but they were not executed. Cade Klubnik had a hard time completing his passes past the line of scrimmage for much of the game. In the first half, Klubnik completed all eight passes he threw behind the line of scrimmage for 24 yards and a touchdown. On passes beyond the line of scrimmage, Klubnik completed only six out of 12 passes for 61 yards. The second half was not much better as Klubnik would eventually throw an interception later in the fourth quarter down 21-7. The wide receivers did not give him much help as they had a difficult time getting open. No one could create separation downfield with Duke’s defensive backs smothering them. Klubnik finished 27 for 43 passing with 209 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

What did work the best for the Tigers offensively was the run, and screen game. There were a few drives especially to start the second half where Clemson moved down the field very well like this. Will Shipley had 17 rushes for 114 yards and even caught five passes for 25 yards and the Tigers’ only score of the day. That was on an 18-yard drive after a Duke turnover. After that no matter how many times Clemson got to the red zone they could not finish a drive. Not even with a field goal as they had one blocked and another missed very wide left. That was not all that stifled the offense though.

Late Turnovers

The other problem the Clemson offense had, mostly through the second half, was turning the ball over. Even worse is that two of their three turnovers came in the red zone. The first was a botched quarterback-to-running back handoff from Klubnik to Shipley that put the ball on the turf which Duke recovered. The Clemson defense would stand strong on the Blue Devil drive that followed. Clemson would then drive down to the one-yard line where Phil Mafah fumbled the ball on a run play on the goal line. Duke’s defense would scoop this one up and bring it back into Clemson territory before the offense went on to score. The late Klubnik interception mentioned earlier would really seal the Tigers’ fate. That was even before Duke’s Jordan Waters would run for one more touchdown with just over three minutes left in the game.

Defense fights hard

On defense, there is more good to take away for Clemson, though it is not perfect by any means. Missed tackles truly hurt this defense as it got later in the game. One bad missed tackle by Barrett Carter even led to a Riley Leonard run for a touchdown. That is something rare for a Clemson defense and for Carter himself. We must also give credit to Leonard himself. He did not pass super well during the game but he made every play he needed to for Duke. He used both his arm and legs like he did all last year to keep the Blue Devils moving. Leonard finished the game 17 for 33 passing with 175 passing yards, rushed eight times for 98 yards and a touchdown.

Despite the loss and coming apart late in the game, the defense did hold tough for much of it. Being in bad positions because the offense could not score did not help much. Two players who did play very well for the Tigers’ defense were Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Andrew Mukuba. Trotter had nine total tackles and a forced fumble. Mukuba had seven total tackles and recovered the fumble Trotter forced out.


Coming into this game we said Duke was going to be a tough team to beat and a great test for the Clemson team. They ended up being even better than expected. Duke is going to be very good this year and this game proved it. Clemson needs to figure out something with this offense though. If they want to stay on top of the ACC they have to find a way to make big plays downfield. The ACC is looking even tougher than years past after week one. The run and screen games seem to be their best options offensively. Maybe if they can keep using them without putting the ball on the ground as much, they can start to open up more opportunities. The wide receivers have to play much better though and at least give Klubnik a chance.

The defense does look good so far, but not enough to again carry what might be another lackluster Tiger offense. Playing against someone like Leonard and that Duke offense in week one did them no favors though. They seemed to lack confidence as the game went on and the offense just could not score. Clemson still has a chance to do great things this season but there is much obvious work to do. Next week against Charleston Southern is a good place to start getting back on track and get some confidence back into this program.


Clemson Suffers Upset at Duke

Photo courtesy: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports


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