Blue Zone

HALFTIME: Pittsburgh 7, Duke 3

In a game expected to be high-scoring and loaded with offense, Saturday’s first-half between Pittsburgh and Duke has been everything but.

The Panthers lead the Blue Devils 7-3 heading into the locker room after a first half in which both teams relied heavily on the run to move the ball.

Duke’s passing woes continued against a typically vulnerable Pittsburgh secondary, with quarterback Daniel Jones finishing with just 59 yards on 10 attempts. Jones tried to find tight end Daniel Helm in triple coverage in the red zone on the Blue Devils' lone trip, but the ball bounced off the redshirt junior’s hands and onto the turf. Duke attempted to convert on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line before a delay of game backed up the offense, and the Blue Devils were forced to kick a field goal.

That drive stands as Duke’s lone bright spot in the first half, a 13-play effort at the end of the first quarter that included just two passes.

The Panthers have struggled to gain ground through the air, with redshirt sophomore quarterback Ben DiNucci looking far from comfortable in the pocket. DiNucci has just 38 passing yards on 10 attempts.

Darrin Hall’s 79-yard touchdown dash jumpstarted the Pittsburgh offense early in the first quarter. Hall has seen the larger share of the workload in the first half instead of fellow junior Qadree Ollison, with Hall racking up 110 yards on nine carries. 

Pittsburgh had the chance to gain significant ground on the Blue Devils after cornerback Avonte Maddox forced a fumble on Duke’s first possession after the touchdown. But the Blue Devil defense held strong, forcing a three-and-out from the Panthers. 

Pittsburgh controlled the ball for most of the second quarter, with an 18-play possession eating up almost 10 minutes of game time. Although the Panthers moved the ball efficiently against the Blue Devil defense, a holding penalty late in the drive and an errant throw by DiNucci backed up the Panthers. Redshirt freshman kicker Alex Kessman was wide right on an attempt from 47 yards out.

Kessman missed another long kick on Pittsburgh's last possession of the half, and Duke's Austin Parker returned the favor with a miss as time expired in the second quarter.

Here are some observations from the first half:

  • The Panthers' passing game has been incredibly ineffective and they have been hurt by five penalties, but they did not commit a turnover in the half.
  • Duke enters halftime with only 143 total yards against a team that gives up more than 30 points per game.

Third and goal: Duke football vs. Pittsburgh

Coming off of three consecutive losses, Duke aims to get back on track as it welcomes a struggling Pittsburgh Panthers team to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday. The Blue Devils will look to get more production out of their offense and pick up a much-needed win Saturday afternoon. Here are three keys to the ACC tilt:

Lean on the running game

Head coach David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils have run the ball only 57 times in the last two weeks, both times failing to have a rusher reach 100 yards. If there was ever a time to change the game plan, it’s this Saturday. Duke will see a favorable matchup against a Pittsburgh defense that was torched last week for 248 rushing yards by NC State and has already surrendered more than 1,200 rushing yards on the season. Duke’s duo of running backs, Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown, have been the only consistent part of the offense, averaging 5.8 and 6.0 yards per game respectively, and are bound to get more touches Saturday afternoon. 

Bring the heat

Both teams have struggled to protect their passers, so it will be crucial for the Duke defensive line to keep the pressure high throughout the contest and prevent Pittsburgh’s inexperienced quarterbacks from finding any comfort. The Panthers started the year with USC transfer Max Browne under center, but after he suffered a season-ending injury, will turn to sophomore quarterback Ben DiNucci. The sophomore threw only nine passes his entire freshman season, and will be on a tight leash Saturday afternoon, with freshman Kenny Pickett also vying for time. Regardless of who’s under center, Mike Ramsay and Duke’s stubborn defense could be in for a big day.

Get Daniel Jones back in rhythm

It’s been a miserable three-week stretch for Duke’s highly-regarded, quarterback who has only thrown for 200 yards once in the losing streak and has gotten little help from a struggling receiving corps. This week presents a golden opportunity for Cutcliffe to get Daniel Jones back in a rhythm and have him regain some confidence after throwing for only one touchdown and three interceptions in the last three weeks. Pittsburgh is ranked 120th in the nation in passing defense, having allowed 1,880 passing yards, so it is more than likely that the duo of Jones and No. 1 receiver T.J. Rahming could be back with a bang.

X Factor: Duke football vs. Pittsburgh

After losing three straight games, Duke will look to get back on track Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium against Pittsburgh, which has not beaten a Power Five team thus far. 

Every week throughout the football season, the Blue Zone will break down a player on each team who could be the difference-maker in the upcoming contest. This week, Blue Devil receiver Jonathan Lloyd and Panthers quarterback Ben DeNuccci are under the spotlight. 

Duke: Wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd

Touted as one of the deepest receiving units in the Cutcliffe era, it seems as though the Blue Devils wide receiving corps have been spread too thin. Although Duke has 10 players with at least seven receptions, it will need some of their secondary receivers to step up in order to keep up with the Panthers’ prolific offense.

The Blue Devils have been searching for a secondary option behind junior T.J. Rahming, and the time has come for fellow junior Johnathan Lloyd to rise up into that role. Despite being second in receiving yards for Duke, Lloyd has been relatively quiet on the season. The Graham, N.C, native has gained more than 50 yards in a contest just once this season, and has totaled just 22 yards on two receptions over his last two games. 

While Lloyd has not made an impact as of late, he has shown an ability to make plays—he's broken off four of more than 20 yards this year— and could be primed for a breakout performance against a Pittsburgh secondary ranks 111th in the nation for passing yards allowed. The junior had a breakout nine-catch, 82-yard performance Sept. 29 against Miami and could be poised to catch a few more passes this week. A solid performance from Lloyd Saturday against the Panthers could go a long way to getting the Blue Devil passing game back on track heading into the heart of ACC play.

Pittsburgh: Quarterback Ben DiNucci

With the Pittsburgh defense allowing nearly 450 yards per contest and starting quarterback and Southern California transfer Max Browne lost after season-ending shoulder surgery, the importance of getting the offense on track early and often will be magnified against a strong Blue Devil defense. Whether or not the Panthers can explode out of the gate will depend on DiNucci, a sophomore, who has seen a fair amount of action thus far. 

After sharing the load with Browne for the early part of the season and starting against Georgia Tech Sept. 23, Dinucci took the reins last week and had mixed results in his second career start, completing 19-of-32 pass attempts for 170 yards and a QBR of 59.8, while throwing a touchdown and an interception. DiNucci won't be doing it all by himself, however—he has explosive weapons in receivers Rafael Araujo-Lopes and Jester Weah, who have combined for almost 800 yards this season. 

Film room: Has using Quentin Harris worked?

Every week, the Blue Zone takes you inside the video room and breaks down a key piece, player or unit for the Blue Devils’ opponent. In a special edition of Film Room, the Blue Zone dissects Quentin Harris' usage this season. 

In a tie game in the fourth quarter against preseason No. 3 Florida State, Duke had just secured the momentum and the ball on a Jeremy McDuffie interception. 

Soon, the Blue Devils faced a pivotal third-and-4 at the Seminole 47-yard line, with a chance to extend a drive to take the lead. 

But then, head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff opted to put in backup quarterback Quentin Harris. 

Quarterback Daniel Jones, who had been having a fine day, was pulled in favor of the speedy Harris, who had not attempted a pass outside of garbage time all season, only used in clear running situations. He rolled out to his right, looked downfield, and had his pass batted down by a defensive lineman. 

Duke was forced to punt, turning a potential late lead into a three-and-out. On the next drive, Florida State drove 91 yards to take a 17-10 lead that it would never surrender. 

This play was a microcosm of Harris’ head-scratching usage this season. Outside of garbage time usage, early use against Northwestern and a sneak against North Carolina, only two of the eight designed Harris runs have been anything close to successful. Cutcliffe and his staff have used Harris extremely predictably, having him throw just the one pass in crunch time compared the eight runs, five of which have been to the left side. You can see the breakdown of every Harris snap here

Of those eight, seven were following wildly successful plays either by Jones or Brittain Brown, seeming to kill the momentum they had built. After the game Saturday, Jones endorsed Cutcliffe and his staff’s usage of Harris. 

“He’s a really good football player and deserves the ability to get out there and make plays,” Jones said.

But after his unsuccessful trips—his only successes being a two-yard run for a first down and a four-yard touchdown—should he really still be trotted out onto the field in key situations? The tape seems to suggest otherwise. 

Here's the list of Harris designed plays in the specified circumstances—two yards, no gain, one yard, three yards, four yard rush touchdown, one yard, two yards, incompletion. That’s 1.9 yards per carry, for those who are counting. Jones’ yards per carry so far this season, even including sacks: 2.9.

Jones’ runs have been much more successful because teams do not expect them—and he’s a good runner in his own right. When Harris comes in, defenses know they’re going to get a run right behind the guards, or maybe an occasional loop outside the tackles. 

Take this play against the Seminoles. On second-and-6, Jones runs off the field in favor of Harris. Not exactly a shocker that he’ll run the ball, even though he’s coming out of the shotgun. Linebacker Adonis Thomas, No. 22, was spying on Harris and crashed immediately to blow up the play for just a one-yard gain, even though Harris faked a drop-back to pass—very unconvincingly. 

Exhibit B: third-and-1 against Baylor, a classic Harris play-call. 

On an obvious run down, the Bears were able to stack the box and bring all seven to stop Harris on his run off the right guard, essentially the exact same play that was called on third-and-short for Harris early in the game. The play was predictably snuffed, forcing the Blue Devils to take a risk on fourth down in a tight 24-20 game in the fourth. 

In sum, Duke will have to switch up its usage of Harris if it wants to avoid wasted drives. Perhaps allowing him to pass the ball more would work—something Cutcliffe and his staff tried against the Seminoles.

Duke in the NFL: Week 6

As the NFL season moves along, The Blue Zone takes a look at how some former Blue Devils in the NFL performed in Week 6. 

Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington 

After a disappointing performance two weeks ago where he put up negative seven yards with a fumble, Crowder caught 3 balls for a total of 15 yards in a 26-24 win against the 49ers. Crowder, who had previously been dealing with a hamstring injury, told the media before the game that he felt “100 percent.” Washington hopes to improve to 4-2 next week when it faces the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football. 

Laken Tomlinson, LG, San Francisco 49ers

Although the 49ers eventually lost to Washington 26-24, Tomlinson and the San Francisco offense had some bright spots. With new quarterback C.J. Beathard under center for most of the game, San Francisco's offense amassed 279 yards in passing and looked much better than when it had Brian Hoyer under center. However, Tomlinson and the line did not give Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida much to work with, as each ran for only 28 and 21 yards respectively. 

Ross Cockrell, CB, New York Giants 

In a surprising Monday night victory for the Giants, Cockrell put up 3 tackles and an assisted tackle. Cockrell and the Giant’s defense allowed only 10 points against the Denver Broncos and showed resiliency in their first win of the season. The Giants, who have been plagued with injuries thus far in the season, will look to build on this win next week against the Seahawks. 

Lucas Patrick, G, Green Bay Packers

Rookie guard Lucas Patrick did not start this week for the Packers when they faced off against Minnesota. Patrick, however, did play in the 2nd half at left guard after Lane Tayor left the game with knee and ankle injuries. The Packers, who lost Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter to a broken collarbone, did not score in the second half and eventually lost the game 23-10. 

Thomas Hennessy, LS, New York Jets

Hennessy once again executed his role as long-snapper perfectly on Sunday. Kicker Chandler Cantanzaro hit both extra points and connected on a 28-yard field goal with 3:40 left in the game. The Jets surprisingly played the defending Super Bowl champions close, although Brady and the Patriots eventually came out on top, winning 24-17.

The Devil's in the Details: Week of Oct. 10

They say the devil is in the details. But in Durham, the Blue Devils are in the details—and numbers.

Each week, the Blue Zone will dissect five key stats from last week's action in Duke sports, whether they be historic or underwhelming. This week, let the numbers take you inside a disappointing loss for Blue Devil football and big wins for both men's and women's soccer. 


After mounting a 10-stroke lead heading into the final day, No. 6 Duke fended off second-ranked Alabama by just one stroke at the Ruth's Chris Tar Heel Invitational in Chapel Hill. Senior Leona Maguire also won the individual title by one stroke, as she registered a tournament record 12-under par. The Crimson Tide stormed back to grab a one-stroke lead with four holes remaining, but the Blue Devils rebounded behind late surges from former individual national champion Virginia Elena Carta and freshman Miranda Wang to snag the victory.

Find out the whole story—Duke women’s golf staves off Alabama rally by 1 stroke to win title in Chapel Hill


The second-ranked Blue Devils capped off a perfect weekend with a 2-0 victory against Miami University, as they slammed 29 total shots in the contest. After a scoreless first half, Rose Tynan and Ashley Kristen each found the back of the net in a five minute period, and redshirt junior goalkeeper Sammi Steele made a few clutch saves to preserve the shutout. Duke maintained possession in the RedHawks half for the majority of the game, and it may have to do the same to land a key rivalry victory Friday against No. 5 North Carolina.

Find out the whole storyDuke field hockey takes 29 shots in shutout win against Miami University 


Duke surrendered 5.7 yards per carry in Saturday’s 17-10 loss against Florida State, a surprising outcome for a Blue Devil defense that was No. 7 in the nation in stopping the run before the contest. Duke struggled wrapping up running backs Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick, as it lost its third straight contest, and now sits just 4-3 after a perfect start. In a pivotal third-and-1 on the opening drive of the game, Patrick appeared to be stopped for a loss before breaking two Blue Devil defenders’ tackles, in what was a microcosm of the Duke loss.

Find out the whole story—Missed tackles cause for concern for Duke football’s run defense

No. 4 Duke took advantage of having nearly a full week off against a struggling Miami squad—the Hurricanes are winless in seven conference matchups—and dominated play on Senior Day, not allowing Miami a single shot on goal for the first time since Aug. 29, 2003.  Kayla McCoy started off the scoring for the Blue Devils, and Rebecca Quinn and Malinda Allen followed in the 3-0 win, their 14th straight since dropping their first game of the season. 

Find out the whole story—Duke holds Miami without a shot on Senior Day in 14th straight win


The women’s cross country team fared well in its NCAA Championships tune-up event Saturday, finishing 14th out of a 42-team field with 465 points. The Blue Devils were led by freshmen Amanda Beach and Michaela Reinhart, who continue to pace a young squad with the National Championship race just two weeks away. Beach finished in 59th, completing the six-kilometer course in 20:49:8 to lead the squad, and Reinhart and sophomore Sophia Parvizi-Wayne also finished in the top-100 for Duke.

Find out the whole story—Freshmen lead Duke cross country women at Pre Nationals as men win in Greenville 

Around the ACC: Week 7

An eventful week of ACC play, including a shocking upset and yet another impressive performance by the North Carolina State offense, has left the Wolfpack—not preseason favorites Clemson or Florida State—in sole control of the Atlantic, with Miami and Virginia still atop the Coastal. 

Florida State 17, Duke 10

After a promising 4-0 start, the Blue Devils dropped their third straight to an embattled Florida State team that is slowly regaining its confidence. A familiar storyline emerged in this one, as the Blue Devil defense did all they could, but woeful offensive execution ended up being too costly to overcome. Mark Gilbert and Jeremy McDuffie each picked off Florida State quarterback, James Blackman, but a late comeback bid fell short. 

Syracuse 27, No. 2 Clemson 24

As a twenty-plus point underdog, the Orange pulled off a miracle Friday night, not only shaking up the ACC standings, but completely reshaping the College Football Playoff picture. It was a back-and-forth affair in which Clemson tied the game four separate times, only to drop their first game since November of last year. Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns while his counterpart, Kelly Bryant, was forced to exit the game early with a concussion. With this blow, the reigning national champions will likely need a perfect rest of the season to get to the Playoff for a third consecutive season.

No. 11 Miami 25, Georgia Tech 24

A miraculous fourth down grab by Miami receiver Darrell Langham, paired with a game-winning 24-yard field goal with five seconds remaining, kept Miami’s undefeated season alive in a tight win against Georgia Tech. The Hurricanes racked up 481 yards of total offense without turning the ball over, including 170 rushing yards and a touchdown from running back Travis Homer. The Yellow Jacket triple option will look to bounce back next week against Wake Forest. 

No. 20 NC State 35, Pittsburgh 17

It was a great day in more ways than one for the Wolfpack, as they were able to secure their sixth straight victory and claim first place in the ACC's Atlantic Division after Clemson’s loss to Syracuse. North Carolina State’s domination of Pittsburgh was powered by 248 yards on the ground, 135 of which coming from running back Nyheim Hines. Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley recorded his eighth consecutive game with at least one touchdown and no interceptions, keeping Pittsburgh winless in ACC play. 

Boston College 45, Louisville 42

Boston College grabbed a quality win in a thrilling shootout featuring 52 first downs and over 1,000 yards of offense. Despite another stellar performance by Heisman quarterback Lamar Jackson, who accumulated over 500 yards of total offense, the Cardinals dropped their second consecutive ACC contest. Workhorse running back AJ Dillon led the way for the Eagles, carrying the ball 39 times for 272 yards and four touchdowns.

Virginia 20, North Carolina 14

Another sound performance by the Virginia defense allowed the Cavaliers to escape Chapel Hill with a victory and keep North Carolina winless in conference play. The Virginia secondary forced three interceptions and held the Tar Heels to only 46 yards through the air. North Carolina running back Michael Carter scored both of the Tar Heels' touchdowns and accounted for 161 of North Carolina’s 257 total yards. While the Cavaliers look to crack the top-25 for the first time in years, UNC will search for their first ACC win next week in a challenging matchup at No. 15 Virginia Tech. 

Making the grade: Duke football vs. Florida State

Duke improved its passing game and limiting long pass plays on defense, but an atypical poor performance by the defense against the run game and limited red zone appearances cost the Blue Devils their third straight game.

Offense: C

Pass: A major step up compared to his performance against Virginia, Daniel Jones completed 22-of-35 passes for 204 yards. Although he was more accurate, he wasn't much better at creating explosive plays—he had just one 57-yard connection with T.J. Rahming. Running back Shaun Wilson also got a chance to throw it on a trick play, but was intercepted. 

Rush: In limited opportunities, Duke’s run game was solid, gaining 111 yards on 4.4 yards per carry. Wilson led the team with 13 carries for 66 yards. Brittain Brown also had a solid performance with 6 carries for 43 yards, including a nine-yard run for Duke’s lone touchdown of the game. 

X’s and O’s: While Duke was able to tie up the game, the inconsistency in the run and pass game and Florida State's methodical offense only created two red zone opportunities. Despite converting both red zone attempts into points, Duke’s inability to produce meaningful drives cost them the game, although the offense as a whole was more smooth than it was against Virginia. 

Defense: B-

Pass: Duke had a solid performance against the pass game, only just 197 yards and picking off  true freshman quarterback James Blackman twice—including one interception by Jeremy McDuffie for 19 yards—his third this season. While the Blue Devils certainly limited Blackman's total yards, they didn't stop him from being efficient—he completed 18-of-21 pass attempts. Duke only yielded one passing touchdown, but had difficulty shutting down Nyqwan Murray, who had 5 receptions for 81 yards.  

Rush: The Blue Devils could not contain the Florida State's run game, allowing 228 yards, led by Cam Akers' 15 carries for 115 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown. Fellow back Jacques Patrick also added 18 carries for 98 yards. This was an uncharacteristically bad showing for Duke's front seven, which was No. 7 in the nation in rushing defense before Saturday. 

X’s and O’s: The Blue Devil’s were able to limit the big pass plays that hurt them against Miami, a continuation on their improvement against Virginia. But the defense’s inability to stop the run game, allowing the most rushing yards since Miami had 139 in a 31-6 blowout loss, kept the Seminole offense on the field and wore Duke down.  

Special Teams: B+

As a punter, Austin Parker had a great performance, with five punts with an average of 46.2 yards per punt. Additionally, he made his lone field goal and extra point chances. 

The return game was especially quiet against Florida State, with no punt returns and a lone kick return by Shaun Wilson for 16 yards. The Seminoles returned one punt for two yards and one kick for 13 yards. 

Extra point: Duke football vs. Florida State

After a perfect 4-0 start to the season, Duke and its sputtering offense dropped its third straight game, a 17-10 loss to Florida State at Wallace Wade Stadium. 

Revisiting the three keys to the game:

  • Protect Daniel Jones: As it did against Virginia, Duke’s offensive line was improved in protecting Jones, allowing just one sack—when the signal-caller held onto the ball for just a bit too long in a two-minute drill. The redshirt sophomore generally had time to throw, and the results showed it—he completed 22-of-35 passing attempts for 204 yards, much better than his 14-of-42 showing last week against Virginia. 
  • Put pressure on James Blackman: Duke did a passable job of bringing heat on the true freshman quarterback, sacking him twice. The Blue Devils generally did well to limit explosive passing plays, yielding just two plays of more than 20 yards and 197 passing yards, but allowed him to be efficient, completing 18-of-21 passes. The Blue Devil secondary also continued its knack for big plays, picking off Blackman twice. 
  • Jump out early: Duke’s blueprint for success earlier in the season was to jump out to a big lead early with its offense. It certainly didn’t do that Saturday, allowing running backs Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick to manhandle its defense for 70 yards and a score on Florida State’s first two drives, while punting on its first possession. However, Mark Gilbert’s interception deep in Duke territory in the first quarter stalled the Seminoles’ momentum and prevented them from going up 14-0. 

Three key plays: 

14:54 remaining, second quarter: With Florida State driving deep downfield and threatening to go up 14-0 at the Blue Devil 22-yard line, the Seminoles were flagged for a delay of game penalty after the break for the end of the first quarter. After that, Florida State moved back, and on third-and-20, a Seminole receiver slipped on a Blackman throw, allowing Gilbert to intercept it. From there, Duke drove downfield to score a field goal to cut the lead to 7-3 and get back in the game. 

3:28 remaining, second quarter: Down just 7-3, Duke was driving on the back of Brittain Brown's three straight carries for a combined 34 yards. But the Blue Devils opted for a trick play on first-and-10 from Florida State’s 36-yard line, which ended in disaster. Shaun Wilson took a pitch and tried to throw it downfield to tight end Daniel Helm in triple coverage, but the pass was deflected up and picked off by the Seminoles Emmett Rice. The play killed Duke’s momentum and prevented it from taking a potential lead into halftime. 

14:18 remaining, fourth quarter: After Jeremy McDuffie picked off Blackman at the end of the third, the Blue Devils had the ball near midfield and had momentum on their side. But after two straight Wilson carries, Duke faced third-and-4 and subbed in quarterback Quentin Harris for Jones. Harris threw an incomplete pass and the Blue Devils went three-and-out. 

Three key stats: 

  • Florida State holds the ball for 36:44. The Seminoles’ methodical offense gave Duke few opportunities to score by holding the ball for so long, rushing for a whopping 5.7 yards per carry on 40 attempts. 
  • Three touchdowns in three games. Duke’s offense has ground to a halt in three straight losses, scoring just three offensive touchdowns in those games. 
  • Jones’ 22-of-35 passing attempts. Although he wasn’t able to push the ball down the field much, Jones was better against the Seminoles, completing 62.9 percent of his passes. 

And the Duke game ball goes to....T.J. Rahming

On a slow day for all other Blue Devil receivers, Rahming was able to break loose downfield for a 57-yard catch on a Jones scramble and had eight receptions for 111 yards. No other receiver had more than 21 yards. The team’s No. 1 threat, Rahming will be a major key going forward for Jones to establish the vertical passing game. 

And the Florida State game ball goes to….Cam Akers

Akers sliced up Duke's No. 7 rush defense for 115 yards on 15 carries and scored a 42-yard game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Paired with Patrick in the backfield, Akers was too much of a physical force for the Blue Devils to handle. 

Chronicle postgame: Duke football vs. Florida State

After winning four straight games to start the season, the Blue Devil's offense has cratered en route to three straight losses. The Chronicle's Hank Tucker and Ben Leonard dissect Duke's latest loss in which it fell 17-10 to Florida State.