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Five observations and more from Duke football's first half against North Carolina

<p>The Blue Devils struggled to get much going offensively in the opening half.</p>

The Blue Devils struggled to get much going offensively in the opening half.

CHAPEL HILL—The Blue Devils struggled to get much going offensively this half, but a strong defensive effort managed to keep things close at Kenan Memorial Stadium, with North Carolina leading 7-3. Here are some quick observations and stats from the first half of Duke's matchup with the Tar Heels.

Five observations:

1. For the second straight week, the Duke offense could not muster much and was held without a first down for its first two possessions. After a 27-yard completion to Scott Bracey on the first play from scrimmage was overturned, the Blue Devils could only generate nine yards of offense over its next two drives. Both three-and-outs saw third-and-long situations that brought about a short slant and run play—both unsuccessful.

2. After the Tar Heels moved the ball into Blue Devil territory with a Sportscenter-worthy catch from Dazz Newsome, the defense came up with a huge turnover that sparked the offense. The Duke pass rush flushed Sam Howell out of the pocket, the true freshman threw the ball downfield into tight coverage and was picked off by Marquise Waters, who returned the ball to the Duke 31. Although Duke had first-and-goal from inside the 1 yard-line, the Blue Devils left the field with a field goal after a false start penalty sent them marching back.

3. Despite the North Carolina offensive line all weighing in at over 300 pounds and three of the big men standing 6-foot-7 or taller, the relatively undersized Duke defense generated solid pressure and broke into the backfield multiple times. 

4. What was supposed to be a strength of the Duke offense entering the season has become a point of concern for the Blue Devil offense, with the rushing offense struggling to make an impact. Duke entered the season with three capable backs—Deon Jackson, Brittain Brown (now injured) and Mateo Durant—and a quarterback in Harris who was primarily known for his rushing abilities. 

5. Duke converted 4-of-10 third downs in the first half. Jake Bobo had four receptions. You can see where this is going: all third-down conversions came thanks to the hands of Bobo. 

By the numbers:

  • Solid Duke pass rush: The Blue Devils recorded two sacks, three QB hits and five tackles-for-loss in the first half while limiting the Tar Heel to just 3.2 yards-per-carry.
  • Flailing Blue Devil rushing attack: The Blue Devils managed to gain just 28 yards on 18 carries after rushing for just 2.9 yards-per-carry against the Cavaliers, excluding Austin Parker’s trick plays. 
  • Bobo sparks Duke: The sophomore, who started the season injured, caught four passes for 51 yards to help the Blue Devils move the chains despite an otherwise anemic offense. 

Moment that matters: Waters’ interception is the primary reason why Duke is trailing by just four entering the break. The Tar Heels were moving the ball downfield nicely and the Blue Devils offense could not move the ball. The momentum changer potentially saved a few points from going on the board for North Carolina and led to three points for Duke.

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