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Making the grade: Duke football vs. Georgia Tech

With a revitalized run game, Duke managed to methodically take down No. 22 Georgia Tech 31-25 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., Saturday. Although the Blue Devils allowed two late fourth-quarter touchdowns after building an impressive 31-12 lead, their adjustments after struggling mightily at Miami two weeks ago on both sides of the ball allowed each unit to earn solid grades across the board.

Offense: A-

Pass: Redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Boone didn’t put up big numbers this week—throwing for only 131 yards—but he protected the ball well while getting everyone involved; six Duke receivers had two or more receptions. The offensive line did a great job keeping a clean pocket for Boone, allowing zero sacks and minimal pressure on the afternoon, something it was unable to do against Miami. Although Saturday was Boone's fourth straight game passing for less than 200 yards, his ability to keep the Georgia Tech defense guessing was crucial in controlling the clock and giving the Duke defense a breather.

One of the biggest plays of the game came in the second quarter when Boone found slot receiver Max McCaffrey—who caught a four-yard touchdown in the first quarter—for a 30-yard gain down the sideline on third-and-26. The play set up a Thomas Sirk rushing touchdown to give Duke a 14-6 lead and was indicative of Boone's resurgence after playing one of the worst games of his career two weeks ago. Although the Blue Devils will likely need more than 131 yards through the air to have success in the coming weeks, Saturday's performance was a much cleaner performance for an aerial attack that is still waiting for All-ACC wideout Jamison Crowder to have a breakout game.

Rush: Although junior running back Shaquille Powell missed the game due to injury, Duke racked up 242 yards rushing on 5.1 yards per carry behind a strong performance from its offensive line. Sirk scored two short touchdowns on the ground in the Blue Devils' short-yardage package, and redshirt senior running back Josh Snead had a touchdown to go along with a strong 14-carry, 102-yard performance. 16 of Duke's 25 first downs came on the ground, allowing the Blue Devils to keep the Yellow Jacket spread-option attack off the field. Led by right guard Laken Tomlinson, the offensive line consistently opened gaping holes for Snead, true freshman Shaun Wilson, redshirt freshman Joseph Ajeigbe, and Boone to all break off runs longer than 10 yards, wearing down the Georgia Tech defense as the game wore on.

X’s & O’s: After last week’s weak offensive showing against Miami’s defense, the Blue Devil offense found its rhythm early. The unit established a strong balance of passes and runs until Duke built its lead. When calling plays with a solid advantage, offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery stayed committed to the running game to limit Georgia Tech's opportunities to get back into the contest. Although Montgomery wasn't able to get Crowder and the passing game going, if he continues letting his unit play based on the situation, the Blue Devils' explosive plays downfield should return.

Defense: A-

Pass: Another strong performance by redshirt junior safety Jeremy Cash led the way as the Blue Devils forced three second-half turnovers and limited starting quarterback Justin Thomas to 61 yards through the air. On two separate occasions, Thomas forced ill-advised, wobbly passes into traffic. True freshman linebacker Zavier Carmichael picked him off the first time in the red zone, and Cash came up with the second pick when Thomas rolled to his right while chased and opted to throw down the sideline instead of throwing it away. The safety returned the ball 23 yards and set up another Duke score several plays later.

But although the Blue Devils held Thomas in check, backup Tim Byerly found openings in Duke's secondary after entering the game in the fourth quarter, going 7-of-10 for 125 yards and leading two touchdown drives to make the score respectable. Despite Byerly's late success, the Blue Devils' ability to prevent Thomas from picking up big plays through the air allowed them to knock off Georgia Tech for the first time since head coach David Cutcliffe started in 2008.

Rush: The Yellow Jackets’ patented spread-option rushing game was the focal point of the Blue Devil defensive game plan. Georgia Tech gained 282 yards on the ground at a strong 6.1 yards per carry, but until the fourth quarter rolled around, Duke gave up only one trip into the end zone and successfully employed its bend-but-don't-break gameplan. The Blue Devils also held hard-nosed running back Zach Laskey in check as he tried to punish Duke up the gut, limiting him to just 73 yards on 15 carries and also forcing the the 6-foot-1, 218-pound bruiser to fumble on the first possession of the second half. The Blue Devil defensive line was finally able to match the physicality of Georgia Tech up front and spark a strong Duke performance in Atlanta.

X’s and O’s: Duke's defensive performance showed that defensive coordinator Jim Knowles used the bye week to his advantage. The Blue Devils swarmed to the ball and prevented the Yellow Jackets from making the big play, allowing only one run longer than 20 yards and no passes longer than 30 yards. In the red zone, Duke was able to make Georgia Tech face long down-and-distance situations it is not equipped for and maintain control of the contest. Despite allowing the two late scores, the Blue Devil defense should be very confident as it prepares to stifle Coastal Division leader Virginia next week.

Special Teams: B

In the kicking game, punter Will Monday was solid, recording 44.3 yards-per-punt on three attempts and booming one for 61 yards. Kicker Ross Martin—the Blue Devils' all-time leading scorer— was also effective as usual and nailed a 34-yard field goal in the third quarter and hit all four extra points on the day.

The return game only saw one opportunity, as Yellow Jacket kicker Harrison Butker prevented any kickoff returns, but Crowder gained 10 yards on his only punt return.

The special units gets marked down because its kick coverage woes from early in the season reared their ugly head again Saturday. Georgia Tech kick returner Jamal Golden exposed Duke’s coverage team twice on returns of 68 yards and 51 yards, forcing the Blue Devils to adjust their strategy on kickoffs. Although Ryan Smith and the hands team recovered a late onside kick and Duke's special teams are still a strength of the team, the Blue Devils need to solidify their kick coverage assignments to prevent opponents from giving them a taste of their own medicine.


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