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Five observations from Duke football's first half against Georgia Tech

Running back Mataeo Durant recorded 24 carries in the first half.
Running back Mataeo Durant recorded 24 carries in the first half.

Duke welcomed Georgia Tech to a cold and rainy Wallace Wade Stadium, and it was neck and neck for the entire first half. Both teams have leaned heavily on the run game given the weather conditions, but it was the Yellow Jackets who took a 17-14 lead into halftime. Here’s five of our observations from the first 30 minutes.

Five observations:

  1. Holmberg determined to run: Across the first two offensive drives for the Blue Devils, quarterback Gunnar Holmberg called his own number three times in just seven combined plays. Duke seems committed to the rushing attack on a fog-laden, misty day in Durham—and it appears that No. 12 will play a big part of that throughout the game.
  2. Georgia Tech's passing game unstoppable early, shaky after: Though Duke kept the rushing yardage close to its own total throughout the first half, when the ball was sent skyward by Yellow Jacket quarterback Jeff Sims, there seemed to be no shortage of firm hands on the other end. Georgia Tech threw the ball for 120 yards across its first two drives which both ended with gold and white in the Duke end zone. Busted coverages abounded, and Georgia Tech showed no sign of slowing down through the first 10 minutes of play, though the Blue Devils managed to get their feet under them in the second quarter, picking off Sims twice before the clock struck 0:00 in the first half.
  3. The duality of the Blue Devil air attack: Through Duke’s first five possessions, Holmberg dropped back to pass just twice, coming away with decidedly different outcomes. His first ball went to Jalon Calhoun, who was hit at the line of scrimmage for no gain. His second? A 37-yard strike to Jake Bobo for Duke’s first score of the game, bringing the Georgia Tech lead down to just one score as the first quarter wound down. 
  4. Clean pockets for both QBs: Each team’s offensive line seemed to mystify the players lined up across from them, with no sacks recorded by either defense in the first half. Undoubtedly, the coaches will both be looking to make adjustments at halftime to pressure the passers in the final thirty minutes of play.
  5. Dramatic shift in gameplan: Though the first five drives were the Mataeo Durant show, head coach David Cutcliffe seemed determined to switch up the game plan moving into the second quarter. On Duke’s ensuing possession, they took to the air five times in just 12 plays from scrimmage, though they went the Durant route yet again for the score, with the tailback leaping over the clash of helmets to puncture the plane above the goal line to bring Duke within three.

By the numbers:

  1. 1:30: Ninety seconds was all it took for Duke to go three-and-out on its opening drive, keeping the tempo up but coming away with very little to show for it. The Yellow Jacket defense swarmed all over Holmberg on a designed quarterback run, stymying the lackluster attempt to reach the line to gain.
  2. 24 touches for Durant: Duke’s star tailback was called upon again and again in the first half, amassing 24 touches and 83 yards through the first 30 minutes of play, including six in a row to kick off the first scoring drive for the Blue Devils. 
  3. 77: The number of yards that running back Jahmyr Gibbs had to traverse to open the game’s scoring off a busted coverage by the Duke defense. Gibbs had nothing but green grass in front of him as Sims led him perfectly down the gridiron out of the backfield, giving the Yellow Jackets an early lead.

A play that mattered:

With 2:19 remaining in the first quarter of play, cornerback Jeremiah Lewis executed a near perfect toe-touch interception on the Duke sideline, receiving the ball on his back shoulder as if the play was designed for him to begin with. Unfortunately, Duke could not capitalize, as Durant hit a wall on fourth down and missed the line to gain by just inches as the Georgia Tech defense sprinted off the field with glee, their squad still up one score just as it looked as if Duke would tie the ballgame. 

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