The Clemson Tigers ran for 213 yards and threw for 209. In school history, Clemson was 108-0 when reaching the 200-yard benchmark in both categories. The word “was” is the key in that sentence as the Tigers are now 108-1 after falling in Durham to the Duke Blue Devils. Now at 0-1 and with no further room for error if the goals for the 2023 season are to be achieved, let’s take a look back at a few of the key plays that shaped the 28-7 outcome.
Blocked Field Goal #1
Wallace Wade Stadium was rocking and Duke started with the early momentum, forcing a punt from Clemson and driving for a field goal of their own to take a 3-0 lead. Clemson reached the edge of the red zone and lined up for a 41-yard field goal with 5:15 remaining in the first quarter. Freshman Robert Gunn took his first attempt as a collegiate kicker...it did not go well. Duke got pressure and the kick did not clear the line, getting blocked and serving as another warning about what kind of night it was going to be.
Muffed Punt Leads to Clemson TD
With the Duke Blue Devils in firm control, Clemson was forced to punt with 12:30 remaining in the second quarter. Duke punt returner Jalon Calhoun appeared to slip immediately after fielding the punt and he dropped the ball. Clemson’s Wade Woodaz was in perfect position and he pounced on the muffed punt at the Duke 18-yard line. The great field position led to a third and goal for Clemson on the two-yard line. The Tigers lined up in a two-back set with Cade Klubnik faking a hand off to Phil Mafah. Will Shipley slashed across the formation, Klubnik lobbed the pass over a rushing defender and Shipley bulled over a defender at the goal line for the go-ahead score. It was a rare bright spot in the contest for the Tigers.
Fumble Recovery for Mukuba
Late in the first half, the Duke Blue Devils were driving and appeared set up to take the lead again with a field goal. Jaquez Moore took a handoff up the middle with 17 seconds remaining. Jeremiah Trotter Jr. hit Moore from behind and jarred the ball loose. Andrew Mukuba scooped up the ball and very nearly took it the other way for a score. He was tripped up just as he gained possession. Clemson gained a pair of first downs but the half came to a close with the road team leading 7-6.
Riley Leonard’s Highlight Run
On the opening series of the second half, Duke faced a third and long from the Clemson 44-yard line. Barrett Carter applied pressure and had Duke quarterback Riley Leonard dead to rights in the backfield. Leonard had other ideas, he shed the tackle from Carter, escaped the pocket and then scampered down the sideline for a 44-yard touchdown to put the Blue Devils ahead 13-7.
Red Zone Woes (Parts One, Two and Three)
Clemson responded to the Duke touchdown with a few nice runs but the red zone issues from last season’s South Carolina and Tennessee games continued into this season and it cost Clemson dearly. Down 13-7, Clemson reached the one-yard line before a false start backed them up to the six and then Cade Klubnik tripped at the 11-yard line on a scramble. Robert Gunn had another kick blocked, this one from 23 yards out.
On the next drive, Clemson again had first and goal but a mishandled read option between Cade Klubnik and Will Shipley ended the possession as Duke recovered the fumble. For a third successive drive, Clemson took the ball to the Duke one-yard line and had a first and goal situation. For the third successive drive, Clemson failed to score. This time, it was Phil Mafah fumbling a carry that was picked up and returned by Duke’s Jaylin Stinson 55 yards. The Blue Devils went on to score a touchdown after that turnover. Instead of Clemson going ahead 14-13, Duke was up 21-7 (after converting a two-point conversion) and the game was effectively over.
In Clemson’s last three games, the Tigers have had 16 red zone opportunities. They have just two touchdowns, two field goals and 12 of the trips have ended with zero points. The lack of red zone success will be crippling if it cannot be solved.