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Extra point: Duke football narrowly falls to Charlotte in season opener

Running back Mataeo Durant stole the show with 255 rushing yards and three scores.
Running back Mataeo Durant stole the show with 255 rushing yards and three scores.

In a disappointing start to the season, the Blue Devils were defeated 31-28 by Charlotte, and the Blue Zone is here to break down their performance with three key takeaways and stats, plus a look ahead:  

Three key takeaways:

1. Gunnar Holmberg’s debut

It is finally Holmberg’s time to shine. The first-time starting quarterback completed 20 of 29 passes for 228 yards and one touchdown. However, he also fumbled the ball through the end zone in the third quarter, and, on a first-and-10 at Charlotte’s 49-yard line with 15 seconds left, he almost completed a pass to set up a game-tying field goal attempt but fell just short. His first game was by no means perfect—Charlotte put constant pressure on the pocket and never let him get comfortable—but he displayed flashes of a seasoned veteran, whether it be with his arm or his legs. 

2.  Third-down defense

On the first drive of the second half, Duke forced the 49ers into a third-and-15 but would then give up 17 yards for a first down, then 15 yards on a second-and-20, which led to a 40-yard mad dash by Calvin Camp to set up a QB sneak for the score. Charlotte’s offense consistently wore the Duke defense down until the inevitable space opened, and then they took advantage of it.

3. All Durant, all day

Mataeo Durant went off. The running back rushed for 255 yards and three touchdowns, including a 59-yard beauty in the fourth quarter to (temporarily) put Duke back on top. If that wasn’t enough, he did it again for 53 yards with less than two minutes to go. In a game that was a battle from beginning to end, Durant looked in control throughout. 29 carries are no easy feat, but Durant made it look like a piece of cake; he was easily Duke’s MVP for the night. 

Three key stats:

1. 580 yards of total offense

Though they couldn’t always punch it in, the Duke offense was able to march their way down the field. The rushing attack led the way with 352 yards—mostly from Durant, but Jordan Waters and Jordan Moore each contributed—to cap off a dominant performance. The offense will have to continue to execute at that high level as the season progresses and hopefully balance out the passing game with the rushing game.

2. Zero turnovers

The Blue Devils didn’t force a single turnover. The team desperately could have used that spark in the first half to shift the momentum, give the defense a rest and give the offense a chance. Each game without forcing a turnover will be that much harder to win, and they need to be doing everything possible to give themselves a break. 

3. 52-second drive

Duke’s third touchdown of the night capped off a three-play drive that stretched 68 yards. It lasted less than one minute of game time and seemed to flip the momentum back in the Blue Devil’s favor. Charlotte’s defense struggled to keep up with the quick-tempo play, as Holmberg’s hurry-up offense, spearheaded by an on-fire Durant, was efficient and effective.

Looking forward:

Blue Devil faithful have a long season ahead of them. Each game is going to be a grind. If this first game is anything to go by, Duke has an efficient running offense that can tire out the opposing defenses. Only time will tell if Holmberg will elevate the passing game and if the defense will get off the field a little quicker. The team has potential, but it will be a battle to keep opposing offenses off the field to give the Blue Devils a chance. 

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