BLACKSBURG,Va.—Unquestionably, the Duke offense will be the side garnering the attention from the Blue Devils’ 45-10 win in Lane Stadium Friday night. And it certainly deserves the praise, with Quentin Harris and his squad racking up touchdown after touchdown in an absolute firestorm of attack in the second half.
But the game did not begin in this manner.
The defensive and special teams performances in this statement win in front of a crowd of over 50,000 will surely be forgotten in favor of the highlight-reel plays from the offensive side of the ball. They absolutely shouldn’t be.
Nearly a year ago to the day, then-No. 22 Duke faced Virginia Tech in Wallace Wade Stadium, and the Hokies had their way with the Blue Devils. Last year, they gained 413 total yards. This year? Only 259.
“Do whatever it takes to defend the line,” declared Tre Hornbuckle of the Blue Devil goal line stand. “You give us an inch and we will defend it.”
This was made possible by excellent run defense from the defensive line, as well as the linebackers and safeties coming up big with key tackles. Through the air, Duke limited Virginia Tech to only 120 passing yards, as opposed to a ghastly 332 last year.
This may have been a highlight performance by the offense, but it was a statement by the defense.
With 11:25 to go in the second quarter, middle linebacker Koby Quansah jumped on a loose ball fumbled by backup quarterback Hendon Hooker of the Hokies. The pigskin took a Duke bounce, and another and another. Quansah fell on it, setting the Blue Devils up at the 16-yard line, allowing for an easy pitch and catch from Quentin Harris to Noah Gray to put Duke on the board. This kickstarted an offense which had gained a grand total of 17 yards on its first three drives and set the game up for good.
“Coach Cut emphasizes blending offense, defense and special teams, so getting that transition going and that momentum going was huge for us,” said Duke linebacker Brandon Hill of the fumble recovery that turned the tide for the Blue Devils.
Even prior to that, the defense was working to keep Lane Stadium from exploding, with adrenaline from “Enter Sandman” still coursing through the veins of the Hokie faithful. Late in the first quarter, Willis was driving Virginia Tech down the field, taking advantage of great field position and a couple of key penalties. The Duke side bent, but did not break, turning a first and goal from the six into a field goal try after stymying three straight runs.
The game stood at 3-0 heading to the second frame, and Duke only made one mistake for the rest of the game, a 72-yard touchdown down the middle. While admittedly not a bright spot, the defense turned in the performance they needed to overall, and came away as the inciters of the Duke rally. Lane Stadium was empty well before the clock ran out.
"If at first the breaks go against you, don't let up, put on more steam," Cutcliffe said.
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On Friday night, his team did just that.
And let us not forget about special teams, the players most often forgotten about in any sport, save for perhaps the backup goaltender.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, punter Austin Parker—a quarterback in high school—took off, taking the ball around the right end for a 28-yard gain, keeping the drive alive and creating an opportunity for backup quarterback Chris Katrenick to run the ball in from nine yards out for another Blue Devil score.
Also of note is kicker A.J. Reed, who converted on every kick he was asked to make. But he didn’t seem content with extra points, so he decided to bolster his statline by practicing his tackling, chasing down two of his own kickoffs to earn the primary tackle on plays that could have broken the Duke line for a lot more.
This was a dominant performance from Duke in all three phases of the game—offense, yes, but with defense and special teams making the plays the team needed to succeed on the road against a tough Virginia Tech team.