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Extra point vs. Alabama: Bama’s back, Duke’s reeling and takeaways from the season opener

Quentin Harris and the Duke offense struggled Saturday.
Quentin Harris and the Duke offense struggled Saturday.

In the highly anticipated Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Duke and Alabama, it was the latter that pulled out the win this College Football Saturday in Atlanta. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:

Three key takeaways:

1. High IQ team

Despite the final score, there were a number of positive signs for the Blue Devils in this one. The majority of the team played intelligently, with running backs Deon Jackson, Brittain Brown and Mataeo Durant demonstrating patience in picking their gaps and cuts, Noah Gray and Scott Bracey displaying refined angles and balance when catching the ball and the defense exhibiting exceptional play recognition. In particular, the front seven gave Duke fans much to be excited about, spearheaded by Trevon McSwain’s drive-killing tackles and Koby Quansah and Shaka Heyward’s sideline-to-sideline tackling. Bootleg after bootleg, Tua Tagovailoa was met with strong pressure and no easy passes.

2. Physically outmatched

Tagovailoa usually made something happen on those boot-actions, however, in large part because of Duke’s biggest weakness: a lack of elite athleticism. With 7:40 remaining in the third quarter, Alabama ran a simple two-level flood, play-action boot to Tua’s weak side. It was defended perfectly—the defensive line slid with the offensive line, the end man on the line peeled to Tua, the linebackers came up to fill but dropped back just as quickly and the defensive backs quickly picked out their assignments and went to cover. Tua faked, rolled right and was met by a cornerback-draped receiver going to the flat, a mostly-covered tight end crossing through the front of the end zone and a linebacker in position to stop Tagovailoa himself from scrambling into the end zone. 

But a half-second later, the receiver slid behind a corner who just couldn’t flip his hips quickly enough, the tight end was well past his man and it was clear that the linebacker wouldn’t have been able to catch Tua. The Blue Devils won’t be facing grown men every time they take the field, but when they do, they’re immediately playing from behind.

3. Bama desperately needs a men’s soccer program

Bless you, Alabama, for in your quest for ultimate gridiron dominance you have left your other sports to crumble. For over a decade you have crushed all in your path, leaving nothing but rubble in your wake—provided your adversaries are unable to gain an advantage between one and three points. Were it not for Title IX, you might have a men’s soccer program to draw from. Instead, Nick Saban is likely to succumb to a missed-field-goal-induced heart attack. At least we all got to enjoy watching the Kick Six.

The Crimson Tide's biggest weakness was on full display Saturday against Duke, with kicker Will Reichard missing both of his field goal attempts from 49 and 48 yards out, respectively.

Three key stats:

1. First half turnover ratio of 4:2

The Crimson Tide totaled four turnovers in the first half, compared to only two giveaways for Duke—a half played cleanly, at the highest level from nearly every Blue Devil starter, with near-complete discipline against one of the most disciplined teams in the nation, no less.

2. 3.5 distinct Duke offenses

Duke really changed around their offensive game plan Saturday afternoon. Firstly, a “traditional, pro-style” offense, featuring dives, simple dropbacks and man-blocking schemes. Secondly, a couple of drives spent in the full house, featuring a running quarterback, receiver motions and power-blocking—this would look like the last 11 years of Georgia Tech under head coach Paul Johnson for you college football veterans. After that, Duke switched back to the style it started the game off with, a West Coast offense with plenty of shotgun, quick passes and zone running. The “.5” in the stat comes from the drives they spent in an empty set, which was due to a concerted effort to work around Alabama’s pass-rush. This final offense featured many of their West Coast concepts, but its execution is different enough to warrant distinction.

3. Thirteen characters on the back of Tua’s jersey

This isn’t even including the space. Tagovailoa debuted a jersey distinct from his previous one by its addition of “Tu. ” before his last name, stretching his jersey’s name slot to its limit. You may wonder why he needed this addition. Why a period instead of the letter “a”? Is there another Tagovailoa? 

To the latter question, the answer is yes—Tua’s brother Taulia comes to Tuscaloosa as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback recruit according to 247Sports, ensuring the Tagovailoa name reigns supreme at Alabama long after the elder brother leaves for the draft.

Looking forward:

Duke welcomes North Carolina A&T to Wallace Wade Stadium for the Blue Devils’ 2019 home opener. The Aggies—an HBCU in the FCS—went 10-2 overall last year, finishing 11th in both major FCS rankings, though they did not participate in the national championship tournament. This year, they rank 19th in the FCS Coaches Poll and 20th in the STATS FCS Top 25. Duke should be quite sizable favorites, but don’t be surprised if N.C. A&T refuses to go down without a fight.

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