For the second consecutive season, Clemson opens the season on Labor Day night, as the ninth-ranked Tigers head to Durham to face off with Duke.
The Blue Devils are coming off an impressive first year under head coach Mike Elko, winning nine games a season ago. Duke returns a wealth of experience as 18 of the 21 starters from that team return in 2023.
5 Things to Watch For
New Offense for a New QB: After all the offseason talk, Garrett Riley’s offense at Clemson will finally be unveiled. Riley’s arrival doesn’t only represent a change in scheme, but it has also provided a breath of fresh air for an offense that had become rather stale. Tempo has been mentioned a lot during the spring and fall, as has the new offense’s ability to allow the Tigers’ playmakers to play more freely and make plays in space. While there is much excitement and anticipation, there are still some unknowns and playing against Duke right off the bat should provide the Tigers with an immediate challenge.
Leading that offense will be sophomore Cade Klubnik, who enters his first season as the full-time starter, and by all accounts, the former 5-star is acclimating to his new role nicely. Klubnik’s dual threat ability should be the perfect match for Riley’s offense, and his accuracy with the football should help ignite a passing attack that has been fairly inconsistent since the departure of Trevor Lawrence for the NFL. Leaning on a strong running game that features both Will Shipley and Phil Mafah, should take a lot of the pressure off.
WR Resurgence: While QB play and play calling in general has been a hot topic of discussion while the Clemson offense has struggled, so has WR play. The Tigers need to be better here. Period. And it starts with staying healthy. Both Beaux Collins and Adam Randall were plagued by injuries a season ago, but both are now fully healthy and Clemson needs them to stay that way. Those two, along with Antonio Williams, give this offense legitimate playmakers that are capable of stretching the field. While there is some talent behind them, it is mostly inexperienced, and the staff would much rather bring guys like Tyler Brown, Noble Johnson and Ronan Hanafin along at their own pace rather than relying on any having to start before they are ready.
Protecting the QBs Blindside: In somewhat of a surprise, redshirt sophomore Tristan Leigh and redshirt freshman Colin Sadler were listed as co-starters at LT on the depth chart, as the Tigers look to replace the All-ACC talent Jordan McFadden. While Sadler has received plenty of praise since arriving on campus, the thought was Leigh was a little further ahead. It will be interesting to see if the two rotate on some kind of basis, and if so, if one can start to separate from the other. Seeing as this is one of the most important positions on the field, it’s certainly a storyline worth following.
Getting After the QB: Make no mistake, no one is questioning Xavier Thomas’ ability to rush the QB, but behind him, there aren’t a lot of experienced pass rushers on the roster. Justin Mascoll, a fifth-year senior, does have some experience but comes in with just two career sacks. Cade Denhoff, Mascoll’s backup, has played just 20 snaps in his career and Thomas’ backup, T.J. Parker is a true freshman. Not letting Duke QB Riley Leonard get comfortable in the pocket will be key, and look for the true freshman Parker to make his mark early.
Clemson Can’t Beat Clemson: Duke was one of the best teams in the country when it came to forcing turnovers last year. The Tigers must play smart and Klubnik has to make good decisions when throwing the football. Keep the mistakes at a minimum. In other words, don’t beat themselves.
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