Midway through the third quarter of Saturday's game against Virginia Military Institute, head coach Ted Roof gave Blue Devil fans a glimpse of the future of Duke football.
With the Blue Devils leading 26-0, Duke's underclassmen took the field and led a 9-play, 77-yard scoring drive that sealed the team's first win of the season.
"It's good to be able to have a game where we can put them out there," Roof said of the underclassmen. "They can gain some experience in a situation that's not life and death, and I think that we'll benefit from that down the road."
The Blue Devils' 40-14 victory over VMI (1-2) was also important in that it allowed Duke (1-2) to gain some confidence heading into next week's game with No. 23 Virginia Roof said.
The Blue Devils' underclassmen began their touchdown drive from Duke's 23-yard line with 8:42 to play in the third quarter. Roof removed starting quarterback Mike Schneider from the game and inserted freshman Zack Asack under center for Asack's first collegiate action. At first, it looked as if his opening series might end after three plays.
On third and three, Asack floated a play-action pass between two open receivers, but-call it beginner's luck-the ball bounced off the fingertips of the first receiver and into the hands of tight end Nick Stefanow for the first down.
Sophomore Justin Boyle-who finished with 113 yards and two touchdowns on the ground- then took the Blue Devils into VMI territory with a 25-yard run, but his subsequent celebration resulted in a 15-yard penalty for unsportsman-like conduct, bringing the ball back to the Duke 48-yard line. From there, freshman Re'quan Boyette carried the ball four consecutive times, two of which were bruising runs up the middle that went for a combined 45 yards.
With the ball on the VMI six-yard line, Asack dropped back in the pocket and lofted a pass to the right-hand corner of the end zone. Freshman quarterback/wide receiver Marcus Jones made a leaping grab over a VMI defender to give Asack his first career touchdown pass and Duke its first of the season.
"I was really pleased with the effort, and I was pleased for the most part with how we executed things," Roof said. "We saw a lot of freshmen do a lot of good things today."
The Blue Devil underclassmen continued to contribute throughout the remainder of the second half. On the next Duke possession Asack again led the Blue Devils to the end zone, including a 21-yard strike over the middle to tight end Andy Roland, which brought Duke into Keydet territory. The freshman signal-caller finished his debut with 38 yards through the air and one touchdown on 4-for-4 passing.
"I think he did a great job today," Boyle said of Asack. "He came in and he was really poised and he knew what to do and made some good plays."
Before time expired at Wallace Wade Stadium, freshman defensive tackle Clifford Respress blocked a field goal; freshman defensive end Ryan Radloff blocked a punt; freshman cornerback Glenn Williams forced a fumble; and sophomore cornerback Chris Davis returned four punts and two kickoffs for a combined 106 yards.
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Duke's offense was less impressive in the contest's early stages. On the game's opening drive, Duke managed just 32 yards on 12 plays before being forced to punt. Schneider completed just two of five passes for 15 yards during that series.
After Chris Sprague's punt pinned VMI inside their own 10-yard line with 9:04 left in the first quarter, the Blue Devil defense forced a three-and-out, sacking VMI's quarterback on third and three for a nine-yard loss. The defensive hold, however, was negated when Davis fumbled the VMI punt, giving possession back to the Keydets at the VMI 38-yard line.
The Keydets returned the favor four plays later with one of their six fumbles-the only one which was recovered by the Blue Devils. Duke took over on its own 35-yard line with 5:55 left in the first quarter and finally started moving the chains. On 1st-and-10 Ronnie Drummer ran a reverse for a 13-yard gain. Then Schneider found senior wideout Ronnie Elliot on a curl route for another 19 yards, and Boyle got the Blue Devils into the red zone with an 11-yard rush to the VMI 18-yard line.
Another Boyle run and Schneider pass put the ball on the three-yard line, and Boyle punched the ball in from there. His third touchdown of the season and the subsequent extra point gave Duke its first lead of the season at 7-0 with 2:46 to play in the opening quarter.
That first touchdown seemed to settle the Duke offense; the Blue Devils scored on their next two possessions and went on to rush for 235 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
"I thought our offensive line did a really good job," Schneider said. "We had to have some kind of confidence going into the next game knowing that we can move the ball having 35 or 45 yards of total offense last week."
The Blue Devils got the ball back just before the end of the quarter when cornerback John Talley intercepted an errant pass on the right side and returned it 35 yards to the VMI 11. An eight-yard pass from Schneider and a roughing the passer penalty on the Keydets put the ball on the VMI one-yard line. Cedric Dargan carried the ball the final yard to give the Blue Devils a 14-0 lead less than one minute into the second quarter.
Duke regained possession after VMI failed to record a first down on their next drive. Rushes from Boyle and Dargan led the Blue Devils on a 10-play, 54-yard drive down the field that resulted in a third consecutive touchdown. Dargan's second touchdown of the half gave Duke a 21-0 lead going into halftime.
The Blue Devils added five more points in the early part of the third quarter. Randy DeSmyter kicked a 40-yard field goal four minutes into the half, and, when VMI got the ball back on the kickoff, Duke forced the Keydets to kick after just three plays. The snap, however, went over the head of punter Adam Peters who intentionally kicked the ball over the end line to prevent Duke from recovering for a touchdown.
The Blue Devils had held the Keydets to 17 total yards of offense on 32 plays before VMI scored its first touchdown with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter. The Keydets added another late touchdown on their next possession midway through the fourth quarter, but it proved to be too little too late as Duke rolled to the win.
Schneider finished the game 8-for-17 for 69 yards.... The announced attendance of 10,126 fans was the fewest fans to attend a game at Wallace Wade Stadium since 1966.... VMI has not beaten a 1-A opponent since 1981.... Duke improved to 78-2-1 all-time when scoring 40 or more points.... DeSmyter started at kicker in place of freshman Joe Surgan, who was suspended along with two fellow freshmen, quarterback Gene Delle Donne and wide receiver Eron Riley.