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Extra point: Duke football takes down the Aggies in a decisive home opener

Junior linebacker Shaka Heyward had 16 tackles, leading all players on the field.
Junior linebacker Shaka Heyward had 16 tackles, leading all players on the field.

In its first game at Wallace Wade Stadium this season, Duke football dominated North Carolina A&T 45-17. With three key takeaways, stats and a look ahead, the Blue Zone breaks down everything you need to know about the Blue Devils' exciting win:

Three key takeaways:

1. The Holmberg show

Gunnar Holmberg seized the day. The graduate quarterback looked electric as he completed 20 of 27 attempts, threw for 270 yards and ended the game with a QBR of 90.2. If the passing wasn’t enough, he also rushed for 30 yards and two scores. One of those scores was a nine-yard touchdown run with just under five minutes to go in the third quarter. Holmberg snuck just inside the pylon to seal in the lead and guarantee the win. He had himself a day, and the Blue Devil faithful are hopeful that this version of Holmberg is going to stick around.

2. Keeping the momentum

Following a long North Carolina A&T drive that ended with a touchdown, tied score and 58 seconds left in the first half, Holmberg and company got to work. Holmberg picked apart the Aggie’s defense and marched his way down the field. Six completed passes–half of them to junior wide receiver Jalon Calhoun, including a 20-yard dart to the 2-yard line–set up a quick and easy Durant touchdown. The Blue Devils bounced back and carried that momentum, and the lead, throughout the second half. 

3. Defense stands tall

The Duke defense’s best series of the game was the first of the second half. The Blue Devils forced a three-and-out, only allowing the Aggies to gain two yards and setting up a short punt–with a monster punt return from Josh Blackwell–and a quick touchdown drive. It was by no means a perfect game—NC A&T dominated the running game with 208 yards on the ground—but Duke held strong in coverage against a weak Aggies offense. 

Three key stats: 

1. One onside kick

At the beginning of the second quarter with a tied score at seven, the Blue Devils shocked the fans–and the Aggies–and did the unthinkable: an onside kick. Luckily, it was a success and set up one of Durant’s three touchdowns for the night. It was a gutsy call that no one saw coming, and that’s what made it so great. The kick swung the momentum back in Duke’s favor in a game that looked way too close through the first quarter. That kind of out-of-the-box thinking is exactly what the Blue Devils will need in the hard games ahead. 

2. 22:19 time of possession

Though the scoreboard showed a lopsided, Duke-dominated game, time of possession tells a much different story: North Carolina A&T had the ball for 37 minutes and change, almost two-thirds of the game. This is because the Blue Devil offense was incredibly efficient and got off the field in a matter of minutes. Against the Aggies this was doable, but, against better offensive attacks, it can be a recipe for disaster. Momentum and quick scores are important, but so is giving the defense a break. 

3. Zero sacks

Duke’s defense needs to get pressure on the quarterback. They had zero sacks and only four QB hurries. While junior linebacker Shaka Heyward led all players with 16 tackles, someone on the defensive line will need to step up and get to the quarterback, or the defense will be picked apart for the entire season. 

Looking forward:

The Blue Devils got a much needed win in an easy matchup this week. They face a much more difficult task Saturday when the Wildcats come to town. The defense will need to be perfect, forcing turnovers, getting pressure on the quarterback and getting off the field quickly. If the defense can play their part, then it will be up to the offense to keep the momentum going. The running game will need to be unstoppable, and Holmberg will have to be on target to give Duke a fighting chance. 

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