Duke not perfect against Tulane, still boast 4-0 record heading into ACC play

The Blue Devils did enough to shut down a mistake-prone Tulane squad in Saturday’s win but still have some work to do before ACC play starts.
The Blue Devils did enough to shut down a mistake-prone Tulane squad in Saturday’s win but still have some work to do before ACC play starts.

In some ways, Duke played its worst game of the season this weekend. But being on the right side of the sloppy game’s biggest plays gave the Blue Devils the only result that truly matters—a win.

Duke emerged from a mistake-filled matchup against Tulane with a 47-13 victory by capitalizing on its opponent’s mistakes in every facet of the game Saturday. The hard-earned win extends the Blue Devils’ undefeated start to the season, but came with much room for improvement heading into conference play.

“When everything doesn’t go just like you want it to go, that’s a lot of busy people,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “There’s a reason the game ended up a 47-13 victory. A lot of that is just how you respond to adversity we sometimes created ourselves.”

After not turning the ball over in its first three games, the Blue Devils gave it away twice against Tulane and were lucky that total was not higher. One pass from redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Boone slipped out of his hand as he threw it, bouncing just before a Tulane defender could scoop it out of the air. Another hit a Green Wave defender in the helmet before falling incomplete when Boone decided to force a pass into traffic over the middle.

“Right now, we’re not really on page with quarterbacks,” senior wide receiver Jamison Crowder said. “It’s something that we’re just going to have to work on, and hopefully everything will fall together.”

Despite struggling to move the ball through the air—Boone failed to pass for a touchdown for the first game this season and his 15 completions were a season low—Boone and backup quarterback Thomas Sirk were able to find some success on the ground, combining for 150 rushing yards and two touchdowns. But even running the ball the Blue Devils were mistake-prone—twice a Duke player lost a fumble that was subsequently recovered by a teammate, and a different play resulted in an apparent lost fumble overturned upon review.

Tulane’s inability to convert its opportunities on defense allowed Duke to turn to its superb kicking combination of punter Will Monday and kicker Ross Martin to force the Green Wave to start all but one of their possessions inside their own 30-yard line.

On the other side of the ball, though things were not much prettier.

Giving up 375 yards—215 of which came on the ground—Duke’s defense had trouble stopping the Green Wave, especially between the twenties. The Blue Devils allowed more rushing yards than the week before for the third consecutive game and committed multiple penalties that kept Tulane drives alive.

But pressure on Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee, a couple fortuitous bounces and a host of Green Wave mistakes allowed Duke to force five turnovers and hold Tulane to just 13 points. Lee finished the game with three interceptions, with two of those coming in the red zone and the third being returned by sophomore corner Bryon Fields for a touchdown. Duke’s other interception and second defensive score came on a play Cutcliffe said he had never seen before—an interception return by running back Joseph Ajeigbe following a poor snap on a Tulane punt attempt.

“Our turnovers were big,” sophomore safety Deondre Singleton said. “The fact that we were able to stop their momentum at times and put points on the board—that’s the reason we were able to get this done.”

The ugly win gives the Blue Devils their best record to start a season since 1994, and marks the end of what was expected to be a relatively easy start to Duke’s season before it enters conference play. The Blue Devils cannot count on many more opportunistic wins such as the one they had Saturday, but the team does sit exactly where it had hoped to be before the season began.

“Even though today wasn’t pretty in many circumstances, we are going into our conference games with a 4-0 record,” linebacker David Helton said. “That was our goal.”


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