Clemson had plenty of chances but lost to Duke decisively, falling 28-7. After the game, Dabo Swinney received a lot of criticism. Photo Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2023; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney walks off the field after losing to the Duke Blue Devils at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the locker room up 7-6 at halftime, Clemson’s football program was not looking at a pretty win against Duke in Monday’s season opener. But Week 1 wins are often ugly. There was really no reason to believe that Dabo Swinney, a two-time national championship-winning head coach, wouldn’t put together a second-half gameplan good enough for the Tigers to pull out a win.

But that didn’t happen. In fact, that didn’t come close to happening. Clemson was shut out in the second half and ended up not only losing, but getting blown out, falling 28-7.

As the game got increasingly further away from the Tigers in the fourth quarter and after it ended, Swinney was criticized for not only his game plan but also his failure to adapt to college football’s rapidly changing landscape.

The way the game unfolded did Swinney no favors, either.

Clemson’s 7-6 halftime lead did not last long, as Duke quarterback Riley Leonard blasted through the Tigers defense for a 44-yard touchdown run on the first possession of the second half.

While Duke would not surrender that lead, Clemson had plenty of chances to get back into the game. After Leonard’s touchdown run, the Tigers quickly moved the ball down the field. And while the drive stalled in the red zone, Clemson seemingly had a guaranteed three points. Only Robert Gunn III’s 23-yard field goal attempt was missed.

That was an omen of things to come.

Both of Duke’s next two possessions were three-and-outs. Clemson moved the ball well both times, going down the field and setting up a first-and-goal. But both possessions ended with the Tigers fumbling the ball and the Blue Devils recovering.

Time will tell how big of an upset this is. Clemson was favored by 12.5 points but who knows, maybe the rest of the season will show that Duke is simply the better team. And even if this does prove to be a big upset, not all upsets are squarely on the losing coach. Sometimes the underdogs just have great days.

That just wasn’t the case here. The Blue Devils certainly had a great fourth quarter. But getting to that point was tough. Duke made plenty of its own mistakes and failed to capitalize on Clemson miscues. For three quarters, it would be more accurate to say that the Tigers were playing worse than the Blue Devils, not that Duke was playing better than Clemson.

And that’s where it’s hard to let Swinney off the hook. This was a winnable game. But the Tigers had too many blunders like turnovers and special teams miscues. In games like that, it’s hard to start with anyone but the losing coach when assigning blame.

About Michael Dixon

Michael is a writer and editor for The Comeback Media. He is Bay Area native living in the Indianapolis area. Michael is also a big nerd when it comes to sports history and to a slightly lesser extent, all history. Beyond that, loves tacos, pizza and random Seinfeld quotes.

Feel free to voice your agreements or disagreements. If you do so respectfully, Michael will gladly respond in kind.

Twitter: @mfdixon1985 (mostly personal but a lot of sports)/@mdixonsports (All work/sports related)