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Five observations and more from Duke football's first half against North Carolina A&T

<p>Jalon Calhoun opened scoring for the Blue Devils, connecting with Quentin Harris on a 38-yard score.</p>

Jalon Calhoun opened scoring for the Blue Devils, connecting with Quentin Harris on a 38-yard score.

Originally heavily favored, Duke finds itself with a comfortable lead against in-state rival North Carolina, the Blue Devils ahead 28-10 as the teams head to the locker room. Here are some quick notes and observations with the Blue Devils looking to pull away in the home opener.

Five observations

  1. N.C. A&T came to Durham as 27-point underdogs, but neither the bright lights of Wallace Wade Stadium nor the tidal wave of blue coming out of the tunnel to fireworks swayed the Aggies to start. While their first drive sputtered, they were able to stop Duke on their ensuing possession, and then take advantage of favorable field position and a solid kick by junior Noel Ruiz to take a 3-0 lead early. N.C. A&T continued to press the pass attack after settling in, priming it to hang around in the ballgame despite facing a formidable Duke secondary.
  2. The Blue Devils ran out of the gates with palpable energy, and took to the field with the same fervor. On its first offensive drive, Duke was at the line as soon as the ball was placed, and rarely took more than a few seconds to get the next play off. This worked to great effect at first, the Blue Devils getting a quick first down and more yardage after that. However, we also saw the danger of such a hurried approach, as a rush up the middle on fourth-and-one put the Duke defense back on the field quickly, setting up the Aggies' opening score.
  3. Though many expected the N.C. A&T offense to take a significant step back after losing star quarterback Lamar Raynard, the Aggies did not seem to miss a beat, with graduate student Kylil Carter taking the reins and wielding the offense to 181 yards and a score in the first half, rushing for 38 himself. N.C. A&T was also able to take advantage of its defense’s big stop, gaining just enough yards to get into field goal range and make Duke head coach David Cutcliffe break a sweat and maybe even re-adjust his hat.
  4. The Aggie fans came out in full force, and they brought their vocal cords with them. Despite a decent turnout by the Blue Devil faithful for the team’s home opener, the NC A&T crowd was, without a doubt, the louder and more excited of the two. This energy matched the play of their team, especially after the long touchdown run from Jah-Maine Martin early in the second quarter. Duke fans look despondent, and Aggie fans are encouraged by their team’s early success. If the Blue Devils are to cover the spread, or at least win the game, the attitudes in Wallace Wade will have to shift quite a bit from where they stood early in the second quarter. 
  5. Duke is not scared, and it will not change its game plan. Three fourth-and-shorts were attempted by the Blue Devil offense in the first half, all from inside its own 50. Though the first one did not quite go its way, Duke continued to press, converting on their next two to keep the drives alive. This aggression will either pay off in a big way or come back to bite the Blue Devil squad that holds on to a narrow lead heading into the second half. 

By the numbers

  • 14 seconds, 14 points: Two touchdowns by Duke, separated by only 14 seconds on the game clock. A forced fumble by the Duke defense set up Quentin Harris beautifully, who lobbed a 39-yard dime to put Duke ahead by 18 headed into the half.
  • 181 offensive yards for N.C. A&T: The Aggies did not come to be rolled over, and they proved it against a Duke defense that held the Alabama Crimson Tide scoreless through a quarter last week.
  • 18-point Duke lead: The spread was at 27 points in favor of the Blue Devils tonight, and, despite the Aggies' best efforts, Duke looks likely to cover the lofty spread. Those with money on the game will have to hope for a continued swarming performance in the second half from the Blue Devils for any chance at making good on their money.

A moment that mattered

On the second play of its first drive in the second quarter, the Aggie offensive line punched a hole in the Duke front to open up a lane wide enough for Martin to come barreling through with a full head of steam. He took it to the house, a 66-yard run that put NC A&T on top, even if only for a few minutes. It brought the far side of Wallace Wade Stadium to life, and sets up a second half that looks to be far more interesting than expected.