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5 observations and more from Duke football's first half against Kansas

The Jayhawks lead the Blue Devils 21-13 at the half.
The Jayhawks lead the Blue Devils 21-13 at the half.

LAWRENCE, KAN.—It was quite the first half Saturday as the Blue Devils trail Kansas 21-13. With two quarters left to play, this unexpected matchup of undefeated teams is set for a thrilling conclusion.

Five observations:

Sold-out show: This place is rocking. With a packed house for just the second time in 13 years, the David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium is as full and electric as one could hope for in a college football atmosphere. Stadium-wide echoes of “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” drowned out even the bass-boosted music from the jumbotron’s hype video, and the booing as the Blue Devils ran out was just as deafening. For a game between two schools hardly known for their football, the environment is just as rapturous as fans would expect at their respective basketball havens in Cameron Indoor Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse.

Mausi’s house: At the end of Kansas’ opening drive that led it to the goal line in just more than four minutes, Jayhawk head coach Lance Leipold elected to take the risky route and go for it on fourth down from one yard out. Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels handed the ball off to running back Devin Neal, whose near-certain charge for the game’s opening score was stopped swiftly and strongly by Duke junior linebacker Dorian Mausi. The tackle denied the Jayhawks a lead from the opening drive and gave Mausi his first big stop after last week’s absence against North Carolina A&T.

Blue Devils held: For the first time this season, sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard and the Blue Devils failed to score on their opening possession. After Mausi’s touchdown-saving tackle, Duke was forced to begin its drive on its own one-yard line and was forced into a quick three-and-out to start. With Kansas’ quick play and dominance of the rushing game, the Blue Devil secondary saw extensive field time in the first half, trying its best to hold back the Jayhawks’ red-hot runners. 

Immediate response: For much of the first quarter, Daniels seemed to be the more powerful signal caller on the field, but Leonard made sure that he would not surrender the quarterback battle by following up with a dominant drive. From first down on Duke’s 34-yard line, the Fairhope, Ala., native shuffled his feet and let one fly. Senior receiver Eli Pancol got just ahead of his marker and brought the ball down for a 49-yard gain, setting the Blue Devils up five yards from the end zone. On the following play, redshirt junior running back Jaylen Coleman pushed his way to the house and ensured that Duke’s early deficit would not last.

Tide-turner: Especially after Duke’s opening touchdown, it seemed like the tide had turned firmly in its favor. A fumble recovery on Kansas’ following drive by junior defensive back Jaylen Stinson gave the Blue Devils an opportunity to take the lead, but another three-and-out set the Jayhawks up for a shot of their own, and they took it. A series of brushed-away tackles allowed running back Daniel Hishaw Jr. to take the rock 73 yards for the score and blow some wind back in the Kansan sails with a 14-7 lead.

By the numbers:

129 Kansas rushing yards: Aside from the early touchdown pass and Leonard’s long haul, this has been a game primarily played on the ground. Daniels and Neal rushed for a combined 101 yards in the first half, piling bundles of pressure on a Duke defense that has struggled against strong runners, especially against Northwestern’s Evan Hull. The Jayhawks have dominated head coach Mike Elko’s team on the ground, out-rushing the group by 53 yards. For the Blue Devils to leave the Sunflower State with a win, they will have to find a way to shut Kansas’ running game down in the second half.

Elite quarterback play: Daniels was the talk of the town for a reason prior to kickoff, and the opening 30 minutes of play proved him to be the real deal. The junior logged 59 yards on the ground and 200 yards in the air, including three touchdowns. Daniels has been remarkably accurate in his passing despite excelling in his ability to scramble as well, completing 11-of-12 attempts. For a program that has seen shaky-at-best quarterback play in the past few years, the Jayhawk faithful seem to have found someone they can rely on.

Defense on the field: Though the game remained close throughout the first half, the total yardage both teams logged and the amount of time their respective defenses spent on the field certainly were not. Kansas outclassed Duke 329-216 in total yards—in large part thanks to its second touchdown and Daniels’ rushing—but the Blue Devil defense spent notably more time in the game than the Jayhawks’s unit. Duke spent 17:03 on the defensive side of the ball compared to Kansas’ 12:57, continuing a trend developed in recent weeks under Elko’s preferred rapid-style offense.

A play that mattered

After its walled first try, Kansas made up for its opening drive woes with a dominant charge to the end zone. A series of long rushes by Daniels and Neal sent the Jayhawks to the promised land, and from first-and-10 at the six-yard line, Daniels once again proved the difference as he bulleted a pass to redshirt sophomore tight end Trevor Kardell, who edged inside the pylon for the contest’s opening touchdown. The play marked the first time that Duke conceded first in any of its games this season, and put the pressure on Elko and company to right the ship. Shortly after, the Blue Devils did just that through Coleman, but Duke has a trek ahead of itself to reach 4-0 for the first time since 2018.


Andrew Long | Blue Zone editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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