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Five observations and more from Duke football's first half against Pittsburgh

<p>Duke responded to Pittsburgh's opening score with back-to-back touchdowns.</p>

Duke responded to Pittsburgh's opening score with back-to-back touchdowns.

The Blue Devils head into the locker room with a 21-17 lead at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Here are our five observations and more from Duke's first half against the Panthers.

Five Observations

  1. The Blue Devil rushing offense looked more capable today, after averaging just 2.1 yards per carry a week ago. Deon Jackson, who put up just 17 yards on 11 attempts against Virginia, improved his efficiency with a 60-yard spurt midway through the second quarter, while quarterback Daniel Jones added 43 yards on the ground.
  2. A year after Duke allowed 336 yards yards and three touchdowns on the ground to Pittsburgh, the Panthers’ rushing offense looked similarly dominant in the first half. Pittsburgh ball carriers tallied 176 yards on an impressive 9.3 yards per attempt, led by V'Lique Carter who had 73.
  3. Drops on deep balls from Duke pass-catchers continued to plague its offense. Tight end Daniel Helm dropped a wide open 24-yard throw from Jones in the end zone, triggering a turnover on downs for the Blue Devils two plays later.
  4. Duke’s punt and kick coverage rebounded after a subpar performance last week, and the Blue Devils won the field position battle through the first two periods, with Duke starting on average at its 30 yard-line, while Pittsburgh began at its 23 yard-line. The only major miscue came when Chris Rumph II sent the offense back 15 yards with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that occurred after the play.
  5. On both of Duke’s first-and-goal attempts, backup quarterback Quentin Harris ran a draw. Although the first try resulted in a score, the Panthers easily thwarted the second attempt, a questionable play call from the Blue Devils’ sideline.

By the Numbers

  • 81 quarterback rushing yards: Both Duke and Pittsburgh made use of their versatility behind center, as Harris, Jones and Pickett combined for 81 yards on the ground. Harris scored the Blue Devils’ first touchdown of the day, punching in a 6-yard score to cap Duke’s drive of 11 plays and 62 yards.
  • 4 receptions and 42 yards for Noah Gray: Noah Gray, who is listed as Duke’s third-string tight end, had a monster first half. His receptions and yardage totals both mark career highs for the sophomore.
  • 6-for-8 on third down for Duke: The Blue Devils dominated on third downs, keeping numerous drives alive. Both of T.J. Rahming’s touchdowns came on third-and-goal situations, including a beautifully executed corner fade for his first score of the day.

A moment that mattered

On the game’s opening drive, the Blue Devils defense seemed poised to hold the Panthers to a long field goal attempt, with Pittsburgh facing a third-and-7 at the Duke 30-yard line. However, Pickett scrambled around the right edge, gaining 30 yards en route for a touchdown. The Panthers’ signal caller doubled his previous season long rush of 15 yards, indicating the Blue Devils’ continued issue of containing the quarterback, as Bryce Perkins ran for two scores for Virginia last week.

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