No. 25 Clemson, stinging frm opening loss, looking for crispness, confidence vs. Charleston Southern

Clemson's Antonio Williams (0) carries the ball ahead of Duke's Cam Dillon (35) during the...
Clemson's Antonio Williams (0) carries the ball ahead of Duke's Cam Dillon (35) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Durham, N.C., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)(Ben McKeown | AP)
Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 3:57 PM EDT
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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson center Will Putnam has his focus on moving forward, not dwelling on the 25th-ranked Tigers’ meltdown in their opening game.

Clemson entered the season as the preseason favorites to defend its Atlantic Coast Conference title this year. Those prospects took a quick hit with its 28-7 loss at No. 21 Duke on Monday night.

Putnam said the defeat was “nothing short of disappointing.” Still, the time looking backward is over with the Tigers (0-1) facing in-state FCS opponent Charleston Southern (1-0) on Saturday.

Putnam’s looking for a strong bounceback showing in the team’s home opener, despite the offensive miscues (two fumbles in the red zone, a Cade Klubnik interception off a tipped ball and Klubnik starting his slide on a run just short of a first down) that doomed the Tigers to their first season-opening loss since 2014.

“We reflected yesterday and, obviously, right after the game,” said Putnam, a 310-pound senior. “But right now for our team, it’s important to move on.”

Does that mean piling on the points in the first-time matchup with a team from a lower subdivision?

“We don’t have to have some miracle, impossible performance, we just have to play good football,” Putnam explained. “If we play good football with the guys we have on this team right now, I think we’ll be alright.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called it a strange game at Duke, given how his team led in yards and first downs. The problem were the miscues where the team couldn’t capitalize on long, successful drives.

“The name of the game is points,” Swinney said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to finish. The biggest surprise to me was putting the ball on the ground multiple times and that was disappointing.”


Charleston Southern coach Gabe Giardina has a connection to Clemson’s Dabo Swinney: Both were walk-ons at Alabama. In fact, Swinney was running the walk-on program in 2000 for Crimson Tide coach Mike Shula when Giardina walked on. What Swinney’s seen of the Buccaneers has impressed him.

“They’ve got some guys on both sides of the ball,” he said. “They’re not going to have similar depth that we have. But they’ve got some guys that can create some problems for you.”


Swinney re-opened competition at place kicker after freshman Robert Gunn III had two field goals blocked on what Swinney described as low kicks.

Swinney still has confidence in Gunn and expects him to handle adversity and come back strong. The coach said Gunn was supported by his teammates, who’ve seen him succeed throughout spring and fall football camps.

“But he’s got to go do it” in games, Swinney said. “And if you don’t, you have to give someone else a chance.”


Giardina, a longtime Charleston Southern assistant, was hired as head coach after last season to rebuild the Big South Conference program and he got off to a strong start when the Bucs defeated Division II North Greenville 13-10 after falling behind 10-0.

“It’s just so satisfying to me to spend so much time as an assistant (here), come back and put one in the right column,” said Giardina, who spent four years under head coach Jamey Chadwell at Charleston Southern before moving to Albany State for five seasons. “Yeah, it means a lot.”


Charleston Southern has lost all 23 games to Football Bowl Subdivision teams over the past 22 seasons. The Bucs have lost their three games against ACC opponents, including a 55-3 loss to North Carolina State a season ago.

Charleston Southern will receive $400,000 from Clemson for the non-conference game.


Clemson enhanced its Tiger Walk pre-game entrance into the stadium with arch structure and a pathway with the names of all permanent football captains. The walk has been a staple of home games since Swinney took over as interim coach midway through the 2008 season.