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Clemson vs. Duke: Blue Devils Stun the Tigers 28-7

Clemson makes mistake after mistake and gets out-hustled by Duke, losing 28-7.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Duke
It was a long night for the Tigers.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

College football is back baby! And welcome back to the STS coverage of your Clemson Tigers. After several years of doing the post-game recap, some health issues sidelined me last year, but all is good and I’m back to bringing you the recap and post-game discussion with y’all. With last year’s season going off the rails at the end, we’re all hoping to seeing the Tigers back in the CFP hunt. After seeing the Tiger offense be a bad weak spot for the team last year, hopes were high that Garret Riley will bring some explosiveness back to the attack. Unfortunately, that was not the case tonight.

The Tigers got the ball first and the drive started well with a first down on the legs of Will Shipley but then the Duke defense made some good plays and forced a 3rd and long. Cade Klubnik threw a dreadfully bad pass that was almost intercepted. Duke’s opening drive started pretty well, with QB Riley Leonard throwing some nice passes and his receivers getting good yardage after the catch. They moved down inside the Tiger 5-yard line but couldn’t get into the end zone and settled for a FG to take a 3-0 lead.

The Tigers’ second drive was more productive although Cade started a little slowly with a couple of high passes. Duke made some good plays after the Tigers got inside the 30 and forced a FG attempt that was blocked. The Tigers were not off to a very good start. On Duke’s ensuing drive, the Tiger defensive line started getting into the Duke backfield and disrupting things. The result was a 3-and-out for the Blue devils.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Duke
Cade Klubnik dives for yardage.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

After the Tigers went 3-and-out, Duke moved inside the Tiger 30, punctuated by a 28-yard pass that saw a Tiger defender get way out of position being too aggressive. At the end of the 1st quarter, the Blue Devils were threatening to get into the red zone but a good play by Sheridan Jones on 3rd down forced Duke to settle for another FG and a 6-0 lead.

Clemson’s next drive made me really wonder about the lack of talent at wide receiver after seeing passes that should have been caught fall to the turf. A plus for the Tigers was a muffed punt by Duke that gave Clemson the ball at the Blue Devil 18. A few plays later Shipley took a short flare pass and got into the end zone. With the PAT, Clemson had their first lead, 7-6. I will note that at this point, I had not seen any dominating play by the Tiger offensive line, especially on running plays. The Tiger defense played well on Duke’s next possession, forcing a punt that pinned Clemson at their own 8.

On the next drive, Cade settled down and started throwing some accurate passes. Phil Mafah was also running with good power. But the offensive line allowed Duke to get to Cade and set up a 3rd and 19 that the Tigers couldn’t convert. A punt put Duke on their 15 with just under two minutes left in the half. Their 2-minute offense operated effectively and they moved into Clemson territory. The Tigers seemed to be in good shape when the defense forced a 4th-&-7 but Duke was able to convert it. A few plays later, Duke fumbled and Clemson’s Andrew Mukuba recovered it. The Tigers then ran the clock out.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Duke
Antonio Williams makes a catch.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Duke opened the 2nd half with an effective drive, and some poor pursuit and tackling allowed Leonard to get loose for a 44-yard touchdown. Duke led 13-7. The Tigers were definitely not playing like the #9 team in the country. Clemson’s offense responded as the offensive line started opening some nice holes for Mafah. They got to 1st and goal at the 1 but a penalty and great play by the Blue Devil defense forced a 23-yard FG attempt that might have been partially blocked and sailed wide left.

Duke next went 3-&-out, mostly due to mistakes on their part, and the Tigers took over at their 28 after the punt. Clemson’s offensive line started opening some nice holes for Shipley and Cade seemed to be getting into a rhythm. The Tigers got into another 1st-and-goal and promptly fumbled on an option read. Duke recovered but the Tiger defense rose to the occasion and forced the Blue Devils to punt.

Clemson drove down the field on some good running by Mafah and Shipley. They got another 1st-&-goal inside the 5 and... fumbled it again. Duke recovered and ran it to the Tiger 33. The Tiger defense seemed a little tired and the Blue Devils got into the end zone. A 2-point conversion made it 21-7 Duke.

Needing two scores, Clemson moved into Duke territory but then an odd thing happened. Cade went into a slide on 4th down about a yard short of the line to make but was hit by a Duke defender. The officials ruled it was targeting, but a dead ball foul, giving Duke the ball. That must be the rule but it strikes me as wrong. The Tiger defense held the Blue Devils but the clock was now a big factor with under 6 minutes left. A 70-yard punt didn’t help.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Duke
Duke QB Riley Leonard had a good night against the Tiger defense.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers didn’t do themselves any favors and their drive ended with an interception when the pass hit Shipley in the hands and bounced up and into the hands of a Duke defender. They gave up another TD and ended up losing 28-7. Yes, it really was that bad. Clemson might be a top-25 team but it sure didn’t look like it tonight.

It’s a long season, and the Tigers need some serious work in all three phases of the game. The offensive line showed some good signs, but it took them a while to get going. They will face much more impressive defensive lines later in the season. The wide receivers dropped way too many passes and do any of them know how to run routes and get separation? That has been a chronic problem for the Tigers for years. We don’t have WRs like Tee Higgins and Mike Williams who can out-physical DBs. We need to get Hunter Renfrow to retire and come back to teach these guys how to run routes. And for goodness sake, let’s start using the TE on offense. Defense doesn’t have that killer instinct. Cade was inconsistent, which was DJ’s biggest issue.

Let’s see if the Tigers can make some improvements before they get into the meat of the season, but I’m feeling pretty pessimistic right now. How about you? Let us know in the comments section below.