North Carolina dismantled the Blue Devils from beginning to end Saturday afternoon at Kenan Memorial Stadium, running away with a 66-31 victory to keep the Victory Bell in Chapel Hill. The game was already decided by halftime as quarterback Marquise Williams’ record-breaking performance led the Tar Heels to a 38-10 lead heading into the locker room. With the win, North Carolina took full control of the Coastal division and virtually knocked the Blue Devils out of contention for a berth in the ACC championship.
Revisiting the three keys to the game:
- Force the passing game: Duke dared the Tar Heels to throw the ball, and Williams responded with a historic performance. Williams connected on several deep balls in the first half, throwing for 404 yards and four touchdowns before the break. The senior finished the game with a school-record 494 yards through the air and did not even play in the fourth quarter. The North Carolina quarterback was aided by an abysmal performance by an experienced Duke secondary that had an impressive season up to this point.
- Exploit the run defense: The Blue Devils’ rushing attack was the only bright spot for them Saturday, as the team ran for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Jela Duncan and Thomas Sirk both broke through big holes for touchdown scampers of more than 50 yards, but most of the damage was done when it was already garbage time. Duke fell behind by so much so early that the running game could never become a major factor to get the Blue Devils back into the game.
- Contain Ryan Switzer: On the Tar Heels’ first play from scrimmage, Williams connected with Switzer for an 89-yard touchdown pass to give North Carolina a lead it would never relinquish. The explosive receiver never had the chance to return a punt as Will Monday did a good job of keeping the ball away from him on his four punts. Switzer was quiet for the rest of the game, but Duke’s failure to contain him on this play set the tone for the contest.
Three key stats:
- 537 passing yards for North Carolina: Duke entered this game allowing an average of just 166 passing yards per game, so it was very unfamiliar to see opposing receivers finding openings downfield for big gains. Williams was the best quarterback the Blue Devils have faced all season, and they were simply not prepared to stop the Tar Heels’ aerial onslaught.
- 21 points off turnovers for North Carolina: Duke’s offensive unit turned the ball over three times during the game, and the Tar Heels capitalized on each of these miscues with quick touchdown drives. A fumble and an interception killed promising first-half drives that could have cut into the mounting deficit, and quarterback Thomas Sirk’s second interception of the game in the third quarter gave North Carolina a short field that led to another touchdown.
- Three rushing touchdowns for Elijah Hood: Williams was the star of the show for the Tar Heels, but it took more than a one-man wrecking crew to dominate the Blue Devils as thoroughly as the Tar Heels did. Running back Elijah Hood was generally reliable near the goal line—finding the end zone three times—and on short-yardage opportunities, although he was stuffed on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter to end one of only three North Carolina possessions all game that did not put points on the board.
Three key plays:
- 12:42, first quarter: After Duke punted on its opening drive, the Tar Heels handed the ball off to Hood on its first play, drawing the Blue Devils’ defense in. Hood then immediately pitched it back to Williams, who found a wide-open Switzer down the field for a touchdown as the flea flicker worked to perfection. It took North Carolina one play to go 89 yards, and the rout was on.
- 7:14, first quarter: The Tar Heels held an early 14-3 lead, but Duke responded with a drive to North Carolina’s 27-yard line and seemed to be in good position to make it a one-possession game. But seldomly-used running back Joesph Ajeigbe fumbled on a pitch to the left side and the Tar Heels recovered to keep the momentum on their side.
- 0:08, second quarter: Trailing 31-10 with time running out in the first half, Duke was down but not completely out of the game and looked to regroup heading into halftime. That changed when wide receiver Bug Howard beat Blue Devil cornerback Jeremy McDuffie down the left sideline and caught a 49-yard touchdown pass to end the half and put the nail in the coffin.
And the Duke game ball goes to…Jela Duncan
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Duncan posted his first career 100-yard rushing game Saturday, needing only 13 carries to gain 115 yards. His performance was highlighted by a 52-yard touchdown early in the second quarter that kept Duke within striking distance at the time. On a day when running back Shaun Wilson was out with a leg injury, Duncan picked up the slack to lead Duke’s rushing attack to a solid performance. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the score limited Duncan's attempts and prevented the redshirt junior from having a bigger impact Saturday.
And the North Carolina game ball goes to…Marquise Williams
Williams was clearly the best player on the field and arguably the best player in the nation this week. The Charlotte, N.C., native ran for a touchdown to go along with his unprecedented success through the air and finished his career against the Blue Devils with convincing wins in back-to-back years. He terrorized Duke’s defense for 66 points—the highest scoring output against Duke since Florida State scored 70 in 1995. The Blue Devils had statistically been one of the best defensive units in the nation this season, and the fact that they had no answer for Williams is a testament to his near-perfect performance.