The Clemson Football Team's Struggles in the Start of the 2023 Season

The Clemson Football Team’s Struggles in the Start of the 2023 Season

Last Updated: 5 September 2023By

In the early stages of the 2023 college football season, the Clemson Tigers faced a setback that left their fans disheartened. Ranked number 9, the Tigers suffered a disappointing loss to the Duke Blue Devils, with a final score of 28-7. This defeat marked the end of their five-game winning streak against the Blue Devils, dating back to 2004.

The Clemson team, led by coordinator Garrett Reilly and quarterback Cad Clubnick, initiated a new offensive strategy that appeared unsteady from the start. Their opening drive, a five-play, 11-yard effort, was prematurely halted by a solid tackle from Duke’s safety, Jeremiah Lewis, on third down.

From that point onwards, Clemson’s offense struggled to find its footing. Clubnick had a series of incomplete passes, and in the second quarter, he found himself sacked and fumbled, leading to Duke’s recovery. The majority of the first half saw Clemson’s wide receivers struggling to get open, forcing the Tigers to rely heavily on short screen passes. They managed to capitalize on only four out of six drives in the first half.

However, their most significant setback occurred in the red zone.

Even when Clemson managed to move the ball effectively in the second half, they faltered when they came close to scoring. Inside Duke’s 5-yard line, their back-to-back drives stumbled. In the first, Clubnick handed the ball off to running back Vil Shipley, but a fumble in the handoff exchange led to Duke’s recovery, thwarting their efforts. In the second attempt, a pass from Clubnick to Phil Maffia to push it back to within one touchdown. Clemson’s defense, led by Rile Leonard, struggled to contain Duke’s dual-threat quarterback, who rushed for 98 yards and threw for 175 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown pass after evading linebacker Barrett Carter’s tackle.

The majority of the game saw Clemson’s defense limiting the damage, but overall, the performance was uninspiring. Duke managed to reach the end zone three times. Clemson’s defense registered two sacks, one by linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and another by cornerback Sheridan Jones. Trotter’s impressive hit even led to a turnover, but Clemson couldn’t capitalize on it.

Both teams committed mistakes in special teams. Clemson, struggling to get Clubnick and the offense into the red zone, relied on its special teams to make up the deficit. Linebacker Ved Woods recovered a muffed punt by Duke’s Jalon Calhoun, giving Clemson a favorable field position at Duke’s 18-yard line. After five plays, Clemson finally found the end zone when sophomore running back Vil Shipley caught a 2-yard swing pass for his first touchdown of the season.

The Clemson Football Team's Struggles in the Start of the 2023 Season

Shipley’s performance was a bright spot for Clemson. While he made a few mistakes, such as fumbling in the second quarter, he managed to redeem himself with a touchdown later in the game. In the third quarter, following a series of dramatic plays, Clemson’s freshman kicker Robert Gunn III attempted his first field goal. Unfortunately, his 41-yard attempt was blocked by Duke’s defensive end Wesley Williams, keeping the game tied at 3-3. Later in the third quarter, when Clemson finally made it to the red zone, they were forced to settle for another field goal attempt. Williams managed to block this one as well, leaving Clemson trailing 6-3.

In the end, Clemson’s struggles in the red zone proved costly. Their inability to convert scoring opportunities into touchdowns allowed Duke to maintain the upper hand. Duke’s defense, led by safety Vessle Williams, played a crucial role in preventing Clemson’s offense from finding its rhythm.

To sum it up, Clemson’s 28-7 loss to Duke in the opening game of the 2023 season was a disappointing start to what was anticipated to be a successful campaign. The Tigers faced challenges on both offense and defense, with their struggles in the red zone and their inability to contain Duke’s quarterback being the key factors contributing to their defeat.

In conclusion, while Clemson has the potential to bounce back from this early setback, they will need to address their red-zone inefficiencies and improve their defensive performance to regain their winning ways. Only time will tell if they can overcome these challenges and emerge as strong contenders in the 2023 season.