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Ruin on the road: Duke upsets No. 9 Clemson

Katie Bradham
Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., pictured taking down Duke receiver Jalon Calhoun, was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise poor loss against the Blue Devils on Sept. 4, 2023.

DURHAM, N.C. — Between two red-zone turnovers, two blocked field goals and a multitude of other mishaps, everything went wrong for the No. 9 Clemson Tigers as they fell to the Duke Blue Devils 28-7 on Monday night.

On the Tigers’ four trips to the red zone, they produced just seven total points. That was the key difference in the game.

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 3rd quarter.

Phil Mafah was responsible for the second one, as the ball slipped through his hands at 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. After several missed scoring opportunities for the Tigers, Duke struck again midway through the fourth quarter, hammering the nail in the coffin to leave the final score at 28-7.

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. This looked nothing like the Clemson offense that had one of the best red zone scoring percentages in the nation last season.

“It’s the weirdest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. “I mean, I’ve been beat, I’ve had my butt whooped, but I can honestly say that was the strangest game I have ever been a part of.”

The Blue Devils, who have not beaten a ranked opponent since 2016 or an AP top-10 team since 1989, looked dominant on both sides of the ball.

In his first-ever regular-season start, Klubnik completed 63% of his passes for 209 yards, one touchdown and one interception. After the game, Swinney admitted that Klubnik had some troubles but added that he will learn from Monday’s loss.

The second quarter was the lone shining moment for the Tigers, in large part due to their defense. After Clemson held Duke to its second field goal of the game, sophomore linebacker Wade Woodaz recovered a fumbled punt from Duke wide receiver Jalon Calhoun, setting up the Tigers in the red zone. There, Shipley caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Klubnik to put the Tigers on the board.

But that was the only time the Tigers capitalized on scoring opportunities. And in the third quarter, Duke quarterback Riley Leonard broke through the Tigers’ defense for a 44-yard touchdown, which returned the lead to the Blue Devils.

“It’s almost indescribable what I just saw. When you have so much opportunity and get nothing,” Swinney said.

The Tigers struggled to convert on third downs, going seven for 15, as the Blue Devils’ defense made it difficult for Clemson to sustain drives. The Tigers were also 0 for two on fourth down attempts as they attempted to get back into the game to no avail.

“We had plenty of opportunities to go get control of the game and go win the game, but we just couldn’t get out of our own way,” Swinney admitted.

The Tigers will be back in action on Saturday when they host Charleston Southern at 2:15 p.m. EDT.

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About the Contributors
Grace O'Donnell, Sports Editor
Katie Bradham, Senior Videographer
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