Before the kickoff of Saturday’s contest against No. 7 Georgia Tech, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe warned the Blue Devils not to look at the scoreboard during the game.
Predicting that his team would jump out to an early lead against the high-powered Yellow Jackets, Cutcliffe worried that minding the score would disrupt his squad’s focus on each individual play.
After 60 minutes, Cutcliffe’s admonition was still applicable—but for all the wrong reasons.
Despite a hot start that gained Duke a 10-point advantage in the first quarter, the Blue Devils (5-5, 3-3 in the ACC) failed to keep up momentum, sputtering in all three phases of the game as they were trounced 49-10 by a merciless Georgia Tech squad.
“Mama said there’d be days like today,” Cutcliffe said. “I think it was evident the way we came out and started the game that we were ready to play to open the ball game. And somewhere in there, the wheels started coming off.”
The Blue Devils struck first on a measured nine-play, 73 yard drive capped off by a beautiful 18-yard touchdown reception by running back Re’quan Boyette on a fade route down the visitor’s sideline. Duke kicker Will Snyderwine chipped in a 31-yard field goal with 1:30 to go in the first quarter, but from that point on Georgia Tech (10-1, 7-1) showed Duke what the best offense in the ACC is made of as it unleashed a deflating 14-point blitzkrieg—a stretch that was just the tip of the iceberg.
It was all spurred by an electric 83-yard return by the Yellow Jacket’s Orwin Smith on the ensuing kickoff, which ironically, looked disastrous for Georgia Tech at the play’s outset.
Smith fumbled the ball near his own 15-yard line but quickly recovered and dodged a swarm of converging Blue Devil defenders to reach a swath of open field, taking the ball down to the Duke 2-yard line.
One snap later, Georgia Tech had its first points of the day as quarterback Josh Nesbitt called his own number and plunged into the end zone.
“That one kickoff return, that was probably the sort of game changer for us,” redhsirt senior defensive tackle Kinney Rucker said.
Rucker, who started in the place of the injured Vince Oghobaase, was right. The Ramblin’ Wreck and its potent triple option never looked back and Duke never regained its footing after that initial score. Less than five minutes after their first touchdown, the Yellow Jackets put together a string of 10 running plays to go 86 yards for another seven-point score.
Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer, who recorded 110 yards for his fourth straight 100-yard performance, exposed the same weak run defense which plagued Duke last week against North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets grinded the Blue Devils down, running the ball 52 times for 306 yards on the day—good for an average of 5.9 yards per carry.
And while Georgia Tech did what Georgia Tech does best, Duke also seemed to neglect the weapons its opponent had in its receiving corps. Nesbitt threw for 195 yards on just six completions—two of which were deep strikes that went for touchdowns—taking advantage of the Blue Devils’ man-to-man coverage scheme and size mismatches that favored the Yellow Jackets.
“When they get rolling, you really don’t know what to expect,” senior linebacker Vincent Rey said. “We all know how [well] they run the ball, but they can also throw the ball as well. It’s tough when they have that two-pronged attack as well as they do.”
Duke starting quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who is dealing with a leg injury and struggled to get into rhythm with his receivers for any extended period, was replaced by backup Sean Renfree midway through the third quarter. Renfree, however, went down with what looked like a knee injury after throwing just six passes.
“There are ups and downs in the game of football,” Lewis said. “The energy you come out with—you usually have to sustain it to keep it going like that.”
With the win, the Yellow Jackets secured the ACC Coastal Division title for the first time in three seasons, and left the Blue Devils needing to run the table in games at Miami and at home against Wake Forest in order to become bowl eligible.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.