On the Blue Devils’ second play from scrimmage, running back Jela Duncan ran to his left, cut upfield then eluded two N.C. Central defenders on his way to a 50-yard touchdown run.
That was seemingly the only resistance the Duke offense faced in the first half.
The Blue Devils broke a 67-year-old record for most points in a half by pouring on 49 en route to a season-opening 49-6 win against the Eagles Saturday evening at Wallace Wade Stadium. After Duke racked up more than 400 yards of offense in the first two quarters, its reserves played most of the second half with the outcome already decided.
“Offensively, we were amazingly efficient early on. [Starting quarterback] Daniel Jones showed poise and put in some good plays,” Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. “Jela Duncan did what we thought he was going to do.”
Jones looked decisive in his first start, finishing 10-of-15 for 189 yards and two touchdowns through the air in about two quarters of work. Backup Parker Boehme came in late in the second quarter and tacked on a touchdown pass before Jones returned for Duke’s first possession of the second half.
Jones made his first mark on the game early when faced with 3rd-and-15 from N.C. Central’s 28-yard line. The redshirt freshman found tight end Daniel Helm up the seam for 25 yards, putting the Blue Devils (1-0) in position to add to their 7-0 lead. The Charlotte native impressed on third downs throughout the contest, converting 4-of-6 attempts. Three of the conversions went for at least nine yards, and Jones had a hand in nine plays that went for 10 yards or more in his first start.
“[Jones] was comfortable. He knew what he was doing,” Cutcliffe said. “There’s a lot of things that he can do well.”
Both Boehme and Jones also had two of the Blue Devils’ four rushing touchdowns, with Duncan punching in the other two for Duke’s first two scores of the season. The redshirt senior captain finished with 115 yards on 15 carries.
The two quarterbacks spread the ball out to 11 different receivers, with slot receiver Johnathan Lloyd scampering for a 55-yard touchdown reception to put the Blue Devils up 21-0 late in the opening period—the first career touchdown for both players. Helm and fellow tight ends Erich Schneider and Davis Koppenhaver combined for six catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns, stepping right into the openings left on the roster by Braxton Deaver and David Reeves.
But as impressive as the Blue Devil offense was, its defense might have been even better.
Duke limited N.C. Central (0-1) to 112 total yards, with redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Giles-Harris leading the way with six tackles in his first start. Veteran defensive tackle A.J. Wolf—the Blue Devils’ only returning starter on the defensive line—had three sacks Saturday, the second-most in team history and more than any Duke player during the entire 2015 season.
“The defense was lights out that whole first half, and that was exciting to see,” Jones said. “[The offense] got great field position pretty much all night, and that makes our job a whole lot easier working with a short field.”
Cornerbacks Bryon Fields and Breon Borders forced first-half turnovers to set up the efficient Blue Devil offense with good field position, and Duke’s veteran secondary limited Eagle quarterback Malcolm Bell to 74 passing yards.
Although the Blue Devils dominated the first half, the team’s sloppiness in the second half did not sit well with Cutcliffe and his staff.
Duke did not score after halftime—though it did get in the red zone late in the fourth quarter before failing to convert on fourth down—and lost five fumbles. Two of the Blue Devil miscues set up N.C. Central’s two second-half field goals, the Eagles’ first points against Duke in three games after getting shut out in 2013 and 2015.
The Blue Devils also committed 10 penalties Saturday despite controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, a number Duke likely cannot afford next week in its ACC opener against Wake Forest.
“We won’t win if we do those things. Too many penalties in an opening game for my pleasure. Too many on the offensive front,” Cutcliffe said. “These are things that we can correct, and we will.”