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Clemson vs. Duke: Paws up, paws down

Katie Bradham
Wide receiver Beaux Collins is taken down by a Duke defender on a crucial drive for the Tigers on Sept. 4, 2023.

DURHAM, N.C. — Clemson came up short in its opening game of the 2023 season, falling to the Duke Blue Devils 28-7 on Monday night. Here is what went right, and mostly, what went wrong for the Tigers:

Paws down: A red-zone catastrophe

Four trips to the red zone, seven points. That was the key difference in the game on Monday night, as the Tigers fumbled twice inside Duke’s 10-yard line. The first fumble came on a quarterback-running back exchange between Cade Klubnik and Will Shipley at the 5:17 mark in the third quarter. Phil Mafah was responsible for the second one when he coughed it up on the 3-yard line on first and goal. Duke then returned it 55 yards, setting up a touchdown that gave the Blue Devils a 21-7 lead. Combine the two fumbles with a blocked 23-yard field goal, and Clemson potentially left 17 points on the board in a matter of three plays.

It was those critical errors that made head coach Dabo Swinney say after the game that he had never been a part of a game like the one on Monday night, calling it “almost indescribable.”

“We haven’t had any of those issues in practice. It’s literally ball handling,” Swinney said. “I mean, we had some, some critical, critical errors right there. It’s ball handling. It’s ball security. It’s proper angle.”

Paws down: Klubnik comes up flat

Starting in an opener for the first time in his collegiate career, Klubnik made some costly mistakes. Along with the fumble, he missed on some throws and, at times, put the ball in harm’s way. When it was all said and done, the sophomore quarterback completed 27 of 43 passes for 209 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

After the game, Swinney said that Klubnik would learn from his mistakes and be better because of them.

“He put us in position. But again, we just didn’t. It’s just that simple. I mean, there’s just a lot of things, situationally, he’s got to do a better job of,” Swinney said of his signal-caller. “I thought early, maybe the first drive or series, he maybe he missed a pull that probably would have gone a little ways — it ended up being a tackle for no gain… he’s just got to just do things a little crisper.”

Despite the team’s struggles, Klubnik is optimistic about the future.

“I think, it is going to be historic, the way we are about to respond,” Klubnik said. “It is exciting to live this story everybody is going to be talking about for a long time. I am excited for the next 14 games.”

Paws up: T.J. Parker

Swinney said that Parker, a true freshman defensive end, was “an unbelievable bright spot” for the Tigers. Parker finished the game with two quarterback hurries and one tackle.

“We’ve seen a lot of great things from T.J. since he got here in January. We expected him to play well, and I think he’s a guy that’s got a bright future, for sure,” Swinney said.

Paws down: Kicking

As the heir apparent to B.T. Potter, Robert Gunn III had a brutal first career start as the Tigers’ starting placekicker. Both of Gunn’s field goal attempts were blocked, and according to Swinney, the blocked kicks were Gunn’s fault as opposed to the protection up front.

Swinney said that his staff informed him that Gunn’s low angle on his kicks was why Duke was able to get its hands on the ball.

Paws up: Shipley is still a lethal threat

Shipley was by far the most productive player on offense for the Tigers on Monday night.

The junior running back finished with 114 rushing yards on 17 carries, averaging 6.7 yards a rush. He also had six receptions for 29 yards and Clemson’s lone score on the night.

Paws down: Pass defense and tackling

The Tigers’ defense held its own for a good portion of the game. But the same pass defense and tackling issues Clemson had at times last season appeared Monday night.

On multiple occasions, Clemson allowed Duke receivers to be wide-open and take off for easy yardage. Duke quarterback Riley Leonard was smart with the football and found the holes in Clemson’s defense when he needed to. Leonard also took advantage of Clemson’s poor tackling, running for a 44-yard touchdown after breaking a tackle from Clemson linebacker Barrett Carter.

Swinney mentioned that Leonard’s 44-yard score was a great play on his part, but he also added that the Tigers need to tackle better in the future.

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About the Contributors
Justin Robertson
Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
Katie Bradham
Katie Bradham, Senior Videographer
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