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

Backup running back Mataeo Durant provided the biggest spark to the Blue Devil offense with a 49-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Backup running back Mataeo Durant provided the biggest spark to the Blue Devil offense with a 49-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Duke hosted Boston College for its home-opener Saturday afternoon, aiming to bounce back from its season-opening loss at Notre Dame. It's been another low-scoring contest so far, with Boston College leading 7-6.

Five observations:

1. Defense struggles to start, then recovers

Boston College tore apart the Blue Devil defense on its first drive of the contest, marching down 81 yards on 10 plays en route to the game's opening touchdown. Running back David Bailey provided 21 yards on five rushes during the drive, including the one-yard-score, while transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec added 54 yards through the air. 

After the opening drive, however, Duke's defense settled in, forcing a Boston College turnover and three-and-out on the following two possessions. Overall, the Eagles managed just 109 yards of total offense throughout the first half.

2. Aggressive Boston College offense

Last Saturday, it was two fourth-down conversions that powered Notre Dame to victory. And this week, Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley brought that same offensive aggression to Durham. Facing a fourth-and-1 at the Blue Devil four-yard-line on the team's first drive, the Eagles opted to keep the offense on the field, powering through for the conversion. On the very next play, Bailey scored from a yard out to put the visiting squad ahead 7-0.

Hafley continued the aggression into the second quarter, going for it on another fourth-and-1 right near midfield. This time, Jurkovec took the snap and rolled right looking to convert through the air. But Chris Rumph II brought the pressure and the pass attempt fell incomplete.

3. Running game impresses

Boston College's defense ranked toward the bottom of the ACC against the run last season, and those struggles continued into Saturday's contest. Duke's defense torched the Eagles on the ground, totaling 90 yards on 16 rushing attempts throughout the half. Starter Deon Jackson led the way in terms of carries with eight rushes for 27 yards, but it was Mataeo Durant who provided the biggest blow, finding a crease late in the first quarter and sprinting nearly-untouched for a 49-yard touchdown. Charlie Ham would end up missing the extra point to keep the Eagles ahead.

4. Chase Brice shows flashes, inconsistency

Brice has become the unquestioned leader of this Blue Devil offense, and while he's showed flashes of the potential that made him one of the most coveted quarterback transfers this past spring, he also seemed to struggle at times throughout the first half. The former Clemson Tiger missed a few easy targets over the initial 15 minutes, putting a halt to some promising Duke drives. 

Brice has completed 11-of-19 passes for 92 yards heading into the locker room.

5. Another low-scoring affair

If these first three halves have taught you anything about Duke football, it's to not bet the over. The O/U sat at 51.5 entering today's game, and from the look of things so far it doesn't appear today's total will even come close to that number. This comes after a low-scoring contest in South Bend, Ind., last week as well, with Notre Dame holding a mere 10-6 advantage at the half and winning 27-13.

By the numbers:

  • Three turnovers: It was a sloppy start to the game for both squads, with the two teams combining for three turnovers over the first 15 minutes. Jurkovec and Brice contributed an interception apiece, while a Jackson fumble at the Boston College four-yard-line midway through the second quarter provided the most devastating blow to the Blue Devil offense. 
  • 19 rushing yards for Phil Jurkovec: Jurkovec didn't garner much playing time during his two seasons with Notre Dame, but when he did he made sure to use his legs, totaling 139 rushing yards on just 24 attempts. But against Duke, the transfer's running prowess was almost a non-factor.
  • 23 rushes, 11 pass attempts for Boston College:  It was expected that Boston College would bring a run-first offense to Durham, but perhaps not by this wide a margin. Bailey led the Eagles' rushing attack with 26 yards on 10 rushes while Jurkovec completed six of his pass attempts for 90 yards.

A moment that mattered:

It's been a long journey for former All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert, who dislocated his hip early in the 2018 season and hadn't been on the field since last week's contest at Notre Dame. While the Fayetteville, N.C., native notched seven tackles against the Fighting Irish, he officially announced the return of "Gilbert Island" late in the first quarter against Boston College, leaping up on a Jurkovec deep ball for his seventh career interception, and first since his All-ACC campaign in 2017.

It was that play that seemed to be a turning point for Duke. After Boston College stormed down the field for a touchdown on its first offensive possession, Gilbert's pick on the Eagles' next drive seemed to turn the momentum in the Blue Devils' favor.

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