Duke’s Mike Elko era boomed into a new stratosphere of success on Monday night.
Coming off a 9-4 season, the Blue Devils started their second season with Elko as head coach with a historic performance, battering No. 9 Clemson 28-7 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The win is the first over a top-10 team since 1989, when coach Steve Spurrier led the Blue Devils over Clemson. Duke halted a 28-game losing streak against top-10 opponents by shutting the reigning ACC champion Tigers out in the second half.
After trailing 7-6 at intermission, Duke racked up 22 consecutive points with Riley Leonard, Jaquez Moore and Jordan Waters running for touchdowns.
Duke finished with 204 rushing yards, averaging a healthy 7.3 yards per attempt.
Here are three takeaways from Duke’s win:
Elko’s defense still stingy
Elko earned the chance to be a head coach for the first time last year after forging a stellar reputation as a defensive coordinator. That unit’s turnaround was key to Duke going 9-4 last season.
Against Clemson, Duke’s defense limited the Tigers to one touchdown while recovering two fumbles. It helped that both fumble recoveries came inside the Duke 10 yard line to snuff out Clemson red-zone scoring chances.
Duke’s suddenly sturdy defensive secondary, bolstered by graduate transfers Myles Jones, Jeremiah Lewis and Al Blades, limited the Tigers to just 7.7 yards per completion. Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 27 of 43 passes for 209 yards, completing a 2-yard pass to Will Shipley for his only touchdown throw.
Clemson finished with 422 yards but struggled to find the end zone. Duke’s defense, after allowing 22.1 points per game last season, looks even better this time around.
The Tigers had the ball 13 times and only scored one touchdown. They failed to get any points on three of their possessions inside the Duke 10, including twice on first-and-goal from the Duke 1.
Riley Leonard shines on big stage
Even after a breakout sophomore season a year ago, Duke junior quarterback Riley Leonard is still overshadowed by fellow ACC quarterbacks Drake Maye of North Carolina, Jordan Travis of Florida State and, until Monday night, Klubnik.
But in a national spotlight on Monday night, Leonard played a turnover-free game and turned the game around for the Blue Devils with his 44-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Duke’s leading rusher a season ago, Leonard ran for 98 yards on eight carries against Clemson.
He played an efficient game on the passing end, completing 17 of 33 passes for 175 yards.
Sloppy but still winning
Clemson regularly plays nationally televised games before capacity crowds. The situation was new for the Blue Devils.
It showed in one key area that threatened to ruin the Blue Devils’ chances of winning. Duke was called for seven pre-snap penalties – either false starts by the offense or offsides on the defense.
Another Duke mistake, Jalon Calhoun’s fumbled punt return, set up Clemson’s second-quarter touchdown that gave it a short-lived 7-6 lead.
But the Tigers turned the ball over three times in the second half, allowing Duke to spring the upset.
Here are earlier updates from the game:
Waters adds another TD: Duke 28, Clemson 7
Jordan Waters carried off the right side for 36 yards and a touchdown, and Todd Pelino’s PAT was good, adding another score for the Blue Devils to add to the shock value.
Cade Klubnik interception
The vaunted Clemson quarterback made another mistake. A pass intended for Will Shipley was defelcted into the hands of Duke defender Dorian Mausi at the Clemson 49, giving the ball back to the Blue Devils with 5:01 to play in the fourth quarter while holding onto a two-score lead.
Key Duke penalty
Duke had stuffed Cade Klubnik on a 4th-and-7 near midfield, allowing the shifty Clemson QB to gain only six yards. But, a penalty for targeting to Cam Dillon on the sliding Klubnik resulted in a 15-yard penalty.
BUT, the play was officially over on the slide, so the foul is a dead-ball foul, which means the Clemson drive is over. It’s Duke ball, 1st and 10 at the Duke 31.
Dillon was ejected from the game.
Moore TD run: Duke 21, Clemson 7
On a first-and-goal play from the 9, Jaquez Moore takes the handoff on a sweep to the right side, finds the edge and scampers into the end zone for a touchdown, putting Duke ahead by two scores. Riley Leonard then completed the two-point conversion pass to Jalon Calhoun to push the Blue Devils’ lead to 14 at 21-7, with 10:33 to play in the fourth quarter.
Clemson red-zone failures
The Tigers had the ball inside the Duke 10 twice in the third quarter and came away empty both times, allowing Duke to maintain a 13-7 lead.
After Clemson had first and goal the 1, a false start penalty moved the Tigers back before quarterback Cade Klubnik was dropped for a five-yard loss to the Duke 11. After a 6-yard Klubnik run, Duke’s Al Blades blocked Clemson’s 22-yard field goal attempt.
With 5:17 left in the quarter, Clemson squandered a chance on first-and-goal at the Duke 7 when Duke’s Jeremiah Lewis fell on Klubnik’s fumble.
Early in the fourth quarter, Clemson failed on another first-and-goal and the 1. Tigers running back Phil Mafah run up the middle but Duke defensive tackle Anthony Nelson jarred the ball loose with his helmet. Duke defensive back Jaylen Stinson scooped up the ball and returned it to the Clemson 33.
Leonard TD run: Duke 13, Clemson 7
Duke quarterback Riley Leonard broke free from a possible sack and took off on a 44-yard touchdown run with 12:40 left in the third quarter, flipping the lead back to the Blue Devils.
The play occurred with Duke facing 3rd-and-3. Clemson linebacker Barrett Carter got his hands on Leonard in the backfield, but Duke’s junior quarterback got loose and weaved his way down the right sideline to the end zone.
Duke’s defense has kept Clemson’s offense in check, but the Blue Devils’ mistakes have them down 7-6 at halftime.
Duke lost two fumbles in the first half and both factored in the score. Jalon Calhoun fumbled a punt that gave Clemson the ball at the Duke 18, leading to Will Shipley’s 2-yard touchdown reception for the Tigers’ lone score.
The Blue Devils used an effective two-minute drive to reach the Clemson 26 with 17 seconds left in the half. But Jaquez Moore fumbled on a short run as Duke attempted to center the ball on the field to set up a field goal attempt. Clemson recovered to take its 1-point lead to halftime.
Duke outgained the Tigers 185 yards to 167 over the game’s first two quarters. Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 14 of 20 passes for just 85 yards. Meanwhile, Duke’s Riley Leonard completed 12 of 24 passes for 146 yards.
The Blue Devils also hurt themselves with three penalties for 15 yards. All were pre-snap infractions by the offense. Another Duke penalty, an offsides call on defensive end RJ Oben, negated a Blue Devils interception. That penalty was offset by a Clemson penalty on the return but its impact still cost Duke a turnover.
Shipley TD catch: Clemson 7, Duke 6
Aided by the game’s first turnover, Clemson took its first lead when Cade Klubnik tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Will Shipley with 10:09 left in the first half.
The Tigers scoring drive was set up when Duke punt returner Jalon Calhoun mishandled a bouncing football and fumbled at the Duke 18. Clemson ran four plays before Shipley’s touchdown.
Pelino FG: Duke 6, Clemson 0
The Blue Devils doubled their lead early in the second quarter when Todd Pelino kicked a 42-yard field goal with 14:29 left until halftime.
Riley Leonard connected with running back Jaquez Moore on a 28-yard pass play to move Duke to the Clemson 25 and set up the scoring chance.
Pelino FG: Duke 3, Clemson 0
The Blue Devils scored on their first offensive possession of the game, using a three of Riley Leonard passes to get them inside the Clemson 5 before Todd Pelino kicked a 22-yard field goal.
On a 10-play 57-yard drive, Leonard completed passes to Nicky Dalmolin (16 yards), Sahmir Hagans (20 yards) and Jordan Moore (19 yards) to set up the Duke score. Leonard misfired on a pair of passes toward Jalon Calhoun in the end zone before Pelino kicked the field goal with 9:19 to play in the first quarter.
Duke will be without one of its top running backs against Clemson as graduate student Jaylen Coleman is not in uniform due to an injury. Part of Duke’s rotation at running back last season, Coleman rushed for 480 yards and four touchdowns.
The Blue Devils will instead roll with Jordan Waters, Jaquez Moore and freshman Peyton Jones as their running backs.