Senior running back Mataeo Durant returned to Duke this season after being the 2020 team offensive MVP, and it’s been more of the same this year.
After a preseason All-ACC selection, Durant has continued his Duke career with a memorable season.
The Plum Branch, S.C., native hit a big milestone against Pittsburgh, passing the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season. Durant is the first Blue Devil since Chris Douglas in 2003 and fifth player in program history to achieve this accomplishment.
The running back surpassed the record during the first quarter.
“You know, it's a great accomplishment,” Durant said. “I just always want to give the offensive line credit because without them, that would definitely not be possible. So I want to thank them for opening up holes for me and allowing me to capitalize off the opportunities I've had with the carries I've gotten this year so far.”
Durant led the team with 89 yards on 24 carries, four receptions for 39 yards and clocked in a touchdown as well. Although Durant hit the historic milestone, he had a rough fumble with nine minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The Blue Devils made it to the one-yard line on their game’s opening possession, but an error between quarterback Gunnar Holmberg and Durant resulted in a Duke turnover which proved to be costly.
The Panthers took advantage of the next possession, reacting with 76 yards in seven plays that led to the first touchdown of the game. Duke was eventually able to recover from this mistake, with a safety and touchdown that temporarily put the Blue Devils on top.
“It was just a missed handoff between me and Gunnar,” Durant said. “We'll get that fixed for sure.”
Durant’s speed out of the backfield was displayed at the end of the first quarter against Pittsburgh when he had an explosive 15-yard gain for a first down that took two Panther defenders to bring him down. This play helped to set up the first touchdown of the game for the Blue Devils where Holmberg connected with junior receiver Jalon Calhoun for a 32-yard reception on the very next down.
Through loss after loss this season, Durant has still managed to seize his own opportunities. On a team that has been suffering from a lack of consistent successes, Durant has been a source of stability. Duke has lost its last five games, yet Durant has still been breaking records and setting the bar higher and higher for himself.
The running back has been the team leader in rushing yards for every game this season, surpassing 100 yards in all but three games thus far. The only game Durant was really stopped was against North Carolina A&T early in the season, when he finished with 41 yards. He still rushed for over 80 yards in the other two times he was held below 100 yards.
The best example of Durant’s ability to shape his own season comes from the season opener against Charlotte. Duke had a poor start to the season in a frustrating 31-28 loss to Charlotte but for Durant, this has continued to be his highlight game of the season considering he finished with 255 rushing yards.
With this performance against Charlotte, the senior set the Duke single-game rushing record, beating Shaun Wilson’s previous record of 245 yards from a game against Kansas in 2014. The Blue Devils lost the Charlotte game, which goes to show that Durant has been making sure to have a historical season regardless.
If Durant continues at the rate he’s at, he might reach another milestone very soon: Steve Jones' 1,236-yard single-season rushing record set in 1972. All he needs is to average 58 yards per game in the next three games to close out the regular season with at least a tie for Duke’s single-season rushing record.
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