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HomesportSweeney Says Clemson's Loss to Duke 'Almost Unspeakable'

Sweeney Says Clemson’s Loss to Duke ‘Almost Unspeakable’

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David HaleESPN staff writerSept. 5, 2023 at 01:33 a.m. ET4 minutes to read

Dabo on losing Duke: ‘I’ve never been a part of a game like this’

Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney shares his thoughts after the “incredibly disappointing loss” to Duke.

DURHAM, North Carolina – It was Monday Judgment Night Clemson and coach Dabo Sweeney expect the jury to deliver a stinging verdict.

Clemson arrived at Durham ranked ninth in the Associated Press preseason poll and was the favorite to beat a Duke team that hasn’t knocked off a top ten program since 1989.

The Tigers left Durham battered, clubbed, and completely baffled after a 28-7 loss that saw Clemson fumble through four drives inside the red zone that ended with no points.

“This is the strangest game I’ve ever been in,” said Sweeney. “I got knocked out. I got my ass kicked. But this is the weirdest game I’ve ever been in.”

Clemson had 12 more first downs, another 48 receiving yards, both throwing and rushing for 200 yards—a statistic, Sweeney noted afterwards, that tied for the Tigers’ 108-0 all-time record prior to Monday night.

Clemson’s downfall was a woeful red zone performance as he blocked two short field goals and two fumbles on offense after a first and goal on the 1.

In all, Clemson turned the ball over three times.

“What I just saw is almost indescribable,” said Sweeney. “It’s very frustrating when you have so many opportunities. … It’s routine stuff. The basics. The basics. The basic things, the basics.”

Quarterback Kady Klopnik threw for 209 yards and rushed for another 34, but a 4th-and-7 scramble midway through the fourth quarter ended in a turnover on touchdowns when Klopnik slipped just short of the mark. A targeting flag was thrown on the play, but the officials still awarded possession to Duke, which Sweeney then admitted was the right decision.

Sweeney said the play will be a learning experience for Klopnik, who was making his second career start with Clemson after the Tigers’ Orange Bowl loss to Tennessee at the end of the 2022 season.

“He’s a brave lad, a tough competitor, and I’m glad we got him,” Sweeney said. Because I know how he will react.

Sweeney said he believes the same for the rest of his team, who he said won their singles matches but lost due to mental errors.

“We have no right to win,” he said. “You have to win that. We’ve had the chance to control that game on multiple occasions but we haven’t. That’s how you win.”

Clemson lost its season opener for the second time in three years and Monday was its worst loss in the ACC since 2014, but Sweeney said none of that changes his outlook for this year’s team.

“People will see the score and judge this team,” Sweeney said. “I love this football team and I see a lot of opportunities here. … A lot of people would probably give up on us and dump us. But I’m not throwing this team away. We’re going to take a step back.”

That sentiment was echoed by Klopnik, who insisted that a daunting start to the 2023 season would only make the ending that much better.

“That would be a beautiful story,” Klopnik said. “It’s just my dream and our team’s dream to respond. That’s a decision we have to make. Are we going to fight back or are we going to let this stand? In the end our goal is to play in 15 games and finish 14-1. We can’t go unbeaten now, but there are a lot of games left.”

Klopnik noted that Clemson suffered a stunning loss to Pittsburgh in the 2016 season and went on to win the national championship.

But this loss seemed even more disappointing. While Sweeney said he believes his team has shown enough reason for optimism, this was the Tigers’ third loss in their past four games – something that hasn’t happened since 2011. Meanwhile, the new offense with Klopnik at the helm and the new squad often looked Coordinator Garrett Riley’s call plays are off like units that have caused so much frustration from fans over the past two seasons with DJ Uiagalelei at QB.

But Sweeney didn’t see it that way. He said the end result looked much worse than the actual performance on the field, and said his expectations for this team had not changed because of the loss.

“The good news is if there’s any good news, you haven’t seen a bad football team out there,” Sweeney said. “You’ve seen a bad result. But you haven’t seen a bad football team that can’t play the game.”

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