NO.9 CLEMSON SUFFERS SELF-INFLICTED LOSS IN OPENER AT DUKE
- 2023-09-05 16:55:28
DURHAM, NC - Wow, what a disastrous start to the season. Dabo said after the game that he's never experienced anything like that in all his years of coaching, and I'm not sure I've ever seen anything like it. One critical mistake after another. Just when you thought the Tigers were about to turn the game around, they fumble on first and goal. I harped on turnovers last week and even brought up with Shipley the fact that Duke led the nation in forced fumbles last season. Well, Shipley did his job, but I guess I should have talked to Mafah. Just like last season, turnovers plagued the Tigers in a loss.
And, of course, it wasn't just the fumbles. Two low kicks by Gunn--one a 28-yard chip shot--and two blocked field goals. Welcome to life after BT Potter! Duke also had a big kickoff return, and that never happened with Potter, who nearly always forced touchbacks. Gunn was highly recruited and has a big leg, but his first two career field goal attempts went as horribly as they could have. Dabo said that he's made a 70-yarder in practice. Well, he kicked those two about as low as you'd expect on a 70-yarder, not a chip shot. Dabo has had a great run of kickers from Catanzaro to Huegel to Potter. Let's hope Gunn figures it out this week!
It was a very muggy night in Durham. I don't know if that accounted for the 1st down, goal-line fumble by Mafah, who had a critical fumble against the Gamecocks as well. Duke also had two critical fumbles: a muffed punt that led to the Tigers' only touchdown and a fumble inside field goal range as they were driving to score before halftime. And Duke only had 4 fumbles all season last year, so maybe the humidity had something to do with it. However, the first and goal fumble by Cade was simply a mental error on his part. He was indecisive on the RPO and tried to pull the ball out of Shipley's chest too late. Cade made some great throws but also made some bad ones and at times looked like he was only making his second start. On the 4th and 8 run in the 4th quarter, he made the mistake of sliding short of the first down when he could have gotten it. The Tigers still had a chance to tie the game at that point. Cade made a few terrible passes as well. One interception was dropped, and another was called back for offsides. He also air-mailed a screen pass. The receivers also had some critical drops on nice passes by Cade. It's very similar to what we saw from DJ when he was 19. Some good plays and some bad ones, combined with drops and fumbles by other players. However, most fans were a lot tougher on DJ than they are being on Cade. It's crazy to think that Cade has lost his first two starts in college after never losing a start in high school! I have no doubt that Cade is a winner, and he's going to be great, but I expected these growing pains, especially with a new Offensive Coordinator. Folks, it is super rare for a quarterback to be as successful as Watson and Lawrence were at 19 years old, and they had better receivers than DJ had or Cade has now. Fans were spoiled by Watson and Lawrence, heaped unrealistic expectations on DJ and hated him for being human. That's why it's so tough to follow a couple legends. DJ is 21 now, and he was outstanding in his Oregon State debut, scoring 5 touchdowns and completing 20 of 25 passes. Joe Burrow was average at best until he was 23 years old. More often than not, it takes time for quarterbacks to mature and become great. I tried to tell that to people over and over with DJ, but most fans made their minds up and were too biased to see all the good plays he made, only the bad. Hell, I've seen it from my own family. Anyway, Cade will be fine, and the next couple games should give him plenty of confidence and momentum.
The Tigers also made some opening game mistakes on defense, such as missed tackles, bad angles and coverage busts. For a second, it looked like Carter had Leonard sacked, and suddenly he breaks out of it and runs 40 yards for a touchdown. I talked before the game about how hard Leonard is to sack because he's elusive and gets rid of the ball quickly. That's why he was sacked just 17 times last season, fewest in the ACC. The Tigers pressured him 6 times but didn't post one sack. And this is the only defense in the nation that has recorded at least 40 sacks in every year of the playoff era.
The good news is that both sides of the ball played well for the most part, and Shipley was incredible. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry and caught his first career TD pass, which is hard to believe. He played with a ton of heart! It was just a few monumental mistakes at critical times that cost the Tigers the game. They out-gained Duke by almost 50 yards. They passed and rushed for over 200 yards. Clemson was 108-0 all-time and 58-0 under Dabo when doing that. But that's how much of a fluke this loss was. The Tigers had won an unprecedented 68 straight games when leading at halftime until the one-point loss to the Gamecocks last season. Now, they've lost 2 of their last 3 when leading at the half. It took several crucial mistakes for them to lose this game. The bright side is that all of those mistakes are very correctable. Eliminate them, as they should, and you have a team that would have beaten a top-25 caliber Duke team with an NFL quarterback on the road. This is why college should have preseason games like every other level of football, but it is what it is. If these two teams should meet again in Charlotte for the ACC Championship, I think you will see a very different version of the Tigers.
Of course, being what they are, fans will overreact to this and so will much of the media. The sky is not falling, folks, so climb off the ledge. Beat FSU in a few weeks, and this loss will seem like distant bad dream. I'm sure some of you are saying, "Yeah, right, FSU is going to slaughter us," but I honestly believe the Tigers will win that game. Remember, you read it here. This loss does not change the fact that this is an extremely talented team. All it does is make them angry, give them even more motivation and things to correct. They will right the ship over the next couple weeks with two blowout wins at home, get their confidence back, and you will see a different team in Death Valley against an overconfident FSU team that thinks it already won the national title. We could very well see a Clemson-Duke rematch in Charlotte for the ACC Championship, folks! Duke is the only team from the former Coastal division that Clemson has not played for an ACC Championship, so that would be ironic.
I'll have more analysis of the game after I watch it again. In the meantime, post-game interviews with Dabo and players are below along with notes and highlights.
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