Riley Leonard broke loose from a tackler and sprinted to the open for a 44-yard touchdown that highlighted Duke’s tough and physical performance that shocked ninth-ranked Clemson 28-7 in Monday night’s season opener for both teams.
Jaquez Moore added a 9-yard scoring run by beating multiple defenders to the near pylon on the right side in the fourth quarter for the Blue Devils (1-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), giving them an unexpected two-touchdown lead in a game they largely controlled in spite of numerous miscues.
That’s because Duke thrice held up after Clemson had pushed inside the 10-yard line — even to the 1 on two of those possessions — to hold the Tigers scoreless. The Blue Devils blocked two field goals and twice forced fumbles in those critical near-the-goal-line moments. And they made Clemson work to move the chains instead of moving the ball in chunks under new offensive coordinator Garrett Riley.
In short, the Blue Devils made the preseason ACC favorite look very, very ordinary en route to beating the Tigers (0-1, 0-1) for the first time since 2004.
By the final minutes, Clemson was just trying to keep the chains moving and build toward any type of miracle comeback while many of the orange-clad fans who packed into Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium streamed for the exits with more than 5 minutes left.
That gave Duke’s students — typically known for their rowdy “Cameron Crazies” fame in basketball — a monopoly to celebrate in an atmosphere growing ever more festive as the clock wound toward zero.
Once it got there, they wasted no time sprinting in a roar to midfield even with time still on the clock to celebrate a huge win that only further validates second-year coach Mike Elko’s approach in building a tough, competitive edge here.
Jordan Waters added a punctuating moment by breaking loose for a 36-yard scoring run with 3:15 left to turn the game into a romp. And it ended Duke’s 28-game losing streak to top-10 opponents, the last win coming — fittingly — against then-No. 7 Clemson in 1989.
Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik, handed the reins while veteran DJ Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State, completed 27 of 43 passes for 209 yards while throwing one touchdown pass and one interception.
Klubnik threw for a short touchdown to Will Shipley in the second quarter for Clemson’s only score on a day that repeatedly left coach Dabo Swinney shaking his head (after a second blocked kick) or wiping his forehead (after a fourth-quarter fumble at the goal line) in frustration on the sideline.
Clemson: Riley’s arrival after helping TCU make last year’s national-championship game was supposed to provide a spark for the Klubnik-led offense. The Tigers finished with 422 total yards, but repeatedly fell short in critical moments while stumbling into massive mistakes.
Duke: Elko took over a program that had seen its winning edge fizzle in the final years of David Cutcliffe’s long and successful tenure. He rebuilt confidence and found immediate success with nine wins, including a bowl victory, in Year 1 after Duke had won 10 games in the three previous seasons. And now, he’s got his biggest win as a first-time head coach.
The Tigers have likely sent themselves careening down, or even out of, Tuesday’s new poll with this showing. But the Blue Devils could be in line to crack the rankings for the first time since 2018.
Clemson: The Tigers return home to host Charleston Southern from the Big South Conference on Saturday.
Duke: The Blue Devils host a nonconference game against Lafayette from the Patriot League on Saturday.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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