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

<p>Deon Jackson ran all over Virginia Tech's run defense.</p>

Deon Jackson ran all over Virginia Tech's run defense.

BLACKSBURG, Va.—The Duke Blue Devils came away from the first half of their ACC clash with Virginia Tech with a 21-3 lead, following superb defensive play and overcoming early offensive woes to surge ahead in a big way later in the second quarter. Here are some quick observations and stats from the first 30 minutes of play: 

Observations:

  1. Virginia Tech fans showed out in a big way for this highly anticipated ACC matchup, filling Lane Stadium nearly to capacity. Broadcasted on ESPN for the nation to see, the fans raised the decibel level up past safe levels for a person’s eardrums for kickoff. Michael Vick even made an appearance. There is no question that the white-clad Hokie faithful have played a big part in the relatively stagnant early offensive efforts from Duke, though the Blue Devils adjusted to the noise admirably later on in the half.
  2. The Blue Devils and the Hokies combined for less than 50 yards through the first four offensive drives of the game, with neither side making much headway as defenses reigned supreme in the first 10 minutes of play and the first half at large. Key stops should continue to be a factor if play continues in a similar manner in the second half, though the offenses did seem to come alive as the nerves calmed. 
  3. Field position turned out to be crucial in the first two frames, the scoring drives for both teams originating in advanced positions on the field. Virginia Tech started nearly across midfield on their first scoring drive, a 25-yard return giving their offense a short field with which to work. But the Hokies were not the only beneficiaries of the short gridiron, as Duke’s first touchdown of the game was a result of Koby Quansah jumping on a fumble inside the Tech 20-yard line. 
  4. Defense wins football games— it is as simple as that. Although the Blue Devils offense eventually warmed up, it was the Blue Devils' ability to stop the ball that kept them in this ballgame, who gave up only three points in the first half. And the defense heavily bolstered the provided the offense as well, recovering a fumble deep in Hokie territory which led to a successful one play drive, a pitch and catch from Quentin Harris to Noah Gray for the score. The defense will need to keep up the superb play in the second half if the offense decides to return to their poor first quarter form. 
  5. Penalties were a big factor in the first half, including in Virginia Tech’s scoring drive late in the first quarter, with Duke forcing third down twice after staunch run defense early in the set. Unfortunately, they were stymied by an offside around midfield and then an interception in the end zone was erased due to an untimely roughing the passer penalty. The Hokies escaped with only a field goal, but continued fouls in key moments will not bode well for a Blue Devil team hoping to escape Lane Stadium with a win. The Hokies were not scot-free either, seeing five yellow flags tossed their way including a key 15-yarder late in the second quarter to advance Duke up the field.

By the numbers:

  • Virginia Tech dominated in time of possession in the first half, with the Hokie offense having the ball for 17:35 minutes as opposed to Duke’s 12:25.
  • Noah Gray had 2 touchdowns, representing a majority of the points for a Duke offense that came alive after a very slow start.
  • Virginia Tech largely kept the ball on the ground in the first half, running the ball 26 times while running only 13 passing plays. And for the most part, the Duke defense stood tall, allowing one long run of 45 yards, but only giving up 78 yards on running plays otherwise.

A moment that mattered:

With 11:25 remaining in the second quarter, Koby Quansah jumped on a live pigskin, fumbled by Hokie backup quarterback Hendon Hooker, who gets a few snaps a game in the Virginia Tech offense. He will likely see a little less of the field moving forward, as one play and only a few seconds later, Harris found Gray in the end zone, stopping what had been, to that point, an extremely poor offensive effort from the Blue Devil starting 11. The momentum clearly shifted from there, with the offense putting together a well-thought-out 76-yard drive the next time they touched the ball, resulting in another score for Duke.

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