Coach Dabo Swinney Says Clemson’s Loss To Duke ‘Almost Indescribable’

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Clemson’s trial concluded on Monday, and head coach Dabo Swinney anticipates a harsh judgment from the jury.

As the ninth-ranked team in the Associated Press preseason poll when it came in Durham, Clemson was a huge favorite to defeat a Duke squad that hadn’t defeated a top-10 club since 1989.

After a 28-7 defeat in which Clemson struggled through four drives inside the red zone that resulted in no points, the Tigers left Durham broken, beaten, and completely perplexed.

“That’s the weirdest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Swinney said. “I’ve been beat. I’ve had my butt kicked. But that’s the strangest game I’ve ever been a part of.”

Prior to Monday night, Clemson had 12 more first downs, 48 more yards, and 200 yards combined through the air and on the ground. Swinney remarked that these numbers were in line with the Tigers’ previous all-time record of 108-0.

The offense fumbled twice after a first-and-goal at the one, and two short field goals were blocked. This was Clemson’s undoing in the red zone.

Clemson mishandled the ball a total of three times.

“It’s almost indescribable what I just saw,” Swinney said. “It’s incredibly frustrating when you had so much opportunity. … It’s routine stuff. The basics. The fundamentals. Basic, basic stuff.”

Despite throwing for 209 yards and rushing for 34 more, quarterback Cade Klubnik turned the ball over on downs during a scramble on fourth-and-7 in the middle of the fourth quarter. Swinney later said that the decision to give Duke possession despite a flag being raised for targeting on the play was the right one.

After the Tigers’ loss to Tennessee in the Orange Bowl at the conclusion of the 2022 season, Swinney claimed Klubnik, who was making his second career start for Clemson, would learn from the play.

“He’s a gritty kid, a tough competitor, and I’m glad we’ve got him,” Swinney said. “Because I know how he’s going to respond.”

Swinney stated that he shared this opinion of the other members of his squad, who he claimed had won individual contests but fallen short due to mental errors.

“We’re not entitled to win,” he said. “You’ve got to go earn it. We had an opportunity to get control of that game on multiple occasions and we just didn’t. That’s how you get beat.”

Although Clemson suffered its worst ACC defeat since 2014 on Monday and dropped its season opener for the second game in three years, Swinney said none of that alters his expectations for this year’s squad.

“People are going to see the score and judge this team,” Swinney said. “I love this football team and I see a lot of opportunity here. … A lot of people are probably going to give up on us and throw us away. But I ain’t throwing this team away. We’re going to bounce back.”

The sentiment was shared by Klubnik, who insisted that the 2023 season’s terrible beginning will only serve to improve the conclusion.

“This is just going to be such a sweet story,” Klubnik said. “That’s just the dream that I have and the dreams that our team has is to respond. That’s a decision we’ve got to make. Are we going to respond or are we going to let this linger? Ultimately our goal is to play in 15 games and finish 14-1. We can’t go undefeated now, but there’s a lot of games left.”

Klubnik pointed out that despite suffering a shocking setback to Pittsburgh during the 2016 campaign, Clemson still managed to claim the title.

But this defeat seemed more aggravating. Although Swinney believed his squad had good cause to be optimistic, the Tigers lost their third game in a row, which hadn’t happened since 2011. The new-look offense, which has Klubnik at the helm and Garrett Riley as the play-caller, frequently resembles the groups that caused supporters to lose patience over the past two seasons when DJ Uiagalelei was the quarterback.

However, Swinney didn’t see it that way. His expectations for this club haven’t changed as a result of the loss, he claimed, adding that the final score appeared far worse than the real performance on the field.

“The good news is, if there is any good news, you didn’t see a horrible football team out there,” Swinney said. “You saw a bad result. But you didn’t see a bad football team that can’t play the game.”