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Five observations and more from Duke football's first half against Florida State

Duke running back Mateo Durant is once again having tremendous success on the ground, already going over 100 yards in the first half.
Duke running back Mateo Durant is once again having tremendous success on the ground, already going over 100 yards in the first half.

After Florida State jumped out to a four-score lead, Duke fought back to bring the game within seven points. Despite both these teams being in the basement of the ACC, the Blue Devils and Seminoles are playing like their seasons depend on the outcome of this game and it looks like this game could come down to the last snap:

Five observations

1. Can’t stop Travis: After pounding Duke’s defense for 31 yards with his legs on the first drive, Seminole quarterback Jordan Travis shifted to his arm on the next drive — he fooled the Blue Devil defense on a deep pass which led to the second Florida State touchdown. The versatility shown on the first drive made the Seminole offense seemingly unpredictable and therefore difficult to stop for the entire first half. Travis continued to make nifty plays escaping pressure for big gains.

2. Penalties: Early in the game, Duke surrendered good starting field position with a block-in-the-back penalty, and blew a chance for a short first down with a holding penalty. The Blue Devils also committed back-to-back false starts on a punt from deep in their own territory, which at the time, seemed to obliterate their chances of coming back from the early deficit.

3. Brice can’t catch a break: After another overthrow led to a Duke receiver tipping the ball in the air, Florida State’s Hamsah Nasirildeen caught an easy pick to set up a one-play touchdown drive. Brice has constantly struggled with accuracy this season, leading to Duke’s FBS-leading turnover mark and later in the half, a bobbled catch by Duke tight end Jake Marwede popped up and into the arms of the Florida State defense. 

4. Duke defensive setup failing to stop the run: By lining up defensive end Chris Rumph II as a linebacker instead of on the edge and putting fellow defensive end Victor Dimukeje in the middle of the defensive line, Duke’s top defensive players were completely neutralized and the result was the Seminoles scoring three first quarter rushing touchdowns.

5. Points off turnovers: For a change, it wasn’t just the Blue Devils giving up points off of turnovers. Florida State scored a touchdown off the first Brice interception, but after a second quarter pick by Nate Thompson, Mataeo Durant took it 64 yards to the house.

By the numbers

  • 217-70: total yards for Florida State and Duke at the end of the first quarter. Duke started to find its groove in the second quarter, but the deficit from the first quarter may prove too much to overcome.
  • 91: minutes without a point for Duke. Until a late first quarter score, Duke hadn’t scored in 19 offensive possessions going back to the third quarter of the Nov. 28 game against Georgia Tech
  • 15.6: average yards per carry for Mataeo Durant. Though he only touched the ball six times, he racked up yards on two long runs, one resulting in a touchdown, the other setting up a Deon Jackson touchdown run.

A play that mattered

After a full-team sideline meeting led by Coach David Cutcliffe, Duke finished off a quick drive sparked by a 39-yard kick return by Damond Philyaw-Johnson. Chase Brice, after starting 3-for-8, threw a linedrive pass down the middle of the field for Eli Pancol to pull down for a touchdown. Duke was finally on the board after getting shut out for nearly six consecutive quarters and gained crucial momentum that carried over to the rest of the team on the ensuing drives. This play ultimately sparked the 21 straight points scored by the Blue Devils.

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