On Monday night, the Mike Elko era at Duke reached a new stratosphere of success. Coming off a 9-4 season, the Blue Devils started their second season with Elko as head coach with a historic performance, pulverizing No. 9 Clemson 28-7 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
This is Duke’s first victory over a top-ten team since 1989 when Steve Spurrier led the Blue Devils to a victory over Clemson. The second-half shutout of the defending ACC champion Tigers ended Duke’s 28-game losing streak against top-10 opponents.
After trailing 7-6 at halftime, Duke scored 22 consecutive points on touchdown runs by Riley Leonard, Jaquez Moore, and Jordan Waters.
Duke completed the game with 204 rushing yards, averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
The defense is still biting for Elko
Elko was given the opportunity to be a head coach for the first time last year after establishing an outstanding reputation as a defensive coordinator. The turnaround of that unit was crucial to Duke’s 9-4 record last season. In the game against Clemson, Duke’s defense limited the Tigers to one touchdown and recovered two fumbles. The fact that both fumble recoveries occurred inside the Duke 10-yard line helped thwart Clemson’s red-zone scoring opportunities.
Graduate transfers Myles Jones, Jeremiah Lewis, and Al Blades supplemented Duke’s secondary defense, limiting the Tigers to 7.7 yards per completion. Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 27 of 43 passes for 209 yards, with Will Shipley catching the lone touchdown pass.
Clemson concluded with 422 yards but was unsuccessful in scoring. After allowing 22.1 points per game last season, Duke’s defense appears to be even stronger this year.
The Tigers had the ball thirteen times but scored only one touchdown. They failed to score on three possessions inside the Duke 10-yard line, including twice on first-and-goal from the Duke 1-yard line.
Riley Leonard Shines on A Giant Stage
Despite having a strong sophomore season a year ago, Riley Leonard, a junior quarterback for Duke, continues to receive less attention than fellow ACC quarterbacks Drake Maye of North Carolina, Jordan Travis of Florida State, and, up until Monday night, Klubnik.
With his 44-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Leonard turned the tide for the Blue Devils under the national spotlight on Monday night, when he played a turnover-free game.
Leonard, the highest rusher for Duke last season, gained 98 yards on eight carries against Clemson.
On the passing end, he was effective, completing 17 of 33 passes for 175 yards.
Potty but Unstoppable
Clemson regularly plays before sold-out audiences during nationally televised contests. The situation was uncharted territory for the Blue Devils.
It was evident in a crucial area that threatened the Blue Devils’ chances of victory. Seven pre-snap penalties were issued against Duke, either false starts by the offense or offsides by the defense.
Jalon Calhoun’s mishandled punt return set up Clemson’s second-quarter touchdown, which gave the Tigers a brief 7-6 lead.
However, the Tigers committed three turnovers in the second half, allowing Duke to pull off the upset.