RALEIGH, N.C.—Duke football has now crossed the halfway point of its 2020 season and the narrative hasn't changed. To say its offense is struggling to score would be an understatement.
Playing against each other for the first time since 2013, N.C. State used a dominant second half performance to ride to a 31-20 win over Duke Saturday in Carter-Finley Stadium. With multiple chances to extend a halftime lead to as much as 13 points, the Blue Devils simply could not finish drives, failing to score over the final two frames.
Quarterback Devin Leary paced the offense for the N.C. State with 194 yards and a touchdown, though he left the game in the third quarter after an illegal targeting hit from Lummie Young IV. Backup Bailey Hockman led the Wolfpack on an important touchdown drive to begin the fourth quarter, extending a 28-20 lead they would not relinquish.
Driving into N.C. State territory with six minutes to play, Blue Devil signal caller Chase Brice threw his third interception of the game. The Wolfpack were able to tack on a field goal in the next series, icing the game.
“It’s not like we practiced poorly," head coach David Cutcliffe remarked. "There’s no quick fix [to the offense] just by commenting. It is just a hard area of the field, it’s a hard part of football. And we have to find a way to be better at it or we won’t win.”
While the offense was only able to muster up one touchdown, the defense showed up once again for the Blue Devils, forcing three turnovers. Facing off against an N.C. State offense averaging over 34 points per contest, Duke was stout for most of the game. However, without much time to rest, the Wolfpack found a groove that was able to carry them to their first victory in the series since 2008.
“We didn’t get the five or six sack game, but the [defensive backs] did an incredible job capitalizing on interception chances and getting the ball back to our offense,” defensive end Chris Rumph II said.
Much like their game against Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils kicked things off with some points from special teams. Isaiah Fisher-Smith got a hand on a Trenton Gill punt attempt and true freshman linebacker Dorian Mausi completed the play with a scoop and score.
Just over a minute later, Duke (1-5, 1-5 in the ACC) forced a fumble deep in Wolfpack territory with a chance to put some massive game pressure on its in-state foe, however, Chase Brice missed an open Noah Gray on second down and threw a bad interception over the middle of the field one play later to keep the game in control. Brice started off shaky, though he recovered to end the first half, couldn't complete anything down the field late. Brice finished the game completing 24 of 40 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown.
“Chase Brice played fierce tonight and competed with everything he had," Cutcliffe emphasized. "I told him after I was really proud of him. The last two interceptions certainly all me. I’ve got to put him in better positions. They did a good job of mixing coverages. I just have to do a better job with that helping him.”
After a Jordan Houston rushing touchdown had the hosts trailing by just three, N.C. State (4-1, 4-1)) had an opportunity to snatch the momentum, but repeatedly shot itself in the foot with avoidable penalties. A running into the kicker call and another personal foul paved the way for an 89-yard Duke touchdown drive, ending in a shifty, highlight-worthy score by Bobo. In total, the Wolfpack racked up 106 penalty yards in the first half.
The Blue Devils could not get to the locker room comfortably though, as a Porter Wilson punt attempt was blocked with just 45 seconds to play in the second quarter, and Max Fisher returned the favor for Duke’s earlier score by running the loose ball in for a touchdown. Thanks to some penalties and solid connections from Brice to Mataeo Durant, the Blue Devils were able to move down the field quickly and grab a quick field goal to head to the break with a 20-14 advantage.
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The Wolfpack began the second half with the ball, but the Duke defense still had eyes for the pigskin. Derrick Tangelo completed a strip sack of Leary and Drew Jordan was able to come up with the recovery. However, with a chance to stretch the lead to 13, the Blue Devils were stuffed on downs at the N.C. State 1-yard line and came up empty handed. Through three quarters, the average Duke drive started at its own 42-yard line compared to the Wolfpack starting at their own 30.
“Inside the 20 [yard line] it gets so compact," Bobo stated. "So whether it’s receivers making plays, making contested catches. Whether that’s the guys up front being able to hold blocks for that split second to let [the running backs] squeeze through that gap and get in the end zone. That’s something we have to figure out.”
After a dominant rushing performance against Syracuse last week, the Wolfpack seemed content to give up anything but carries from Durant and Deon Jackson, who topped 2,000 career yards with his performance Saturday. The Blue Devil rushing duo, who each topped 160 yards against the Orange, combined for just 1.6 yards per carry.
“We can still win a lot of games," Cutcliffe said. "We have to play better on third downs. We lost on both sides of the ball there. We did that really well at Syracuse. We’ve struggled with it all year offensively, and I’ve got to look at what we’re doing.”
As the Blue Devils continue to find their stride in 2020, they will get a chance to rest and regroup with their bye week coming up next. Then, it's back to Wallace Wade on Halloween for the only non-conference game of the season against in-state Charlotte, where Duke can tune up for the back half of the season.
“I don’t think there’s a wrong time for a bye week," Rumph said. "Definitely this week is going to be time to take a deep breath, reset, figure out what we need to do better. Just continue to keep chopping at that tree, and that tree is going to come down soon enough.”