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

Brice completed 20-of-37 passes for 259 yards Saturday afternoon, adding one rushing touchdown as well.
Brice completed 20-of-37 passes for 259 yards Saturday afternoon, adding one rushing touchdown as well.

Duke traveled to Charlottesville, Va., hoping to get its season back on track with a win at Virginia. The Blue Devils started out ahead but quickly lost the momentum, trailing 17-10 heading into the locker room.

Five observations:

1. Special teams comes out firing

On the first play of the game, Duke linebacker Christian Hood ripped the ball out of Virginia returner Tavares Kelly Jr.’s hands to give the Blue Devil offense the ball early inside the red zone.

Despite the offense once again failing to convert into a touchdown, redshirt freshman kicker Charlie Ham showed he had wiped away his memory of last week’s performance and nailed the field goal attempt. Punter Porter Wilson was called upon often as well, averaging 40 yards on four punts and doing his part to put pressure on the Virginia offense.

2. Offense goes up-tempo 

From the opening drive, head coach David Cutcliffe opted for a different offensive look, with quarterback Chase Brice lining up his unit on the ball almost immediately after every play. This is the Cavaliers’ season-opener, so they have not had any opportunities to acclimate to game speed, a possible reason for the pace change.

The up-tempo style was largely ineffective outside of the 55-yard touchdown pass from Brice to backup tight end Jake Marwede, but it is very possible that the impact of the hurried offense shows in the second half depending on how well-conditioned Virginia’s defense is.

3. Red zone struggles continue

Hood gift-wrapped a present for Duke’s offense with his opening forced fumble, but once again, the Blue Devils failed to score a touchdown in the red zone. After a sporadic sequence of plays, the Blue Devils were forced to settle for a field goal. 

4. Picking on Duke’s new cornerback

From Virginia’s first drive, it was obvious that head coach Bronco Mendenhall planned on attacking Duke cornerback Jeremiah Lewis. With the injuries to both the Blue Devils’ starting cornerbacks this week, Lewis is by far the most inexperienced member in their secondary.

Lewis held his own the entire first half, making a nice one-on-one play on a deep ball intended for wide receiver Ra’shaun Henry.

5. Sloppy offense on both sides

With both teams’ starting new quarterbacks this season, messy offensive play does not come as a surprise. Brice and Armstrong both had their fair share of errant passes and tossed an interception apiece. In total, both teams combined for seven punts in the half. 

By the numbers:

  • 129 rushing yards for Virginia: Although Armstrong looked uncomfortable in the pocket for the first half, he was able to put some points on the board with his legs, while running back Wayne Taulapapa’s physical running provided solid production as well.
  • 27 rushing yards for Duke: The Blue Devils have given all three of their running backs carries, but none have been able to consistently break free against Virginia’s defense. 
  • 15.75 yards/completion: Brice did not light up the passing yards category of the stat sheet, but Duke is taking some big shots down the field and converting well.

A moment that mattered

After mustering up minimal offense for four consecutive drives, Brice showed why he earned the starting quarterback job with his 55-yard touchdown pass to Marwede. He found the backup tight end wide open in the seams of the Virginia secondary, hitting him perfectly in stride as Marwede waltzed into the end zone untouched to put Duke ahead 10-0.

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