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Extra point: Duke overcomes rocky start, runs its way to victory against Kansas

Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg ran for four touchdowns in Duke's 52-33 win.
Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg ran for four touchdowns in Duke's 52-33 win.

Duke football improved to 3-1 following a scrappy win against Kansas that saw Duke run the ball into the end zone six times. With three key takeaways, stats and a look ahead, the Blue Zone breaks down everything you need to know about the Blue Devils' big victory heading into conference play.

Three Key Takeaways:

1. Miscues and mistakes galore

Interceptions, fumbles, bad penalties—the Blue Devils looked far from perfect. Though Duke still pulled off the win in a spectacular fashion–52 points is always fun–the team made a plethora of mistakes. A Shaka Heyward horse-collar tackle cost Duke its early momentum. Jake Bobo’s taunting penalty after Duke made it 45-33 in the fourth quarter was completely unnecessary. The schedule is about to get harder, and it will be the little things, like these gratuitous penalties, that make all the difference.

2. Second half rally

By the time quarterback Gunnar Holmberg got the ball back in his hands in the second half, Duke was down by six. They proceeded to score on five consecutive drives—four touchdowns and one field goal—to put the game out of reach. After a first half with two Duke turnovers, the Blue Devils needed to make some changes, and they did. Holmberg’s accuracy improved. The defense made some great stops, like the three-and-out it forced immediately following the Blue Devils' first touchdown of the second half. Duke stepped up, swung the momentum back in its favor, and ran away with it.

3. Turnover city

Each team turned the ball over twice in Saturday’s matchup. For Duke, it was an interception to start the game and then a fumbled handoff just a few series later. The Jayhawks' two both came from second-half picks, one of which was in the end zone. The turnovers tell the story of the game—as it went on, Duke fixed its flaws and Kansas had its continuously exploited. Neither team was perfect, but when time was up, Duke was the one who recovered. On the offensive side, the fumbled handoff was an easily avoidable mistake. The defensive interceptions follow the trend from last week’s three-pick Northwestern game. It’s definitely a trend the Blue Devils will try to continue. 

Three Key Stats:

1. Six rushing touchdowns

The Blue Devils offense scored six rushing touchdowns—and only one was from Mataeo Durant. Jordan Waters got one, but Holmberg ran the ball in four times. The quarterback put on a show in the red zone, but the real heroes here are the offensive linemen. The unit held strong against Kansas’s run defense and helped lead Duke to 279 rushing yards. This team has been at its best when it utilizes an aggressive, hard-running offense, and that strategy was on full display against the Jayhawks.

2. 53-yard reception, 57-yard rush

There was no shortage of big plays for the Blue Devils. The offense quickly caught fire, and the multiple 50-plus-yard gains fueled the flames. The longest reception of the day was a Holmberg-Durant connection that went for 53 yards to set up the first Duke score of the second half. The big 57-yard rush was courtesy of Durant, who is picking up yardage and touchdowns at a historic pace. On a third-and-one, he ran straight through the Jayhawks defense all the way to the house. It was the first—and Durant’s only—score of the game, and it set the tone for a Duke rushing attack that would cross the goal line five more times.

3. 40.4 QBR

Jayhawks quarterback Jason Bean had a 40.4 QBR. He completed 19 of 32 passes for a 59% completion percentage, threw for 323 yards, two scores and two picks. He posted a slightly contradictory stat line–great yardage and scoring with not-so-great accuracy—and it speaks to the inconsistent play from the Duke defense. The Blue Devils gave up 33 points to an offense that only put up 17 against South Dakota. The Blue Devils have been able to pull off the wins because they get bailed out by the effective offense, but as the schedule gets harder the defense is going to have to pull its weight a little bit more.

Looking forward:

The Blue Devils will travel to Chapel Hill next weekend to face rivals North Carolina for the Victory Bell in its first conference matchup of the season. This will be the best defense that Duke has seen—although North Carolina struggled in a blowout loss against Georgia Tech's run-heavy offense. Meanwhile, the Blue Devil defense will have quite the challenge containing Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell. For the Blue Devils to pull off the win, Durant needs to have another big day, Holmberg must stay accurate, and the defense has to stay strong against a good Tar Heels offense.

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