The Blue Devils did something Saturday that no Duke team has done since 1989—shut out an opponent.
Anthony Boone led the offense to one of its most efficient performances in recent history, and the Blue Devils’ defense dominated as Duke cruised to a 45-0 win over N.C. Central.
"Can't say enough about our defensive stat and defense; you've got to start with that," Blue Devils' head coach David Cutcliffe said. "It's nice to see a shut out, and in this modern era its difficult. And it wasn't a fluke."
The Blue Devils allowed the Eagles to amass just 184 total yards of offense. N.C. Central punted 10 times on the day, and only managed nine first downs, compared to 27 for Duke. The Eagles did not even cross into Blue Devil territory until there were three minutes remaining in the second quarter.
From the onset, the mostly-untested Duke secondary lived up to the praise it has been receiving from coaches since coming out of summer camp.
Redshirt sophomore Jeremy Cash—in his first collegiate action since his true freshman season at Ohio State—proved his worth at the strike safety position, providing support against the run and holding his own in the defensive backfield against the pass.
"He had fun," Cutcliffe said. "And he was chomping at the bit this morning and last night. Yesterday afternoon he came to me talking about it. There's no question he made a lot of plays."
The transfer's energy on the field was infectious, and the Blue Devils swarmed the run game all evening, holding the Eagles to a meager 2.8 yards per carry. Cash finished with six tackles, including one for loss, in his first Duke game.
"That's one thing they instilled in us at Ohio State," Cash said about his rambunctiousness on the field. "I think it's important that you get the whole team into it, and the crowd into it too."
True freshmen Breon Borders and Bryon Fields also showed their mettle in the secondary. Both cornerbacks saw the field and often, getting reps with both the first- and second-team defensive units. Borders even recorded his first interception as a Blue Devil, picking off a pass on the last play of the game and returning it 19 yards as the celebratory fireworks rang out at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Going up against a starting offensive line stocked with 300-plus pounders, Duke's defensive line and linebacking core plugged up the middle and forced N.C. Central runners to the edge, where they had little success bypassing the Blue Devil secondary. Despite recording only two sacks, the Eagles' passing game looked anemic—quarterbacks Jordan Reid and Malcolm Bell combined for just 103 yards through the air.
"I'm pleased with our pass rush early," Cutcliffe said. "[N.C. Central] made the decision to keep their back in against a four-man rush, which was a good sign. It made it a little bit harder for them to spread our coverage."
This offseason, Cutcliffe said that his squad had gone from "irrelevant to relevant" and now they needed to go from "relevant to good."
Duke certainly handled N.C. Central the way a top-tier program should take care of a FCS program. The Blue Devils put forth a completely dominant football game. The Eagles' offense saw almost no success against the first-teamers and only started racking up yards late in the game with most of Duke's first unit on the bench.
Offensively it was the same story—the Blue Devils moved the ball methodically, and N.C. Central looked physically inadequate against a faster, stronger Duke squad. The Blue Devils' depth, especially at the tailback position, wore down the Eagles' front seven and led to easy scores, both through the air and on the ground.
Duke recorded its first shutout in more than 20 years, and only its fifth shutout since 1964, and looked like a team with something to prove this season. The last time the Blue Devils recorded a shutout was also the last time they won a share of the ACC championship.
"The scoreboard said it all," Cash said. "45-zip."