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

Jordan Waters scored the Blue Devils first touchdown of the season.
Jordan Waters scored the Blue Devils first touchdown of the season.

Duke came in as a 6.5-point favorite, but Charlotte commanded the game early on. Second-quarter touchdowns from Jordan Waters and Mataeo Durant gave the Blue Devils some much-needed energy as they headed into the locker room up 14-10:

Five observations:

Wasted opportunities: After stringing together a pair of early first downs on their opening drive, the Blue Devils offense stalled near midfield. That part is fine, but the special teams unit’s waste of a near-perfect punt by Porter Wilson and a few key defensive mistakes—none bigger than cornerback Jeremiah Lewis’ missed tackle on the back end—led to the 49ers getting on the board first far too easily.

Hurry-up offense: From the opening kickoff, the Blue Devils wasted no time at all getting up to the line and running their offense. With a new starting quarterback in Gunnar Holmberg and two new offensive coordinators in Re’quan Boyette and Jeff Faris, it certainly is notable and surprising seeing the Blue Devils running a no-huddle scheme early on here in Charlotte.

Holmberg settling in: The story leading up to opening night has been quarterback Gunnar Holmberg’s promotion to the starting spot after years of waiting. Holmberg played mistake-free football for the Blue Devils in the first half and tossed his first career touchdown, but they’ll need him to show some boldness if they are to head back to Durham with a win in hand.

Which receiver will step up?  When Duke needed a spark on the receiving end, it was redshirt sophomore running back Jordan Waters who stepped up to the plate to make the big play. But Duke’s receiving corps—which is now without 2020 captain and former star tight end Noah Gray—has been quiet so far, as no one individual has soaked up many targets or receptions to this point.

Late surge: With the Blue Devils down two scores early in the second quarter, it looked as if a halftime deficit was inevitable for the visitors. But stellar play from the backfield duo of Durant and Waters, along with a noticeably calmer presence from Holmberg, allowed Duke to punch their way back into the game in a flash. Duke is the Power Five team in this matchup, and as the first half wore on, that fact finally began to show.

By the numbers:

  1. 17 carries: Senior running back Mataeo Durant’s importance to this game script was evident from Duke’s first series, with the preseason All-ACC selection carrying the ball on the team’s first three plays from scrimmage. He continues to have success even as the offense has struggled, and will no doubt be a big part of the game plan for the second half.
  2. 22 first-quarter passing yards: Holmberg has seemed comfortable in his first start, but has been careful early on—aside from a pair of deep incompletions, Holmberg took remarkably few chances at all in the first quarter, totaling just 22 yards passing in the opening frame. 
  3. 43-yard receiving touchdown: The Blue Devils had little going for them before Holmberg connected with Waters for a 43-yard score in the second quarter, the first passing touchdown of Holmberg’s career and the first receiving score for Waters.

A play that mattered:

With time waning in the first quarter and the Blue Devils behind a score, Holmberg eyed wideout Jarett Garner in deep single coverage across the middle of the field, launching up a high-arching pass as the speedster gained separation from his defender. It looked as if the visitors were about to knot the score at seven, but the pigskin fell right through Garner’s hand and to the turf. Instead, Charlotte marched down the field on the ensuing drive for a field goal that stretched the 49er lead to two scores.

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