DURHAM – Duke made so many mistakes in the first half against Clemson on Monday night that it was surprising the Blue Devils trailed.
Clemson made most of the mistakes in the second half and it means Duke ended college football’s opening weekend with the most-resounding win across the country.
Duke beat No. 9 Clemson 28-7 in what turned into a dominating display at Wallace Wade Stadium, the Blue Devils notching their first top-10 win since 1989.
Quarterback Riley Leonard ran for a 44-yard touchdown on the fifth play of the second half to give Duke a lead and that’s about as boring as the play could sound. It was a third-and-3 draw in which Leonard was hit by a couple of Tigers behind the line of scrimmage, but he kept his feet and escaped down the sideline, tight-roping into the end zone.
Duke blocked two field goals in this game, the second of which came on the next possession.
The Blue Devils added a touchdown to go up two touchdowns with 10:33 left, Jaquez Moore scampering into the end zone from 9 yards out.
That came after the second fumble by Clemson inside Duke’s 10-yard line; this one was returned deep into Clemson territory by Jaylen Stinson, who had been injured several plays earlier and on the other side of the third-fourth quarter swing.
Dorian Mausi intercepted a tipped pass over the middle — Clemson’s third turnover of the second half — with 5:01 left, effectively sealing the result.
Duke beat itself more than Clemson did much of anything in the first half, which is how we got to halftime with the score at 7-6 in the Tigers’ favor.
Clemson’s touchdown came when Jalon Calhoun muffed a punt and the Tigers recovered deep in Duke’s territory. Duke held strong on two runs from inside the 5-yard line, but the third-and-goal pass to Will Shipley just cleared a blitzing Brandon Johnson’s reach, and Shipley powered into the end zone.
The other self-inflicted wounds weren’t as costly but still reverberated. False starts in the second quarter turned a couple of third-and-2s into third-and-7s; an offside penalty negated an interception by Al Blades Jr.; Jeremiah Lewis dropped an interception on the game’s first possession; and Duke failed to score on a drive that reached first-and-goal inside Clemson’s 5-yard line.
Duke went high-tempo on its first drive and it worked — just not all the way into the end zone. The Blue Devils got completions to three different receivers for 16, 22 and 19 yards but stalled inside Clemson’s 5-yard line and settled for Todd Pelino’s 22-yard field goal.
Pelino kicked another field goal, this one of 42 yards, on the second play of the second quarter. The big play of that possession was a 28-yard catch-and-run by Jaquez Moore out of the backfield.
In between Duke’s pair of field goals was the Blue Devils’ first blocked field goal since 2018 (Joe Giles-Harris).
Clemson’s offense strung together a decent drive — its only one that crossed midfield in the first half — before stalling and sending out Robert Gunn III out for a 41-yard attempt.
Ja’Mion Franklin’s big left hand got a piece of the kick to keep Clemson off of the scoreboard.
The only points Duke allowed in the first half came when Calhoun gifted the Tigers the ball at the Blue Devils’ 18-yard line.