Clemson coach Dabo Swinney referred to the Tigers' 28-7 loss Monday night at Duke as "indescribable."
Clemson pulled off the rare feat of losing by three touchdowns despite more than 200 yards running and throwing. But the Tigers got nothing out of three possessions inside the Blue Devils' 20-yard line, had two field goals blocked and committed three turnovers.
"You didn't see a horrible football team," Swinney said. "You saw a bad result. Everything is correctable. That's the good news. The only thing we know is we can't be undefeated."
After plummeting from No. 9 to No. 25 in this week's poll, Clemson (0-1) tries to fix those correctable errors in Saturday's home opener against FCS foe Charleston Southern (1-0) in Clemson, S.C.
Stats aside, starting the season with an ACC loss to a team it has typically walloped in years past does nothing to change the recent narrative that Swinney and the Tigers are a long way from where they want to be.
Swinney touted stability as a strength of a program that doesn't look to add via the transfer portal the way others have. But Clemson took a noticeable step back last year, and starting this year with a 21-point loss did not signal the team is set to move forward.
Cade Klubnik, who some feel could be the program's next Trevor Lawrence, averaged only 7.7 yards per completion. He was responsible for two turnovers and didn't have a completion of longer than 21 yards.
And the Tigers' defense wasn't totally without blame, either, giving up 199 yards on just 30 rushes. That included a 44-yard touchdown run by quarterback Riley Leonard in the third quarter that put Duke ahead for good.
"One of the strangest games I've ever been a part of," Swinney said.
On paper, Swinney shouldn't have those laments on Saturday. Charleston Southern did win its opener, edging Division II North Greenville (S.C.) 13-10 on Aug. 31 when the Crusaders incurred a false start penalty with eight seconds left at the Buccaneers' 3-yard line. Because North Greenville was out of timeouts, the ensuing 10-second runoff required by rule ended the game.
The outcome gave coach Gabe Giardina a win in his first game as Charleston Southern coach.
"We have so many guys out there for the first time so we're going to play a little queasy at times but winning ugly is still winning," he said.
Some might say winning ugly is a charitable description. The Buccaneers gained only 252 total yards and their two quarterbacks combined to hit just 7 of 20 passes. But they at least kept turnovers and penalties down, losing only one fumble and being flagged just four times.
Autavius Ison's 3-yard touchdown run with 7:10 left put Charleston Southern ahead for good. JD Moore led the offense with 105 yards on 17 carries, while Laron Davis paced the defense with two tackles for loss and an interception.
This will be the first meeting of the two programs.
—Field Level Media