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Duke football defense finds knack for big plays in victory against Miami

<p>The Blue Devil defense kept Miami off the board in the second half.</p>

The Blue Devil defense kept Miami off the board in the second half.

Saturday night proved to be a series of highs and lows for the Blue Devils.

Duke came away with a 20-12 win against Miami, securing a sixth win to make them bowl eligible and beating Miami on the road for the first time since 1976.

The night was marked with long touchdown runs—including a 75-yard touchdown run by Deon Jackson on the opening play, trouble in the passing game, some stellar defensive plays and rainy conditions that led to an inability to tackle for the the first half.

While Duke had some trouble making defensive plays as the rain poured down onto the field, the second half saw the rain clear up and the Blue Devils defense stopped Miami on three consecutive plays.

“The biggest thing we look towards is they didn't score,” linebacker Ben Humphreys said. “They missed a field goal, they missed an extra point, we held them on the two-point conversion, Joe blocked a field goal. We held them to not scoring and if you keep them out of the end zone then you're going to win football games.”

Duke came out in the second half and stopped Miami out of the gate. On the next drive, Duke’s Derrick Tangelo forced a fumble on Miami’s second down, which was recovered by Humphreys.

The Hurricanes were finally able to get something going, driving 53 yards down the field. However, the Blue Devil special teams then blocked a field goal that kept Miami from going up by five. Joe Giles-Harris blocked a field goal that could have changed the outcome of the game, had Miami scored it would have extended the lead to 15-10. 

The Duke defense was once again able to save the team from what could have been a sticky situation when quarterback Daniel Jones threw an interception, giving Miami the ball on its own 47-yard line. On the first play of that drive, Humphreys forced a fumble and recovered it, keeping Miami from potentially scoring to make the game closer.

“We executed what we did in practice,” Tangelo said. “Our coaches wouldn't blow the whistle until we at least attempted a rip or blocked the quarterback and attempted an interception. Working on turnovers, working on being the second man in and rip the ball out, we just tried to execute that and it worked out in our favor.”

Tangelo added a big sack as the seconds winded down in the fourth quarter and Miami tried to mount a comeback. The defensive tackle sacked N’Kosi Perry for a loss of eight yards with 45 seconds left in the game—one of three sacks on the game in a big moment. 

While Duke was able to pick it up in the second half, the Blue Devils rush defense was not able to slow down a Miami offense that only put up 12 points on the game. Duke gave up 300 rushing yards to Miami, with two Hurricane running backs each having 100-plus yard games and a touchdown. 

As the rain started to come down harder in the second quarter, it became increasingly hard for players to stay on their feet. Duke’s defensive line could not control Miami’s backs while the secondary let players slip out of their grasp, with defenders slipping and sliding to the ground when trying to make tackles.

A huge chunk of this rush offense was DeeJay Dallas’ 83-yard touchdown run, which came in the monsoon that was the second quarter. On the following drive, the Canes drove 82 yards in six plays—including a 43-yard run by Travis Homer—for a touchdown to put Miami in the lead going into halftime.

“When the rain’s really picked up, I think maybe we did go a little conservative on the road, just to make sure that you’re not going to turn the ball over,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. 

The Blue Devil defense will face a North Carolina offense next week that, despite losing its last five games, has put up points and created high-scoring games against fellow ACC teams.