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Five observations from Duke football's first half against Kansas

The Blue Devils marched out to a 30-7 intermission lead.
The Blue Devils marched out to a 30-7 intermission lead.

It’s been an up-and-down ride for the Blue Devils through the opening half of this matchup. After Duke opened up the game with a Mataeo Durant touchdown for the lead, it’s been a back-and-forth affair since with six lead changes for a score of 24-21 in favor of Kansas heading into the locker room. Here’s five of our observations from the first half:

Five observations: 

Defense responding to big plays in the first: In the first quarter, the Jayhawks had multiple opportunities in Duke’s red zone after a big interception on Duke’s opening drive and a 45-yard pass to open their third drive of the game. But, each time, the Blue Devil defense came up big, preventing the Jayhawks from scoring any points on the first opportunity and holding them to just a field goal on the second after a huge sack from Duke’s Ben Frye for a loss of 17 yards. 

Kansas quickly surpasses point total from previous loss: After being held to just seven points in their last game against the Baylor Bears, the Jayhawks shot past that total after just a little over 15 minutes. After missing their first shot at points, they connected on a field goal to pull within four points of the Blue Devils. And, to start the second quarter, they waltzed their way into Duke’s end zone and a 10-7 lead on an easy 20-yard touchdown catch-and-run.

Aggressive Duke play-calling to start second: After Duke lost its lead on the first play of the second-quarter, you could tell that it was looking to take it right back. After gaining just nine yards through their first three plays, the offense stayed on the field at their own 34-yard line for the ensuing fourth-and-one. And, as has often been the case, senior running back Mataeo Durant took the handoff and rushed for seven yards and the first-down to keep the play alive.

Holmberg showing off his legs: Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg has shown that he is more than just a passing quarterback through the first half of this contest. After running the ball himself four times for a total of 29 yards through the first 18 minutes, he put a cherry on top with his fifth rush of the day. After a big-time 17-yard pass from the Kansas 20-yard line to set the Blue Devils up at the four-yard line, he called his own number and easily ran it into the end zone to reclaim Duke’s lead. 

Duke leading in everything but the score: Despite the Jayhawks leading the score at the half, it’s been the Blue Devils who have been racking up the offensive numbers through the first 30-minutes. Duke has 330 total yards, with 142 of those on the ground, mainly behind the efforts of Durant and Gunnar Holmberg. It has 16 first downs, compared to just nine from Kansas and have run 11 more plays than the Jayhawks, with a total of 44. Despite all that, Duke only has a couple more minutes of possession than its opponents, as they have frequently been running plays sans huddles. 

By the numbers:

  1. -1 Kansas rushing yards in the first: The Blue Devil defensive line was practically impenetrable through the first quarter. Despite nine Jayhawk rushing attempts in the opening period, Kansas ended up with negative yardage on the ground through the first 15. 
  2. Two Duke first-quarter turnovers: The Blue Devils certainly looked like the better team through the first-quarter but the offense’s turnover woes from the second-half against Northwestern have continued into this matchup, as they coughed up the ball twice in the opening quarter. The first came off an interception from Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg on the opening drive and was followed by a Durant fumble to end the first quarter. 
  3. 159 Kanas passing yards: After having just 57 passing yards in his last contest against Baylor, Jayhawk quarterback Jason Bean began to find his arm in this one. Through the opening half, he’s gone 8-of-13 and racked up 159 yards through the air, en-route to a 24-21 halftime score. 

A play that mattered:

After starting off the game 5-of-6 on pass attempts, Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg tossed an interception on his seventh attempt of the game that was returned 65 yards down the sideline by the Jayhawks’ Ra’Mello Dotson. Holmberg came up with the stop to keep Kansas out of the endzone and Kansas’s ensuing drive stalled after a personal foul and ended with the Jayhawks missing on a 37-yard field goal attempt.

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