Duke upset No. 9 Clemson 28-7 in the teams’ season opener Monday at Wallace Wade Stadium. Here’s what you need to know:
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
What the win means for Duke
It’s everything. There are so few high points in modern Duke football history, and one of those was the 1989 season — which just so happens to be the last time the Blue Devils knocked off a top-10 team. Even the 2013 team that reached the ACC championship game didn’t accomplish something like this; it was quite a feat, but so many of us chalked it up to the Coastal division being wide-open and relatively weak on an annual basis.
There’s no denying what we witnessed on Monday night. That was a game in which Duke was the better team, more physical and with a more effective offensive game plan. Both teams made a bunch of brutal mistakes — including Duke, which rarely suffered self-inflicted errors a season ago — but the Blue Devils were able to control the game and win convincingly. Typically, underdogs need to play perfectly to pull off a big upset. That wasn’t the case in this one. — Auerbach
Where Duke goes from here
When Mike Elko took this job, so many in the industry wondered if he just really, really wanted to be a head coach — because so few believed it was a place that could be consistently good at football. But he did, as long as he felt that the school could commit to the resources and salary pool that was necessary to do it. But it was a fair concern with legitimate questions. Could Duke really be competitive in this sport at the highest level in current era? With the transfer portal and Duke’s academic limitations? With NIL and a sport that’s not basketball at this particular place?
Well, I’m not ready to say Duke is going to contend for an ACC title this year or sniff the College Football Playoff. But Elko took over a team that had previously won three games — and went 9-4 in Year 1. And Year 2 has now begun with a top-10 win in front of a national audience in a game that had Monday night to itself. We all saw Leonard, one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, show why he could be one of the nation’s top QBs. We saw the physicality and aggressiveness in Duke’s defense. We all know this is for real, and it might be time to revisit what we thought the ceiling for Duke football in the 2020s could be. — Auerbach
How Clemson fares after Week 1
Holy smokes, Clemson is in real trouble. Yes, yes, it’s Week 1 but the one thing Clemson needed to do Monday night was show that it had made progress from the 2022 season. The Tigers didn’t even necessarily need to slam the door on an up-and-coming Duke team, but they had to prove that 2023 would not be more of the same. They needed to win. And they had to show that Riley and Klubnik were the answers in the post-Brandon Streeter-DJ Uiagalelei era.
The Tigers most certainly did not do that. The play-calling was conservative. Klubnik looked overwhlemed, and when he did make a few solid throws, his receivers dropped them. And the miscues. Sheesh. The miscues were atrocious. In three of Clemson’s trips to the red zone, the Tigers had a blocked field goal from 23 yards out, a fumble at the 7-yard line and another fumble at the 3-yard line. This will be a long season for the Tigers if Dabo Swinney doesn’t fix something quickly. — Raynor
RILEY LEONARD 44-YARD TD RUN 🔥
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) September 5, 2023
KEEP BATTLING!!!😈😈 pic.twitter.com/EQSPW3iVdb
— Duke Football (@DukeFOOTBALL) September 5, 2023
(Photo:Ken Ruinard / USA Today)