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

<p>Brittain Brown paced Duke's rushing attack in the first half.</p>

Brittain Brown paced Duke's rushing attack in the first half.

ATLANTA—Duke’s underdog status didn’t faze David Cutcliffe’s squad, as its defense tried its best to thwart Alabama’s explosive offense, holding it to two touchdowns in two quarters, heading to the locker room with the Crimson Tide up 14-3. The Blue Devils ended the half with only three points on the scoreboard though, as they could not move the ball downfield effectively. Here are some quick notes and observations with the Blue Devils looking to continue to keep the score as close as possible.

Five observations

  1. Duke’s defensive line doesn’t seem shy under the bright lights, as it got to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and his running back with relative ease to begin the game. On the Crimson Tide’s first drive, the Blue Devils forced a three-and-out, giving the entire team some confidence it needed going forward. On Alabama’s second drive, Duke forced a fumble in Crimson Tide territory -- a clear sign that Duke’s defense would not back down.
  2. Despite the advertisement of a “neutral site” for the match, you’d be hard pressed to find an even comparable amount of blue fans in the stands. Alabama brought many of its rowdy fans to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, making it that much harder for Duke to try and overcome the long odds of victory.
  3. Head coach David Cutcliffe showed his cards early, keeping it on the ground on six of Duke’s first seven plays. The running back tag team of junior Deon Jackson and redshirt junior Brittain Brown may be the key to the Blue Devil offense all season, as the combo of Jackson’s speed and shiftiness with the ball and Brown’s strength and grit was effective against a tough Alabama defense to start the game. 
  4. Although their front four seemed solid out of the gate, Duke’s cheetahs in the secondary were outrun and outgunned by Alabama’s passing game, in particular Jerry Jeudy. Tagovailoa completed six-of-eight passes on the Crimson Tide’s third drive of the game and moved the chains effectively, as Duke’s secondary did not successfully keep Alabama’s receiving core in check. Luckily, some great plays by Duke’s defensive line—and a missed field goal attempt by Alabama—kept the Crimson Tide scoreless up to that point. 
  5. Koby Quansah, who recently had surgery on his thumb, still came out in full Blue Devil gear to lead Duke’s defense as the starting linebacker. He finished the half with five total tackles and a sack. His ability to get to the quarterback and keep Alabama’s running backs at bay anchored the Blue Devil backline in its attempts to slow down the Crimson Tide.

By the numbers

  • 34.5 point spread?: Duke’s ability to keep up speedwise and strength wise with Alabama in the first half came as a surprise to most observers, as the Blue Devils only trail by 11 heading into the halftime locker room. If you were someone who bet against Duke covering the biggest spread the team will face all year, you might be disappointed at the end of the game.
  • Three pass completions for Quentin Harris: Duke’s new shot caller didn’t find much success in his first half under center. Some of it can be attributed to the ineffectiveness of Duke’s offensive line, as Harris was forced to make quick decisions in the pocket
  • 11.8 yards per catch for Jerry Jeudy: The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner put on quite a show for the Tide, as his elite speed in the open field was put on display every time he caught the ball. Jeudy will be a force to be reckoned with this season, especially with Tagovailoa looking to connect with him as much as possible.

A moment that mattered

Alabama finally put points on the board after almost 20 minutes of knocking on the Blue Devil’s door. Duke could not hold Tagovailoa, Jeudy and the rest of the Crimson Tide gang scoreless any longer, allowing a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown on Alabama’s first drive of the second quarter. However, the fact that Duke kept up with the Tide for as long as it did provided confidence for the Blue Devils and their fans for this game and the rest of their season.

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