Behind a historic performance from Daniel Jones, Duke defeated North Carolina 42-35, surviving a late push from the Tar Heels. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways, stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:

Three key takeaways:

1. Daniel Jones is lethal in the open field 

Jones has proven himself to be an NFL-ready quarterback time and time again this season with his elite passing skills. But what’s been under-appreciated is his ability to run the football. Jones rushed for 186 yards Saturday, more than doubling his total rushing yards for the season.

2. Poor run defense fails to contain North Carolina’s offense in the first half

Duke’s run defense has been a problem all year, but the injury to linebacker Joe Giles-Harris only made things worse. The Tar Heels torched the lackluster Blue Devil defense for 272 yards in the first half, with running back Michael Carter leading the way with 122 yards. However, Duke stepped it up after intermission, allowing just 43 rushing yards total in the second half.

3. Duke’s defense could be a matter of effort and focus

Despite Duke’s lackluster defense in the first half, they came out in the second half ready to go, showing that they have the potential to give opponents headaches. After giving up four touchdowns in the first half, the Blue Devils forced six straight scoreless drives to begin the second half. So while Duke’s defense has lacked consistency throughout the year, it’s clear that Duke has the ability to lock down on defense. Maybe it’s simply about effort. 

Three key stats:

1. 547 yards of total offense for Daniel Jones

Quarterback Daniel Jones had a total of 547 yards, setting a Duke record for yards of total offense in a single game. Jones’s 361 passing yards and 186 rushing yards also notched his second game with 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards of his career, joining Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and Clemson quarterback Tahj Boyd as the only players in the ACC with multiple 300-100 games. 

2. 9 first-half touchdowns

Saturday’s matchup saw 9 total touchdowns in the first half, with both teams trading scores but Duke eventually going into the locker room leading 35-28. Neither team could stop the run game, with the Blue Devils rushing for 268 yards and the Tar Heels going for 315, leading to multiple 40-yard-or-more rushing touchdowns. However, both teams clamped down on defense in the second half. North Carolina caused back-to-back Duke fumbles, while the Blue Devils forced six scoreless drives to begin the second half.

3. 65 percent on third downs

Duke converted 13-of-20, or 65 percent, of its third downs throughout the game. With Jones and the Blue Devil offense being able to convert in crucial situations, Duke was able to maintain possession and capitalize on its opportunities. The Blue Devils did not have a single 3-and-out in the matchup, allowing them to keep their rhythm and prevent North Carolina from gaining momentum, especially in the second half.

Looking forward:

With back-to-back victories against Miami and North Carolina, the Blue Devils seem to be finding their groove once again as the season comes to a close. While they won’t be able to compete for an ACC championship, it will be interesting to see how Duke fares against its top opponent of the season, No. 2 Clemson. While a victory is unlikely, the Blue Devils’ performance in the matchup will be important in terms of how they ride the rest of the season out and transition to their next focus of the season, the bowl game.