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

<p>Deon Jackson and the Duke rushing attack could not get going against the Orange's typically porous rushing defense.</p>

Deon Jackson and the Duke rushing attack could not get going against the Orange's typically porous rushing defense.

Following a blowout loss to Notre Dame, Duke hosted Syracuse, who is looking for its first ACC victory of the season after starting the year ranked in the top-25. The Orange put themselves in position for that first victory in the first half, leading the Blue Devils 14-6 heading into the locker room.

Five observations:

1. Empty stadium

After packing the house against Notre Dame last week, Duke fans did not bother coming out to Wallace Wade Stadium on this cold and windy Saturday afternoon. There was a sea of solid blue coming from large sections of empty seats. The attendance in the student section at kickoff could be counted on one’s fingers and the situation did not improve much over the course of the half.

2. Another slow start

For the fourth straight game, the Blue Devils came up scoreless on their first offense possession. Duke had a promising start to the drive, with Quentin Harris connecting on a 25-yard pass to Aaron Young to move the Blue Devils into Syracuse territory. After a false start and incomplete pass left Duke facing a 3rd-and-15 from the Orange 29-yard line, the coaching staff opted to use a timeout early to draw up an appropriate play.

The result: a three-yard rush from Deon Jackson and a missed field goal from AJ Reed affected by crosswinds ripping across Brooks Field. Just four plays and less than two minutes later, Syracuse marched up the field and put seven points on the board. The Blue Devils haven’t scored on their opening drive since Georgia Tech and have not scored an opening touchdown since their win over Middle Tennessee.

3. Duke defense disappears

The Blue Devils, despite their offensive woes, have sported a solid defense that has kept them within striking distance in many contests. Unfortunately, the Duke defense did not come ready to play this afternoon. The Blue Devils were torched over the air and on the ground by the Syracuse offense in the first quarter. 

On the first possession for the Orange, quarterback Tommy DeVito connected with Trishton Jackson on completions of 50 and 18 yards—the latter going for a score—on the same crossing route over the middle of the field. Running back Moe Neal dominated Syracuse’s next offensive drive, posting two rushes for over 30 yards each to set up the Orange at the Duke goal-line. DeVito took an option play to the house to give Syracuse its first two-score lead in a Power Five game this year. 

4. Syracuse defense shines

While their counterparts struggled, the Orange defense shined. Syracuse had five tackles for loss, setting back the Blue Devils 23 yards while also recording three sacks totaling another 15 yards. The Orange were able to hurry Harris five times in the half and defended six passes—a few of which should have been intercepted.

5. Scary injury

Late in the first quarter, Duke offensive tackle Casey Holman suffered a scary neck/head injury. The redshirt freshman was motionless face down around midfield before turning over and being treated by medical staff. As the Blue Devils’ entire sideline surrounded him at midfield, Holman was loaded onto a stretcher and taken to a hospital for further observation. Holman was named to the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-American Midseason Watch List. 

By the numbers:

  • 2.0 yards/rush for Duke: Duke’s offense has continued to struggle to move the ball, especially on the ground. The Blue Devils totaled 44 yards over 22 rushing attempts throughout the first half. 
  • 8.8 yards/rush for Moe Neal: Neal broke off huge runs for the Orange—pulling off multiple gains of above 30 yards—to set up Syracuse's second touchdown.
  • Three punts inside-20: With the offense unable to score, Austin Parker did a good job of helping the Blue Devils win the field position battle, pinning the Orange inside the 20-yard line three times including a punt going out of bounds at the four-yard line as well as a 72-yard boot just before halftime.

A moment that mattered:

Although the play came early in the contest, it may have considerably changed the course of the game. AJ Reed missed a 44-yard field goal wide left on the opening possession, partially due to the winds. The Duke offense had moved the ball well up to that point and coming up empty on the possession was likely demoralizing. The Orange immediately drove downfield and got on the board after the miss.  

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