Duke stayed undefeated on the season Saturday, handling N.C. Central 55-13 through a dominant overall performance. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:
Three key takeaways:
1. Duke must rely on its running game for offense
Quentin Harris once again had an excellent game filling in for Daniel Jones as he recovers from a broken clavicle, throwing for 202 yards and three touchdowns in a blowout victory. However, the game was won behind a tremendous 277 yards on the ground from a combined attack of redshirt sophomore Brittain Brown, redshirt freshman Marvin Hubbard III and true sophomore Deon Jackson, with 34 yards and a touchdown added by Harris himself. While Harris has shown off his big play potential over the past two weeks, his inaccuracy will largely limit the Duke passing offense to short passes in Jones’ absence.
2. Mistakes must be cleaned up
After racing to a quick first quarter 20-0 start, sending many fans to the exits early on, the Blue Devils ended the first quarter and began the second quarter with mistakes and ugly football. A week after committing zero penalties against Baylor, Duke had a silly personal foul penalty during an Eagles’ punt which resulted in a first down and led to a N.C. Central touchdown. Two possessions later, Harris fumbled a snap, which was picked up and returned 55 yards for another Eagle touchdown. The following two drives both ended in failed fourth down attempts in Eagle territory. These mistakes won’t cut it against stronger opponents like Virginia Tech and Miami.
3. The injury bug returns
With the Blue Devils are already missing numerous key starters in Jones, cornerbacks Mark Gilbert and Michael Carter II and receiver Aaron Young, Duke’s injury situation suffered another scare on Saturday as both Brown and Harris left the field with third-quarter injuries. Hubbard III and redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Katrenick replaced them in relief. While both injuries are not expected to be serious, the Blue Devils will need to stay healthy all-game to compete with No. 13 Virginia Tech next week.
Three key stats:
1. Brittain Brown’s 162 total yards
After only tallying a combined 89 yards in the past two games, Brown exploded this week rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown, as well as a 44-yard touchdown reception. As long as Jones remains sidelined, Duke will be counting on him to step up and carry a large chunk of the load for the offense.
2. 6-of-9 on red zone scoring opportunities
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Coach Cutcliffe pulled out all the tricks in a game that was expected to be a breeze, highlighted by a first quarter onside kick recovered by the kicker Jack Driggers himself. That most likely influenced his decision to go for it on fourth down on two consecutive drives in the second quarter at the Eagles’ five and one yard lines, but the failure to convert either time illustrates Duke’s trend of offensive struggles in the red zone.
3. 51 passing yards allowed
The Blue Devils utterly nullified the Eagles’ passing offense, allowing just 51 yards in the entire game. However, there is still room for improvement in defending the running game as the Blue Devils gave up 136 yards on the ground, including a 59-yard dash by Isaiah Totten in the first quarter.
After coming up just outside the Top 25 rankings this week, the 4-0 Blue Devils have a good chance at finding themselves ranked by this time next week. They will remain at home next Saturday to face their biggest test of the season so far in No. 13 Virginia Tech. Following a stunning 49-35 loss to Old Dominion, the Hokies will be more than motivated to redeem themselves, so Duke must bring its A-game to prove itself as a real threat in the ACC Coastal division.