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Paltry Duke offense fails to replicate 2003 upset

ATLANTA, Ga. — Revenge is sweet. And when you exact your revenge in front of 47,000 Homecoming Weekend supporters, it’s even sweeter.

Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-2 in the ACC) avenged its 2003 41-17 loss to the Blue Devils (1-4, 0-3) with a dominating 24-7 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium Saturday.

“Any time you lose, you feel bad,” Yellow Jacket free safety James Butler said. “But when you lose a game like [we did in 2003] its even worse…. Now I feel good. Really good.”

Trailing the Yellow Jackets 17-0 with time winding down in the first half, Duke was looking for any possible way to swing the game’s momentum. The Blue Devils got their break with just over a minute to go. Georgia Tech running back P.J. Daniels fumbled a hand-off on a draw play and Duke senior Giuseppe Aguanno scooped up the loose ball.

Starting on the Georgia Tech 25-yard line, quarterback Mike Schneider completed three of his next four passes and capped the scoring drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak. With both hands Schneider thrust the ball over the pile, barely breaking the plane of the goal line before the ball was swatted out of his grip. Duke entered the locker room trailing 17-7.

Energized by the team’s late score, the Duke special teams unit created a huge hole for freshman Ronnie Drummer on the opening kickoff, and he returned it to the Georgia Tech end zone for an apparent touchdown. The play was called back, however, on a holding call charged to freshman Michael Cooper, which brought the ball back to the Duke 19. The Blue Devils went three and out, and after a punt Georgia Tech drove down the field and scored another touchdown on a trick play pass by tailback P.J. Daniels. Neither team would score for the rest of the game.

“The penalty on the kickoff return was big,” head coach Ted Roof said. “That was a huge play in the game, all of a sudden, it’s a 17 to 14 game, but instead we’re backed up again.”

The Georgia Tech defense, which had held Maryland to 81 yards of total offense the previous weekend, never allowed Duke to gain any offensive momentum and held the Blue Devils to 184 yards from scrimmage.

The Yellow Jackets’ run defense was especially stingy. After allowing tailback Chris Douglas to run for 218 yards in last year’s contest, Georgia Tech held Duke to 28 rushing yards through three quarters of play and 84 rushing yards overall.

“When they ran the football on us last year, I think [our defense] did not want them to run a lick this year,” Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey said.

The Yellow Jackets strong defensive rush also stymied the Blue Devils’ passing game. Georgia Tech recorded five sacks Saturday and allowed Schneider to complete only nine passes for 81 yards.

“I expected them to do what they did,” Roof said. “About 80 percent of our reps in practice were against pressure. We didn’t execute, and they did.”

The Yellow Jackets created a lot of confusion for the Duke offense with a number of different blitz packages.

“They were just twisting their linemen and bringing their linebackers up the middle and off the ends,” said tailback Cedric Dargan, who gained 31 rushing yards on 20 attempts in his first game back from injury. “We knew some of their twists were going to put them out of position. But a lot of times they guessed right today, and a lot of times we guessed wrong.”

Georgia Tech, on the other hand, hand no problem handling the Blue Devil defense. Duke keyed in on Daniels and used primarily man coverage downfield in an effort to stop the standout running back. The strategy, however, failed to stop the Yellow Jackets. The man defense often left 6-foot-4 receiver Calvin Johnson in single coverage. The freshman used his height advantage to record 92 receiving yards and catch two touchdown passes—a second-quarter fade in the left corner of the end zone and Daniels’ halfback pass.

In addition, Daniels still managed to earn 114 yards on the ground despite the Blue Devils’ efforts to contain him.

“[Daniels] is a pretty big back, but he’s also real shifty,” Aguanno said. “He’ll cut it back on you in a second, and that’s where he got most of his yards. When you’ve got a runner like that, you’ve got to wrap him up.”

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