Ups and Downs: Clemson Falls Hard at Duke

Where to begin?

No. 9 Clemson lost its 2023 season opener and became the first top-10 team to lose to the Duke Blue Devils since 1989. It’s also Clemson’s first loss to Duke since 2004.

Finding enough “ups” in a 28-7 loss on Monday night in Durham, N.C., isn’t easy, especially any that balance out the other side. Since the downs were more evident, let’s start there:


  • Up 7-6 at halftime, Clemson’s six second-half possessions ended like this: blocked field goal, fumble, fumble, turnover on downs, interception, turnover on downs. 
  • To make it worse, the Tigers got inside the 10-yard line three times in the half and came away with zero points. 
  • Quarterback Cade Klubnik pulled a ball out of the hands of running back Will Shipley, causing a fumble at the Duke 10-yard line to stop a drive that would’ve given Clemson the lead in the third quarter.
  • Running back Phil Mafah had a fumble inside the 5 trying to score that Duke scooped up for a big return to keep another TD off the board.
  • Klubnik slid too early on a fourth-down scramble that turned the ball over on downs in the fourth quarter. Even though he was hit on a dead-ball targeting penalty, the Tigers lost possession. 
  • The passing game rarely looked fluid as receivers struggled to create separation. 
  • In the first game under new offensive coordinator Garrett Riley, Clemson’s offense didn’t attack the deep part of the field in this game. Klubnik’s longest completion was 21 yards. 
  • The defense allowed Duke QB Riley Leonard to rush for 12.3 yards per carry, giving him 98 yards and a rushing touchdown in the game. 
  • The Tigers gave up 5.8 yards per play and fell asleep defending the running backs on wheel routes in the passing game.
  • Robert Gunn III had two field goals blocked in his first game since taking over for B.T. Potter as the starting placekicker.  
  • Barrett Carter couldn’t bring Riley down in the backfield after having him wrapped up. The Duke QB broke free and ran in a 44-yard TD in the third quarter that put the Blue Devils up for good.


  • Clemson rushed for 213 yards and passed for 209, the kind of balance the Tigers wanted. They just couldn’t turn that into points. 
  • The Tigers’ offense picked up 29 first downs and ran 83 plays, despite the new clock-stoppage rules that are aimed at shortening games.  
  • Shipley scored his first receiving touchdown of his career when the junior caught a short pass and ran it in for Clemson’s only points. He also rushed for 114 yards on 17 carries.
  • Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. had nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one fumble forced and two QB hurries.
  • Punter Aidan Swanson averaged a solid 44.5 yards per boot on four attempts.
  • Freshman defensive end T.J. Parker made several plays and produced two QB hurries in his first collegiate game.

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