Duke’s offense took a beating against Pittsburgh last weekend, putting up three points in the first half and turning the ball over six times, but the Blue Devils entered Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday with mere bruises and proved to be fully recovered in an easier battle against Georgia Tech.
It took until late in the third quarter for Duke’s offense to break away from Pittsburgh’s dominating defense. The Blue Devils were down 26-3 until a touchdown with two minutes left in the quarter became the first glimmer of hope.
Saturday’s story was different, as Duke already had 38 points to its name when stepping back onto the field for the second half. A key difference was the Blue Devils’ strong running game and ability to get 197 total yards on the ground. Getting a good start was important for Duke Saturday, as it was able to confidently ride out the lead throughout the competition.
“I think the first drive and the first drive in the second half are always extremely important,” said quarterback Quentin Harris. “Just to kind of set the tempo of what we're going to do in the game and really show the defense that we came here to play and who we are as a unit and as a team.”
Duke kept a high morale, and the offense didn’t seem to be affected by last week’s performance when competing Saturday.
“I think we had a great week of practice,” said Harris. “We were very focused, and we regrouped really well. So [I'm] really pleased with the mindset we had all week in practice. We kind of knew how we were going to react coming out this week, and I’m really pleased to see that translate to the game.”
There were also far fewer errors from the Blue Devils’ offense this weekend. Duke had six turnovers against the Panthers, but Saturday there were cleaner passes, and the Blue Devils finished the game with no giveaways.
“Count the number of turnovers we had today,” said head coach David Cutcliffe. “We put ourselves in a position where we knew what we were doing. We put our guys in a good position and they responded—no penalties, no turnovers.”
Duke’s offense played with little hesitation in this matchup. Harris entrusted his younger players and showed a willingness to go deep. In the second half, Harris threw a 41-yard pass to freshman Darrell Harding Jr. and the Blue Devils were able to extend their play from this and secure a touchdown. The freshmen also helped in the run game, with Eli Pancol totaling 12 yards and Jaylen Coleman contributing with eight.
“We had an outstanding first half and played with an edge," Cutcliffe said. "Quentin was on target, and we had young receivers make really fine plays. It's always exciting when true freshmen contribute.”
Harris’ certainty with deep passes turned out to be beneficial for the team and allowed Duke to extend a lot of plays. Although it can be tough to make game-time decisions, Harris was efficient with passing, and part of this was due to previously built trust with his teammates.
“I think Quentin understands if you’re not 100% sure as quarterback—it’s the most difficult position to be in—you find that in practice,” said Cutcliffe. “You don’t wait until the game to communicate.”
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This was probably the best performance by Duke’s offense in a half thus far this season. For one, the Blue Devils came out of the first half with the most points they’ve earned in 30 minutes of play so far. Duke will have to build upon this and use this to bring confidence, as it now knows what it is capable of in a first half.
Although Duke’s offense had a better performance this week and seems to be back on track, the Blue Devils still lost some momentum in the second half. Duke will have to work on this come next week, as its upcoming opponent is No. 20 Virginia—and the Cavaliers will make the Blue Devils work for all 60 minutes.