Saturday marked Duke's first win of the season, and it won the game in a dominant fashion. A strong run game and stout defense allowed the Blue Devils to beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. The Blue Zone breaks down yesterday's contest with three takeaways, stats and what to look for moving forward.
Three Key Takeaways
1. Big rushing day
Saturday was a great day to be a running back wearing Duke’s road whites. The Blue devils tallied 363 rushing yards, nearly doubling its season total from before the game. The rushing threat of Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant became evident early, with the pair racking up 150 yards in the first quarter alone. Each set career-highs in yardage thanks to Duke’s effective blocking at the line and further downfield. Two bursts of 40-plus yards put a strain on Syracuse’s defense, flipping the script from Duke’s previous games in which it was the opponents who gained chunk yardage. In spite of the two passing touchdowns, Duke really didn’t need much from Chase Brice.
2. Brice's starting job continues to be examined
If it wasn’t obvious from his performance so far this season, Chase Brice has not met expectations. For that reason, Cutcliffe made a sudden but unsurprising quarterback switch when the Blue Devils trailed 14-10 early in the second quarter. Redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holmberg entered the game to give Chase Brice a break after getting clobbered on a sack-fumble touchdown on the previous drive, and Holmberg performed well. He ran the ball four times for 9 yards and completed his first career pass to Jalon Calhoun. Before Duke could continue plowing downfield, Holmberg and the Blue Devils lost possession of the football after a fake handoff on a quarterback option. Brice re-entered the game on the next drive, but we may be seeing more of Holmberg soon.
3. Third down defense
Duke dominated Syracuse defensively, forcing seven three-and-outs and holding the Orange to 2-of-12 on third downs overall. The short defensive possessions helped keep the offense in a groove and gave much-needed rest to the defensive front which was battered by Virginia Tech last week.
Three Key Stats
1. -4 turnover margin
The Blue Devils offense caught the turnover bug yet again—the offense lost three fumbles, Brice added an interception and the defense could not make up for Duke’s poor ball control with any fumble recoveries or picks of its own. The 19 turnovers through five games will put them close to the worst in the nation, and Duke must continue to limit the damage. Sure, we can look at the scoreboard and realize that it didn’t hurt that much, since Duke’s turnovers resulted in a lone touchdown, two punts and a turnover on downs. However, most teams Duke plays will be able to convert and make the frequent giveaways sting.
2. 645 total yards
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This monster of a number is what happens when your team runs for almost 400 yards and passes for nearly 300 more. Scoring only 38 points with such yardage is also what happens when you turn the ball over as much as Duke did—even only a handful of 50-plus point games involve as much yardage as Duke gained Saturday. It is also, surprisingly, not even a school record. The last time the Blue Devils ran over the field so effectively was during the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl against Indiana in a 44-41 shootout victory. Nevertheless, continue with this brand of offense while limiting turnovers and Duke can rack up wins.
3. Time of possession
A complete reversal from last week where Duke was dominated on the clock, the Blue Devils held the football for nearly two-thirds of the game at 39:43 to only 20:17 for Syracuse. Mostly due to the 63 rush attempts which kept the clock ticking, Duke was able to fully control the pace of the game, leading to the 14-point win. It can be awfully hard to score points when you don’t have the ball.
The Blue Devils (1-4, 1-4 in ACC), coming off the historic offensive performance against Syracuse, travel to Raleigh Saturday to match up with rival North Carolina State (3-1, 3-1 in ACC) for the first time since 2013. The message this week will be all about turnovers, given the otherwise brilliant performance on both sides of the ball. Watch for a competitive rivalry game as Duke looks to keep up the momentum.