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Five observations and more from Duke football's first half against North Carolina

Duke has looked completely overmatched on both ends thus far.
Duke has looked completely overmatched on both ends thus far.

Duke and North Carolina met for the 107th time Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium, with the Blue Devils looking to reclaim the Victory Bell after a brutal last-second loss in 2019. Over the first 30 minutes, however, the home team looks completely overmatched, with the Tar Heels holding a 42-10 lead into halftime.

Five observations:

  1. Atrocious start: The first five minutes could not have gone worse for Duke. Kicker Jack Diggers hooked the ball out of bounds and on top of that, freshman Jontavis Robertson got called for a 15-yard late hit penalty, giving North Carolina the ball on the 50-yard line. It took all of 11 plays for Tar Heel quarterback Sam Howell to put two touchdowns on the board, with the visiting squad taking a 14-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
  2. Spread the wealth: Howell has been able to spread the ball around to almost every Tar Heel on the field, a stat that will not bode well for any chance Duke may have at getting back in the game. Six different North Carolina players have receptions, including running back Michael Carter, who has 46 receiving yards from the backfield. Heading into this game, everyone knew that North Carolina had a high-powered offense, but with so many players getting touches early on, the Blue Devils are in danger of getting blown out in embarrassing fashion. 
  3. Pick your poison: I’m not exaggerating when I say that almost every play North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo called worked. His offense used a lethal mix of run-pass options, deep balls and inside runs to total 356 yards of offense while Duke could only counter with 203 yards of its own.
  4. Brice is getting clobbered: For whatever reason, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe drew up multiple quarterback run plays for Chase Brice, and they are not working. Brice has not had much success across the board this season, but his strength is definitely not his ability to run the ball. On top of this, Brice has been sacked three times through 30 minutes, despite the fact that North Carolina has struggled in getting to the quarterback all year long. 
  5. Where are Dimukeje and Rumph? For the entire first half, the Tar Heel offensive line removed Blue Devil defensive ends Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje from the equation. Both pass rushers have made big plays all season for this team, but North Carolina head coach Mack Brown has seemingly found a way to quell their ability to impact this game. 

By the numbers:

  • 180 passing yards: Howell’s entire stat line has been incredible, but the one that sticks out the most is his passing yards. If he stays on this pace, Howell is going to have a career day. It’s not like Howell is just chucking the ball all over the field either, averaging 13.9 yards/completion.
  • Six-for-six: North Carolina is currently pitching a perfect game on the offensive side. In its six drives of the half, the Tar Heels have scored a touchdown on every single one. North Carolina could very well post 60 points in this contest.
  • 14:22: Both squads are fairly even in the time of possession department despite the lopsided score, largely thanks to the Tar Heels' quick touchdown drives. North Carolina has held possession for just 14:22 through 30 minutes, compared to 15:38 for the Blue Devils.

A play that mattered:

The Tar Heels had already diced up Duke’s defense on their first drive of the game, quickly taking a 7-0 advantage, and after a quick Blue Devil three-and-out took possession once again. On the second play of North Carolina's second drive, Howell found a streaking Emery Simmons for a 51-yard reception down the right sideline, bringing North Carolina within three yards of the end zone. Howell capped the drive by running it in himself to put the Tar Heels up 14-0, and from that point on, Duke completely unravelled. 

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