One if by land and two if by sea—there must’ve been only a single lantern in the Chapel today, because the Blue Devils were marching via the ground game.
Duke’s running back duo of Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant dominated in the team’s 38-24 victory against Syracuse Saturday, the Blue Devils’ first win of the season. Jackson ran for 169 yards on 30 carries, while his counterpart Durant gained 163 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries of his own. Overall, Duke recorded 363 rushing yards on 63 total carries on the day, in contrast to the Orange’s 28 yards on 23 carries.
“We’re pretty confident, I would say, me and Mataeo. We feel like we can run on any team we play against and we just kept that mindset coming into this week,” Jackson said. “We just encouraged everybody on offense. We all came in with a determined mindset that we’re going to be physical and we were going to run it down their throats.”
The Blue Devils were setting records left and right. Both backs set career-highs in yards and carries, and it was the first time that Duke produced a pair of 150-yard rushers in a single game in program history.
Jackson and Durant aren’t the only ones who deserve credit for the success of the ground game, though. The Blue Devils’ offensive line consistently won the battle in the trenches against the Orange, and that opened up the door for many big gains.
A stat that shouldn’t be overlooked is that of Jackson and Durant’s 53 combined carries, only one went for negative yardage. In other words, it was pure dominance up front.
“[Syracuse] went basically to their goal line defense to stop the run. But in every case, I thought our front was ready and we responded,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “There was a toughness to our team today that just didn’t really exist before.”
The dominance of the run game opened up play-action for quarterback Chase Brice as well. Despite some inconsistency throughout the afternoon, Brice finished with 270 yards and a season-high 129.7 passer rating, with many of his best throws coming off play-action drop backs where he had time to look downfield.
Saturday’s contest against Syracuse followed a successful ground attack last week against Virginia Tech in which the Blue Devils rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. It seems like Duke is on the verge of becoming a dominant run-first team, and as for Cutcliffe, he has big plans for his group moving forward.
“That rotation…. We call it 'The Stable.' Hopefully we can get Jordan Waters geared up and he can start contributing there because I do feel we have a good chance at being a really good run football team,” Cutcliffe said. “That takes a lot of work and it’s never a guarantee, but hopefully after this day today, we’ll create the energy and enthusiasm moving forward.”
If this is a trend that can continue, the Blue Devils may become a bigger threat than their 1-4 record indicates.
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