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Duke football hangs under bright lights for half, proves program's rise

<p>Dylan Singleton and the Duke defense impressed Saturday, at least for the first half.</p>

Dylan Singleton and the Duke defense impressed Saturday, at least for the first half.

ATLANTA—Under the bright lights, in a large sea of crimson—the Atlanta Falcons’ signature red seats didn’t help—Duke could have drowned in the powerful tide that is Alabama football. 

But for the first portion of the game, the Blue Devils rose to the occasion, and showed their loyal fans who traveled down to Atlanta, the Crimson Tide and the rest of the nation that Duke’s football program is not afraid of the pressure. 

If you told a severely uninformed college football watcher that Alabama and Duke were expected to play within a touchdown, they would have believed you for a while. The matchup between the Crimson Tide and the Blue Devils drew a crowd of more than 71,000 fans and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s atmosphere provided a sense of professionalism and excitement for both squads in attendance. After Alabama’s first offensive drive was thwarted by a Koby Quansah sack forcing a three-and-out, the eyes of everyone were opened as it appeared as though Duke’s defense might have been able to keep the team in the game. 

And when Alabama ended its first quarter of the season without any points on the board, confidence grew from the Blue Devil side of the field, proving that Duke deserves the respect of the college football world. 

“I saw a lot of good things about our football team we’ll build on, so we’ll move forward quickly obviously from this,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “We learned a lot about ourselves.” 

Though the final score of 42-3 in Alabama’s favor is lopsided, it doesn’t tell the full story. In the first quarter, Duke’s backline was successful in getting to the quarterback and limiting Alabama’s run game. Seniors Quansah and Dylan Singleton ended the game with team highs 11 and 13 total tackles respectively. The Crimson Tide had a more-than-respectable 145 yards on the ground for the game, but the Blue Devils did make them work for it, as they only averaged 3.5 yards per rush.  

“We just had a lot of confidence in ourselves. We didn’t go into the game down on ourselves at all,” Singleton said. “We just tried to play hard and play fast and that’s what we did.” 

Despite Alabama’s inevitable breakthrough at the beginning of the second quarter, Duke’s defense was able to make big plays when it needed to in the first half. With less than two minutes left in the second half, the Blue Devils forced yet another Alabama three-and-out to allow redshirt senior signal caller Quentin Harris to complete a two-minute drill for Duke’s sole score of the day.  

At times, Duke’s offense did appear to be spooked by the speed of Alabama’s athletes. But there were glimpses of greatness from Harris and his receiving core. Evidenced by a 37-yard bomb to redshirt junior Scott Bracey and a solid stretch of completions to junior Noah Gray in the third quarter, the Blue Devils have the ability to put more points on the board against lesser competition in the future. 

Obviously, the outcome wasn’t what the Blue Devils wanted it to be, but their ability to keep it close with the second best team in the country for as long as they did bodes well for the future of their season, and the program as a whole.  

“I think our players will have a great memory, regardless of the outcome,” said an encouraged Cutcliffe. “I think more importantly maybe a hunger to put yourselves in these games, these atmospheres.” 

A few years ago, Duke would have looked even more outmatched than they did in a season opener against Alabama. But for a while Duke proved that it deserved to play on the same stage as the Crimson Tide. Duke has continued to make strides as a program in recruiting, player development and exposure, and this game should add to that progress.