Five observations and more from Duke football's first half against N.C. State

<p>Mateo Durant and the Duke rushing attack will need to get going in the second half against a tough Wolfpack defense.</p>

Mateo Durant and the Duke rushing attack will need to get going in the second half against a tough Wolfpack defense.

Despite coming in as 4.5 point underdogs, the Blue Devils have looked sharp in their first half against N.C. State. A late punt block for a touchdown has the Wolfpack trailing just 20-14, but Duke's defense has come through thus far:

Five observations:

Both teams utilizing tempo: Throughout the first 30 minutes, both offensive units used tempo to keep the pedal to the metal. Both Chase Brice and N.C. State quarterback Devin Leary lined up their teammates quickly in order to run the next play at lighting speed. Despite each offense showing signs of getting into a rhythm at various points, both defensive lines were able to weather the storm and bring pressure on a relatively consistent basis. 

Durant and Jackson unable to break loose: Last week, we saw the Duke rushing attack force the issue against Syracuse. So far against N.C. State, Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant have failed to get going on the ground. Whether it’s a lack of push up-front or poor vision by the ball carriers, the Blue Devils were forced into an excess amount of second-and-longs due to minimal gains. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe may look to get the run game going with some unique play calling in the second half.

Brice makes a crucial mistake: So far this season, Chase Brice has struggled mightily with turnovers, as the redshirt junior threw eight interceptions in Duke’s first five games going into Saturday. While Cutcliffe has allowed the Georgia native to remain the starter, Brice made a critical error early in the first half against the Wolfpack. On a third-and-10 in the red zone, Brice threw late over the middle. The ill-advised throw resulted in an interception by N.C. State linebacker Payton Wilson. 

Duke takes the ball away: While the Blue Devils have performed admirably on the defensive side of the ball in 2020, they have not forced as many turnovers as the coaching staff would like. Right out of the gates against the Wolfpack, however, Duke sought to change that narrative. A fumble recovery by redshirt junior cornerback Leonard Johnson and an interception by redshirt sophomore cornerback Jeremiah Lewis gave Duke significant momentum in the first half. 

Different jersey numbers for the defensive line: Due to an impressive performance as a unit against Syracuse, Duke's defensive linemen began Saturday's game in new jersey numbers. In an initiative that was started by the coaching staff, the Blue Devils have been rewarding those that perform at a high level by giving the defensive lineman single digit numbers.

By the numbers:

1. 8 penalties for 106 yards: N.C. State has been anything but disciplined in the first half, with multiple key penalties allowing Duke to continue marching down the field. Duke only committed one penalty during the first two quarters, showing that there may be a gap in terms of focus between the two teams.

2. 30 percent on third down: The Blue Devils have been unable to convert a majority of their third down attempts so far today. One positive sign, however, is that Duke picked up the first down on its last three third down tries, showing that Cutcliffe could adjust to what the Wolfpack defense was showing.

3. 4.5 yards per attempt: Throughout the first half, Duke utilized a wide variety of bubble screens and swing passes to get Brice comfortable. The numbers may show that Cutcliffe did not allow his transfer signal caller to unleash a deep ball, but the strategy has clearly worked so far.

A play that mattered:

At the 9:51 mark of the first period, N.C. State lined up to punt from the Duke 44-yard-line. In an unexpected turn of events, Kirk Benedict’s special teams unit made an imprint on the contest in major fashion. Freshman safety Isaiah Fisher-Smith came in unblocked to get a hand on the kick, with freshman linebacker Dorian Mausi picking the ball up on the run and racing towards the end zone to give Duke the early lead. The electrifying score was the second touchdown by the Blue Devils’ special teams in the last three outings, showing that Duke is finding creative ways to put points on the board.

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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