The Blue Devils rallied from a 21-point deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter Saturday against Georgia Tech, but gave up too many big plays that ultimately handed a 38-35 victory to Georgia Tech. Despite a strong performance from its offense, Duke was unable to make plays when it mattered most, which has been a theme for the team this season.
Pass: Completing 22-of-36 passes for 305 yards, redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones teamed up with his tight ends for a big day and threw for two touchdowns to redshirt sophomore Daniel Helm. Jones averaged 13.9 yards per completion and was 8-for-11 on third down passes. The Charlotte native did throw one interception, but it did not directly cause any damage because Marcus Marshall fumbled the ball on the very first play of the Yellow Jackets’ ensuing drive. After struggling to finish drives in the first half, Jones led the Blue Devils down the field with some consistency at the end of the game, leading four consecutive drives that resulted in touchdowns. An eight-play, 68-yard drive in the fourth quarter punctuated by a third-down touchdown pass to Helm gave Duke its first lead at 35-31. Coming off a seven-catch, 83-yard performance at Louisville, sophomore receiver T.J. Rahming only had two catches for 10 yards each.
Rush: On top of his 305 passing yards, Jones also ran for 73 yards on 10 carries to lead the Blue Devils. Redshirt senior running back Jela Duncan ran for two touchdowns in a span of 15 seconds in the third quarter, but went down with a potential career-ending leg injury in the final period. Duncan also fumbled the ball in the first quarter to end a Duke drive at the Georgia Tech 33-yard line. Backup running back Shaun Wilson also had a solid day running the ball, but on his longest run of the day—a 57-yard rush inside the 10-yard line—he fumbled the ball as well, squandering an excellent scoring opportunity for the Blue Devils. He averaged 10.9 yards per carry on his 10 attempts to exceed 100 yards on the ground for the first time of the year.
X’s and O’s: The Blue Devils totaled 559 offensive yards, the most yards they have gained in a game this season. But the Blue Devils did turn over the ball three times, twice on fumbles and once on an interception, which has been an Achilles' heel for Duke all season. Jones has now thrown nine interceptions in Duke’s eight contests.
Pass: The Blue Devils could not prevent long passes from Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, who picked up 264 passing yards on just 10 completions. Thomas also threw for two touchdowns and did not not throw an interception. Senior cornerback Breon Borders entered the game leading the ACC with 1.6 passes defended per game, but did not break up a single pass that Thomas threw—in fact, Thomas threw just four incompletions on his 14 attempts, none of which were broken up by a Duke defender. The only positive for the Blue Devils' defense against the pass was the three sacks it recorded on the day.
Rush: Even worse for Duke was its inability to stop Thomas from picking up big gains on scrambles. Up 35-31 with less than nine minutes remaining in the game, Thomas crossed midfield with a 46-yard run on 2nd-and-19, which eventually set up a touchdown for Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils' linebackers appeared unable to keep up with the evasive Thomas in the open field. Later in the fourth quarter, down 38-35 with the chance to get the ball back on 3rd-and-17, Thomas picked up 50 yards on the ground to help the Yellow Jackets run the clock out.
X’s and O’s: Duke's defense was only able to force one turnover, a fumble that Humphreys forced and recovered at Georgia Tech’s 45-yard line. Aside from that, Duke was unable to contain Thomas—who totaled 459 yards—in both the passing and rushing game. Coming off a strong defensive performance against Lamar Jackson and Louisville two weeks ago, this game was a disappointment for the Blue Devil defense.
Special Teams: B+
Both of Duke’s punts in the game were effective at giving the Yellow Jackets poor field position. With Austin Parker out with a broken clavicle, senior walk-on Danny Stirt punted once in the first quarter for the Blue Devils, pinning the Yellow Jackets inside their 10-yard line. Duke only punted one other time, when backup quarterback Parker Boehme entered in the fourth quarter in the shotgun formation and fourth down and punted the ball 52 yards to the Georgia Tech 16-yard line.
One of the Blue Devils' largest momentum-building plays of the game took place in the third quarter, when Deondre Singleton forced J.J. Green to fumble on a kick return at the Georgia Tech 10-yard line, setting up a touchdown run for Duncan that brought Duke to within a touchdown of the Yellow Jackets. The Blue Devils' kick coverage unit was impressive all afternoon, holding the Yellow Jackets to an average of just 12 yards on four returns.
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Duke did not make much happen returning punts or kicks, with no yards gained on one punt return and one kick return that Shaun Wilson brought out of the end zone for 14 yards on a play in which he nearly took a knee at his own 1-yard line.