After a road loss in South Bend, Ind., a week ago, Duke was looking to bounce back in its return to friendly territory.
However, in a fan-less Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke fell in its home-opener 26-6 Saturday afternoon due to a mistake-filled performance that brought back memories of last season’s disastrous losses to Virginia and Syracuse.
"The simple story is you don't start fast," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. "Then, you have a five-turnover game to none, you don't come close to matching explosive plays, you have a couple of pretty bad penalties early, and then we turned it over at the most inopportune times."
The list of errors was exhaustive. Five back-breaking turnovers. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after an eight-yard loss on third down. A missed extra point and a missed field goal. Despite the only eyes in the stands being hundreds of cardboard cutouts, an aura of disappointment filled the air with each misstep.
The Blue Devils (0-2, 0-2 in the ACC)got off to a poor start on both sides of the ball, with quarterback Chase Brice struggling to get into a rhythm with his receivers and the defensive unit giving up too many chunk plays.
Boston College (1-0, 1-0 in the ACC) quarterback Phil Jurkovec, a transfer from Notre Dame, found sophomore receiver Zay Flowers for a 40-yard connection to set up the first score of the afternoon, as running back David Bailey muscled in for a one-yard touchdown.
Jurkovec finished with 300 yards through the air, completing 17 of his 23 pass attempts. Duke’s inability to defend the play-action proved fatal in Saturday’s contest, as Jurvokec could move the pocket with his legs and often found his target running unimpeded downfield.
His favorite target was Flowers, who finished with 162 yards on five receptions.
"They did a good job of adjusting," senior defensive lineman Victor Dimukeje said regarding Boston College's prolific aerial attack. "You know, we had some [coverage] busts, we made some mistakes but we just have to learn from that. It happens, it's part of the game, it's still early during the season. We just have to keep working on that."
An interception early in the second quarter by redshirt senior cornerback Mark Gilbert seemed to get Duke going, as junior Mataeo Durant found the end zone chalk on a 49-yard scamper on the eighth play of the next drive.
Durant finished with 62 yards on just five carries, showing his value as a complement to Deon Jackson.
Brice eventually settled in with his weapons on the perimeter, and the offensive line gave him ample time to sit in the pocket and read the Boston College secondary. Ten Blue Devils reeled in passes from the redshirt junior signal caller, with senior tight end Noah Gray and junior receiver Jake Bobo leading the way with 61 and 50 receiving yards, respectively.
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However, just as it seemed as though Cutcliffe was in a play-calling groove, the run of blunders got underway in the second quarter.
First, it was a Brice interception by Boston College linebacker Isaiah McDuffie on a telegraphed pass over the middle, just as Duke was approaching the red zone to potentially take its first lead. Then Jackson, the usually reliable senior halfback, put the ball on the turf on the next drive, this time as the Blue Devils had made their way to the Eagles’ four-yard-line. Those two turnovers were the first installments of a difficult day in terms of ball security for Duke.
The costly giveaways continued a recent trend for the Blue Devils, as seven of their last eight games—going back to last year—have featured multiple turnovers.
"I'd just say that for me and my turnovers, late in the game I'm trying to make a play, and I forced a ball I shouldn't have forced. Then earlier, didn't really see the backer sitting there, thought I had a guy open but he's kind of cut in the middle of [the] field, and then down at the goal line, when I get tackled I have to hold on to the ball and know when to stop competing and just take a sack," Brice said regarding his three turnovers.
At one point, Duke was even faced with a fourth-and-46, an omen of how the day would end.
With Duke trailing 7-6 as intermission arrived, one couldn't help but feel as though the Blue Devils had squandered an opportunity to build a double-digit lead. While the defensive line—particularly Dimukeje, who finished with 3.5 sacks—brought the heat on Jurkovec on a consistent basis late in the first half, the Blue Devil offense could not cash in on some favorable field position and early-drive momentum.
"Well we had the same thing a week ago. To finish drives, we've got to put our playmakers in position," Cutcliffe said on the Blue Devils' red zone struggles. "The first thing you look at is what kind of position you're putting your playmakers in. When the field gets smaller, it's almost like playing playground or backyard football, you've got to make sure you get your best playmakers in position to score touchdowns."
The early portion of the second half saw the errors continue for Duke, as the first two offensive possessions resulted in a Damond Philyaw-Johnson fumble and a Charlie Ham missed field goal.
As Jurkovec found redshirt junior tight end Hunter Long with 2:39 left in the third quarter to put the Eagles ahead 16-6, it was clear that a sense of urgency was needed for the Blue Devils.
Despite this, Duke simply could not keep up with a humming Boston College passing attack. When Jurkovec found Flowers for a 61-yard score just over a minute after Long’s touchdown reception, it was clear that it was not going to be the Blue Devils’ day.
Duke finished with 351 yards of total offense, with Brice tallying 217 passing yards.
While the sting of Saturday's defeat will hurt significantly, the Blue Devils will have to quickly regroup, as a road tilt with Virginia next Saturday looms.