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Extra point vs. Middle Tennessee: Duke offense erupts in dominating win

Quentin Harris exploded for 237 passing yards, 107 rushing yards and four touchdowns this past Saturday
Quentin Harris exploded for 237 passing yards, 107 rushing yards and four touchdowns this past Saturday

The first ever meeting between the Blue Devils and Blue Raiders resulted in a 41-18 victory for Duke, which will enter its bye week on a two-game winning streak. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways, stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:

Three Key Takeaways:

1. Aggressive playcalling works wonders

Coach Cutcliffe? More like Coach Cutthroat. The Duke head coach made aggressive decisions throughout the entire game, including the call to try an onside kick after the team's first offensive possession. It worked, as did the decisions to go for it on the rare Blue Devil 4th downs—Duke finished 2-of-2 on 4th down conversions. Although it's risky, the aggressive playcalling is certainly more fun from a fan's perspective. And since it's working so well, we just might see more of it in the future.

2. Blue Devils show off high IQ

There’s a reason Duke has the most Academic All-ACC selections on a yearly basis. Quite simply, the players are intelligent. When faced with the fast-paced, ever-changing Middle Tennessee offense, the Duke defense responded by increasing the pressure to match, disguising plays and—most of all—staying level headed. Although they gave up a field goal on the first possession of the game, the defense regrouped and effectively shut down the Blue Raider offense for the rest of the half. On the offensive side of the ball, Quentin Harris revealed his competence running the triple option in a dominating 12 play, 84-yard scoring drive late in the third quarter. The veteran quarterback consistently made quick, logical reads, oftentimes setting up a teammate to get upfield or even breaking off for a long run himself. It’s impressive how effectively Harris was able to run the option, a play type that would require lots of practice and coordination under normal circumstances. 

3. Duke defense struggles with tackling

Although smart, the Blue Devil defense wasn't always the most effective. A recurring theme in the game was Middle Tennessee finishing a play having earned more yards than it probably should have. The cause was Duke's inability to find an angle, wrap up and close out on tackles. On many occasions, Blue Raider quarterback Asher O'Hara looked like he was about to go down for a sack, only to escape and break out for a long run. Granted, he's a good quarterback all-around, so credit where it's due. But the missed tackles were frequent enough to make any Duke fan nervous. On the bright side, if the tackling issue does get resolved soon, the Blue Devil defense is looking good for the rest of the season.

Three Key Stats:

1. 100 percent onside kick conversion rate 

The Blue Devils enjoyed scoring their first touchdown so much that they decided to keep the ball afterwards. The craziest of Coach Cutcliffe’s playcalling came immediately following Duke’s initial offensive drive, when AJ Reed lined up to kick a standard kickoff, and then… didn’t. The ball traveled just about 10 yards and was recovered by the Blue Devils. This kept the Blue Raider defense on the field and gave Duke an outstanding opportunity to score again and establish momentum, which it did just a few minutes later.

2. Eight tackles for Dylan Singleton

Safety Dylan Singleton has led the Duke defense—or tied for the lead—in tackling every game this season. Against Middle Tennessee, the senior safety made eight total tackles, five of which were solo and one of which was a sack. Also with eight tackles was linebacker Koby Quansah, who is viewed by many as the centerpiece of the defense. Don’t discount Singleton, though—had it not been for him, who knows how far the Middle Tennessee wideouts would have advanced, slipping through the arms of the Duke defense.

3. Three penalties for 20 yards

The Blue Devils are finally shaping up to midseason form. By committing only three penalties for a total of 20 yards, Duke minimized its self-inflicted harm for the game. The scarcity of penalties is indicative of the team learning from the its previous two contests, in which it had eight and nine penalties, respectively. Last year, Duke averaged only 3.8 penalties per game, which was good for 3rd-lowest in the FBS. If the team is able to replicate last year’s disciplined performance, it will finally maximize on its immense potential.

Looking Forward:

The Blue Devils will get a chance to rest and reflect on their first three games of the season during the upcoming bye week. However, they won’t be able to rest for long. The following week, Duke will start conference play with a tough matchup at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. If all goes to plan, the team will spend the next week finishing up its preparation for the ACC games that await.

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