Cade Klubnik, Clemson football offense sputter in season-opening upset loss at Duke

Dearham, N.C. – The start of the 2023 season for Clemson Football didn’t go well. The number 9 Tigers suffered a 28-7 defeat to Duke on the road, ending their streak of five consecutive wins. It was their first loss to Duke since 2004.

Clemson initiated a new offensive strategy under coordinator Garrett Riley and quarterback Cade Clubnick, but the entire group looked unsteady from their first drive. Their initial 5-play, 11-yard drive ended in an interception by Duke’s safety Jeremiah Lewis, nearly on the third-down attempt, but Lewis dropped it.

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From then on, Clemson’s offense struggled. Clubnick made several double coverage throws early on, and he threw an interception while trying to escape pressure in the second quarter, spending most of the first half watching the game from a small screen. They managed to score on four of their six drives in the first half.

However, their biggest failure came in the red zone.

Even when Clemson managed to drive successfully in the second half, they faltered near the scoring zone. The Tigers stumbled on a back-to-back drive within Duke’s 5-yard line. The first, in which Clubnick and running back Will Shipley mishandled a handoff, resulted in a fumble recovered by Duke. However, Duke’s drive ended in a touchback after Phil Maffah was able to tackle the runner near the goal line.

Clemson’s defense struggled against the dual-threat quarterback Leonard, who ran for 175 yards and threw for 98 yards, resulting in a 44-yard touchdown run after evading linebacker Barrett Carter. The Tigers’ defense managed to limit the damage for most of the game, but the overall performance was uninspiring. Duke found the end zone three times.

Mistakes from both sides’ special teams played a role too.

Clemson’s offense was struggling to get into the red zone, so their special teams took action. Linebacker Ved Woods recovered a blocked punt by Duke’s Jalon Callahan, which put Clemson in a favorable position on Duke’s 18.

After five attempts, Clemson finally scored in the second quarter when sophomore receiver Antonio Williams decided to attempt a punt return that looked like it might be a touchback. Clemson returned it to just a yard short of the end zone.

Shipley’s milestone: Clemson comes from behind as Will Shipley reaches 2,000 career rushing yards.

This was a bright spot for Clemson’s special teams. However, there were some errors as well. In the second quarter, freshman kicker Robert Gunn III made his first attempt, but Duke defensive end Wesley Williams blocked the 41-yard attempt, leaving the game tied at 3-3. In the third quarter, when Clemson finally got a chance in the red zone, they had to settle for another field goal attempt. Williams missed a 23-yard attempt to the left, leaving the game tied at 7-7.

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