Already up 10-0 with a little less than six minutes left in the first quarter against a reeling Kansas squad, the Blue Devils were looking for a big play to put their opponent’s back against the wall.
On first down, offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery dialed up a pass, the traditional play call for Duke when seeking a momentum-shifting play.
After an incompletion, running back Shaun Wilson showed Blue Devil fans on second-and-10 what future first down play calls might look like when Montgomery wants a big play.
The true freshman took the handoff from Anthony Boone on the inside zone, darted through a hole up the middle and said sayonara to the Jayhawk defense. Sixty-nine yards later, Duke was up 17-0 with 5:32 left in the first quarter and any memories of last week’s 14-3 first quarter deficit at Troy and running back Jela Duncan’s suspension were left in the wake of Wilson’s explosion.
“[I was thinking] get the ball, and if you see green, you’ve got to just go, so I just ran as fast as I could,” Wilson said. “The line did tremendous. I just went where [I] needed to be and hit the holes like I should have.”
The Charlotte native wasn’t done there.
After Duke added a third-quarter touchdown to go up 27-3 following a sluggish second quarter from Boone and the rest of the unit, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound speedster struck again with less than a minute remaining in the period.
Wilson nearly produced an exact replica of his first game-changing run, exploding through a hole on an inside run, breaking a tackle, then outrunning several hopeless Kansas defenders to the promised land for a 68-yard score.
Although Wilson became the first Blue Devil in more than 70 years with two runs that long in the same game, what stood out on his second touchdown was the dominant blocking by Duke’s offensive line and wide receivers.
Once Wilson finds a tiny crevice, his teammates know all they have to do is stay engaged with their blocks and hustle down field and the Blue Devils could be putting up six points on the board.
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“Today was Shaun Wilson’s coming out party,” All-ACC wide receiver Jamison Crowder—who had just two catches on the day—said. “Just being a player, if you’re not getting the ball, [you] feel happy seeing other players making [big] plays. We just got in position to make blocks and help spring big runs.”
Duke’s newest menace for opposing defenses added to his record-shattering performance in the fourth quarter with the game’s outcome already decided, busting off consecutive long-runs of 32 and 45 yards to stake claim to the Blue Devils’ freshman single-game rushing record and add a third touchdown to an already unforgettable performance.
Needing just one more yard to break Duke’s all-time single game rushing record late in the game, Wilson got his chance on the last play of the game.
It was common knowledge on the Blue Devil sideline what was at stake as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“[Running backs coach Re’quan Boyette] almost ran over me to tell me,” Cutcliffe said. “[We were] happy that he got the yardage. You don’t ever want to be one yard short.”
Despite only needing one yard, Wilson helped maintain his astronomical 20.5 yards-per-carry average by getting eight on the game’s final play and finishing with 245 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries.
And possibly the best thing about his masterful performance was that he wasn’t even the one most excited about it.
“The happiest people for Shaun Wilson’s ability to break a school record were [fellow running backs] Josh Snead, Shaquille Powell and [Joseph] Ajeigbe,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “That’s the most unselfish group of people. That was sincere—the joy all of our players had for Shaun’s accomplishment.”
Many people are just now learning Wilson’s name, but his quick first step is something that was shown in the first two games of the season.
The 46th-ranked running back in his recruiting class entered Saturday’s game averaging 9.9 yards per carry, a mark that was ninth-best in the country already.
It is somewhat mind-boggling to consider that he only received five scholarship offers, but Wilson ended up in the perfect fit in offensive line coach and run game coordinator John Latina’s scheme for Duke’s running game.
“In our industry, everybody knows that [Latina] does a great job teaching the zone play and a great job with linemen,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s done it for a lot of years. People comment to me about that. [This performance] is a great tribute to [Latina] and the group he’s putting together.”
With his sleek frame and knack for finding holes with his bullet-like speed, Wilson could see a rapid increase in his touches as the season wears on, so next time don’t be surprised if the Blue Devils dial up a run on first down.
It might be all they need to score.
"I knew he had it from watching him in practice," Boone said. "If you hesitate, he's going to hit a seam and he's gone. I worked out with him and said 'Man, if you figure out how to hit our inside zone seam right, you're kind of small and people aren't going to see you and you're going to bust seams for us and be a game changer.' He definitely was today."