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Cade Klubnik, Clemson football offense sputter in season-opening upset loss at Duke latest news 2023

DURHAM, N.C. — Clemson football’s 2023 season got off to an inauspicious start. The No. 9 Tigers fell to Duke 28-7 on the road, ending their five-game win streak over the Blue Devils. It was Clemson’s first loss to Duke since 2004.

Clemson debuted a new offense under coordinator Garrett Riley and quarterback Cade Klubnik, and the whole group looked unbalanced from its very first drive. That five-play, 11-yard opening drive ended on what was almost a third-down interception by Duke safety Jeremiah Lewis, but Lewis dropped it.

From then on, Clemson looked out of sorts on offense. Klubnik threw into double coverage multiple times early, scrambled out of his protection and into a sack in the second quarter and was almost picked off twice more in the first half. Clemson’s wide receivers had trouble getting open, and the Tigers spent much of the first half running short screens. They punted on four of their six drives in the first half.

But its worst failures came in the red zone.

Even when Clemson managed to put drives together in the second half, it fell apart when it came close to scoring. The Tigers fumbled on back-to-back drives inside the Duke 5-yard-line. The first, in which Klubnik and running back Will Shipley botched a handoff and Duke recovered, resulted in a Blue Devils three-and-out. But the second, a fumble by running back Phil Mafah near the goal line, was returned to the Clemson 33 and set up a Duke touchdown that made it 21-7.

Clemson football defense struggles with Riley Leonard

Clemson’s defense kept the Tigers in the game, but it didn’t look dominant. It had its hands full with a dual-threat quarterback in Riley Leonard, who ran for 98 yards and threw for 175. He had He broke off a 44-yard touchdown run after escaping a near sack by linebacker Barrett Carter, putting Duke ahead in the third quarter.

The defense limited damage for most of the game, but the performance was overall uninspiring. All three of Duke’s touchdowns came on the ground. Clemson managed two tackles for loss, one from linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and another from corner Sheridan Jones. Trotter forced a fumble that Mukuba recovered in the third quarter, but the offense couldn’t capitalize.

Special teams blunders on both sides

Clemson’s offense was having trouble getting it to the red zone, so its special teams stepped in. Linebacker Wade Woodaz recovered a muffed punt by Duke’s Jalon Calhoun, a Greenville native. That let Klubnik and the offense take over at the Duke 18.

Five plays later, Clemson had its first touchdown of the season on a 2-yard swing pass to junior running back Will Shipley, the first receiving touchdown of Shipley’s career.

SHIPLEY’S MILESTONE:Clemson running back Will Shipley reaches 2,000 career rushing yards

That was the special teams bright spot for Clemson. It committed some errors of its own. In the second quarter, sophomore receiver Antonio Williams chose to field a punt that looked like it was going to end up in the end zone for a touchback. The return went only one yard to the Clemson 8.

But the worst by far were the two botched field goals. Freshman kicker Robert Gun III attempted his first in the first quarter, and Duke defensive end Wesley Williams blocked the 41-yard attempt that would’ve tied the game at 3. In the third quarter, when Clemson finally had a chance in the red zone, it was forced to try another field goal. Williams got a hand on the 23-yard attempt, which sailed low and wide left for a miss. 

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