The next time Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant drink a glass of orange juice, they’ll be reminded of the best rushing performance of their collegiate careers.
In a Saturday afternoon showdown, Duke took on the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. The Blue Devils undoubtedly had a hard week of practice following a string of bad losses, and it paid off, with the visiting squad leaving Syracuse, N.Y., with a 38-24 victory and their first win of the season.
"I can't tell you the joy in my heart," head coach David Cutcliffe said. "People forget—I've been in these guys' homes. I know their parents. I know the sacrifices they're making."
Cutcliffe even said he partook in the locker room festivities, breaking out a couple dance moves of his own.
Every single Duke fan can thank the offensive line, Jackson and Durant for delivering a rushing performance the program hasn’t seen in years.
It was clear that Cutcliffe planned on winning this game through his two running backs. They were nothing short of exceptional for the entire game, with both surpassing 100 rushing yards by the end of the first half.
Jackson finished the contest with a game-high 169 yards, with Durant not far behind at 163. In total, the Blue Devils finished with 645 yards of offense, their most against an ACC opponent in the Cutcliffe era.
It’s hard to say who had the best individual run—they each seemed to try to outduel the other all afternoon. A few plays after Durant broke a 48-yard scamper, Jackson contributed a 50-yarder of his own, and this was the theme all day.
"Once we see each other break a long run or run through somebody or get a first down, we always feed off of each other," Jackson said. "Once the next person comes in the game, we're just ready to replicate that."
The only blip on either of their afternoons was an untimely fumble by Jackson on the play after his 50-yard run that killed the drive, but fortunately for the Blue Devils (1-4, 1-4 in the ACC), their defense stifled the Orange offense for most of the contest.
Quarterback Chase Brice was once again a rollercoaster of precision passes and off-target throws, ending the day with 270 passing yards and an interception. He was good enough when he needed to be, though, finding wideout Jake Bobo for some timely first downs to keep drives alive.
In the first drive of the game, Brice played his best football of the season.
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He had pinpoint accuracy and capped the drive off with a touchdown pass to wide receiver Jalon Calhoun in the end zone. That drive marked both Calhoun’s first touchdown of the season and Duke’s first touchdown on an opening drive, two things that sorely needed to happen to get the Blue Devil offense going.
"I thought we clicked last week and this week we finished," Brice said.
Syracuse (1-3, 1-3) had an explosive first possession, with quarterback Tommy DeVito delivering a laser to Taj Harris for a 79-yard touchdown. But after that, the Orange struggled to sustain drives.
At the start of the third quarter, DeVito connected with tight end Luke Benson on a short pass that resulted in another quick 53-yard touchdown. Syracuse head coach Dino Babers is never going to complain about scoring too fast, but the downside of the Orange’s touchdowns coming on long plays is that their defense found themselves on the field for nearly 20 more minutes longer than Duke’s.
The Blue Devils’ defensive success can all go back to its line. The usual suspects of Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph II put the heat on DeVito, but the most productive defensive lineman was arguably Derrick Tangelo.
Tangelo notched his first sack of the season and had a reservation in the Syracuse backfield all afternoon. His big frame and active hands complimented the exterior rushing of Dimukeje and Rumph, giving a glimpse of how good the defensive line could be if Tangelo continues this play.
As many positives as there were for the Blue Devils, they lost three fumbles, and one of them was even returned for six points in the other direction. Cutcliffe is a stickler for details, so turning the ball over four total times will undoubtedly be a topic once again this week at practice.
Duke can get on its flight back to Durham in high spirits for the first time this year and will look to take this momentum into next Saturday’s matchup at N.C. State.