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Extra point: Duke football stumbles late in narrow loss to Georgia Tech

Gunnar Holmberg completed 75.8% of his passes in Saturday's loss.
Gunnar Holmberg completed 75.8% of his passes in Saturday's loss.

Duke football dropped a close one at home Saturday to Georgia Tech, 31-27. With three key takeaways, stats and a look ahead, the Blue Zone breaks down everything you need to know about the Blue Devils' performance against the Yellow Jackets:

Three key takeaways:

1. Kicking options

Saturday was a rough day for Duke kicker Charlie Ham, who missed two field goals that would have given Duke just enough to pull out the win. And though it was called back for offsides, it should be noted that he also missed an extra point. After a pretty successful season last year, Ham has struggled recently and this time may have cost his team a win. Range has never been a strength of his, but there are not many excuses for missing a 31-yard kick in a close contest. Duke may have to take a serious look into other options if Ham continues to struggle.  

2. Clock management

There were a few times when Duke should have been able to put this game to rest. For example, getting the ball back with three minutes left while up three points should have been enough. However, when the Blue Devils did end up giving the ball back to Georgia Tech, the Duke coaching staff made the puzzling call to spend a timeout with 1:09 remaining. There were some questionable moves made throughout the game, but this has to be the most consequential: a third timeout would have been extremely useful during Duke's last-gasp drive down the field after Georgia Tech's go-ahead score.

3. Quarterback rushing

Another clear issue Saturday was the relative ease with which Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims ran all over the Blue Devils. Sims was the Yellow Jackets' leading rusher for the day, totaling 55 yards on 12 attempts. This marks the third time this season that an opposing quarterback has run for at least 50 yards, and Sims' scoring scamper also marked the fifth rushing touchdown by a quarterback. The defense must do a better job of watching the quarterback and preventing them from escaping down the sideline when pressure is successful. 

Three key stats:

1. 43 rushes

Today’s game was noticeably rush-heavy for the Blue Devils, as star running back Mataeo Durant rushed the ball 43 times for 152 yards and a touchdown. Those 43 rushes broke a Duke record for single-game rush attempts, previously set at 42. Unfortunately for Duke, riding the back of one of the best rushers in the NCAA was not enough to bring them a win. Durant, who has been relied on heavily all season and continues to produce, became the ninth rusher in program history to reach 2,000 yards during the loss. 

2. 75.8% completion

197 yards on the ground is impressive, of course, but the 43 attempts it took to get there indicate that perhaps the run game was not at its strongest Saturday. This is all but confirmed by the fact that Gunnar Holmberg completed 75.8% of his passes on the day for an impressive 292 yards. While it was a rainy day down in Durham, the passing game was most certainly there. In a game where Duke was playing from behind for three quarters, there is no reason that the offense didn't look more to Holmberg’s accurate arm. 

3. 88 yards in 51 seconds

Needing one more stop to secure a 14-point comeback win, Duke punted the ball to Georgia Tech's 12-yard line with 1:42 left on the clock. We know how this story ends, but it’s important to acknowledge that it shouldn’t have happened. The Blue Devils failed to pounce on a fumble early in the drive before yielding two big plays in coverage. Yellow Jacket receiver Adonicas Sanders' 36-yard touchdown catch proved the final nail in the coffin and should serve as more than enough evidence that the defensive scheme needs to be heavily re-evaluated as the season continues.

Looking forward:

Next week's matchup provides an even tougher challenge for the Blue Devils as they hit the road to take on Virginia. It’s important that Durant gets plenty of rest this week after his heavy workload Saturday because Duke will likely need to rely heavily on his services yet again. Both Duke and Virginia average greater than 490 yards of offense per game, so this one could be score-heavy. 


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