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Extra point vs. Virginia Tech: Duke football shines on the road in ACC opener

The Blue Devils earned their largest road victory over an ACC opponent in 30 years with a 45-10 routing of Virginia Tech. They are now behind just 18th-ranked Virginia in the ACC Coastal standings. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways, stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:

Three Key Takeaways:

1. The red zone is a Gray area

Noah Gray scored more points in the first half than Virginia Tech scored all game. The junior tight end caught two touchdown passes in the red zone early in the game and finished with 50 yards on six catches. This was the first time Gray caught multiple touchdown passes in a game, though it may not be his last. Following his effective performance against the Virginia Tech secondary, look for an increase in Gray’s utilization in the red zone as the season progresses. 

2. Trick plays not tricky for the Blue Devils

Consider this scenario: you’re up by 28 points halfway through the 4th quarter, it’s 4th & 3 and you’re at midfield. What do you do? Head coach David Cutcliffe knew exactly what he would do, because in that exact situation, punter Austin Parker confidently faked a punt, taking off down the right sideline for an impressive 28-yard gain. This wasn’t the only trick play in Duke’s arsenal, however. Earlier in the game, Quentin Harris threw a quick screen to wide receiver Jalon Calhoun, who then found running back Deon Jackson wide open for a 25-yard touchdown. Considering these two statement plays alongside the onside kick against Middle Tennessee, don’t expect to see any shortage of trick plays in the near future from the Blue Devils.

3. Duke needs to be consistent

Duke football is interesting in that you don’t know what you’re going to get in any given quarter. The first quarter of the season against Alabama made the Blue Devils look like playoff contenders. The first quarter against N.C. A&T made them look like a potential two-win team. The first quarter against MTSU made the Blue Devils look right in the middle of those two scenarios. The first quarter against Virginia Tech made them look… bad. Although Duke is able to turn around poor performances more often than not, it’s difficult to enjoy the good plays after seeing the glaring weaknesses in the team. If the Blue Devils are able to play consistently well as a team, their performances will look better and they will never be at risk of being taken out of a game.

Three Key Stats:

1. Spread covered by 37.5 points

In the first quarter of the game, it seemed that Virginia Tech—the 2.5-point favorites—could reasonably defend the spread, consistently beginning each drive with great field position and putting constant pressure on the Duke offense. By the middle of the second quarter, that assumption could no longer be made. The Duke offense erupted for 21 points in that quarter, quickly changing the game’s outlook. What began as a three-point deficit rapidly turned into an 18-point advantage for the Blue Devils, and the Hokies had no response to the offensive onslaught. The events of the game culminated in Virginia Tech’s worst home conference loss in 69 years.

2. Blue Devils finish with 234 rushing yards

Although the electric passes and clever trick plays were paramount in the win, the steady production of Duke’s run game was the hidden key in this game. Quarterback Quentin Harris led the team with 100 yards and a touchdown on the ground, with running back Deon Jackson adding 55 yards and a touchdown of his own. Ultimately, five Blue Devils averaged over five yards per rush, which was important in setting up the aforementioned passes and trick plays. The Blue Devils, who averaged 181 rushing yards per contest coming into the game, were able to simultaneously raise their rushing yards per game and Virginia Tech’s rushing yards allowed per game. Duke will look to keep up this production for the rest of the season.

3. Five total yards of offense for Duke in the first quarter

The box score is not lying. Yes, the Blue Devils scored over 40 points for the third straight game. Yes, they also started the first quarter with five total yards and naturally, no first downs. Although the first quarter was an alarming period for Duke football fans, the Blue Devils were able to turn around their performance and deliver on offense. This is in large part thanks to the defense, which was able to stall Virginia Tech’s offensive drives until the Duke offense found its rhythm. 

Looking forward:

The Blue Devils now prepare for a home matchup against Pittsburgh next Saturday at 8 p.m. Both offenses exploded in last year's battle between the two teams, with the Panthers coming out victorious in the 54-45 shootout. Pittsburgh went on to win the ACC Coastal last season, and coming off an upset win over No. 22 UCF last weekend, should pose yet another conference challenge for Duke.

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