Clemson football suffered a disastrous loss to Duke in their season opener, losing 28-7. The game was a shock to many fans and analysts, as Clemson was heavily favored to win. However, the team’s performance was lackluster, and several players and coaches were singled out for their poor showing.
Clemson football came with a new offensive approach led by first-year offensive coordinator, Garrett Riley, and sophomore quarterback, Cade Klubnik. Sadly, things didn’t go as planned for Clemson. They had some major issues, especially in the red zone. They had a blocked 23-yard field goal attempt and two fumbles just short of the goal line. One of those fumbles led to Duke scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Duke, on the other hand, had a fantastic offensive performance. That’s thanks mostly to their quarterback, Riley Leonard. In the middle of the third quarter, Leonard made an impressive 44-yard touchdown run that put the Blue Devils in the lead with a score of 13-7. Leonard ended the game with a total of 273 yards of offense, including his remarkable touchdown run.
Clemson football did have opportunities to take back the lead. However, they made mistakes at crucial moments. In fact, they reached Duke’s territory on eight out of 13 possessions and didn’t punt once in the second half. In addition, they only managed to score one touchdown despite having a short field to work with.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the four key reasons behind Clemson’s disappointing loss to Duke.
4. Clemson Special Teams Struggles
Clemson had trouble not just in the red zone but also with their special teams. To illustrate, kicker Robert Gunn III had two of his kicks blocked by Duke. Coach Dabo Swinney blamed the kicker for not hitting the right angle, resulting in low line-drive kicks. This was a step back for Clemson’s kicking game since senior kicker BT Potter was usually reliable for three points when needed. Gunn will have to learn from this experience as Clemson football might rely on him in high-pressure situations in the future.
3. Sputtering Offense
Many fans had high hopes for Clemson’s offense this season. They believed that the issues from the previous two seasons had been fixed with a new offense under Riley and Klubnik. However, the offense didn’t show much improvement in this game. Aside from a few formations, it didn’t seem much different from the previous seasons. It’s not unusual for a team to need time to adapt to a new offense. That said, Clemson football needs to maximize their opportunities, or fans will lose hope in any significant improvement.
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2. Cade Klubnik’s Underwhelming Play
From every discernible angle, Cade Klubnik had a tough game. He mainly stuck to short passes and finished with 209 yards and one touchdown. He threw an interception as well. Klubnik was expected to bring back the success of Clemson’s offense, but it didn’t happen in this game. Some questions arose about why Klubnik didn’t attempt more deep passes. This was especially true when Clemson needed to catch up. The coaching staff’s trust in him was also questioned. He didn’t seem to have the same freedom as previous star quarterbacks at Clemson.
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1. Dabo Swinney’s Coaching
Head Coach Dabo Swinney had built a formidable reputation over the years. However, this particular game cast shadows of doubt over his coaching prowess. Many have begun to ponder whether his earlier successes were primarily attributed to the extraordinary talents he had at his disposal, such as Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence.
The emergence of former Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, now showcasing his skills at Oregon State, provided a stark contrast. In his debut for the Beavers, Uiagalelei was nothing short of sensational. He orchestrated a spectacular performance, dazzling spectators as he scored an astonishing five total touchdowns. This remarkable feat led to widespread speculation about whether Uiagalelei had been unfairly blamed for Clemson’s previous offensive struggles.
The stark contrast between Uiagalelei’s triumphant debut against Clemson’s underwhelming performance left many questioning the coaching strategies employed by Swinney. Were his previous achievements the result of having exceptional talents like Watson and Lawrence under his guidance? Or was there room for improvement in his coaching methods and game planning? These lingering uncertainties added a layer of intrigue to see how the season would unfold and whether Clemson’s coaching staff would address these concerns.
Of course, criticism was directed at Swinney for starting Klubnik over more experienced quarterbacks and for his play-calling and clock management during the game. The team’s preparation and motivation were also questioned. In general, Swinney’s coaching was seen as a major factor in Clemson’s loss.
In conclusion, Clemson’s loss to Duke was a stunning upset to the high expectations for the team this season. While there were issues with special teams, the offense, Klubnik’s performance, and coaching decisions, it’s important to remember that it’s just one game. There is certainly room for improvement as the season progresses. Clemson football fans will be hoping for a turnaround in the upcoming games.
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