5 observations and more from Duke football's first half against North Carolina A&T

<p>Duke dominated in the first half against North Carolina A&amp;T, jumping out to a 28-6 lead.</p>

Duke dominated in the first half against North Carolina A&T, jumping out to a 28-6 lead.

In its return to Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke came out strong and blitzed North Carolina A&T early, grabbing a 21-0 first-quarter lead and maintaining a 28-6 lead through 30 minutes. With one half of football left to play, the Blue Devils are in control against the Aggies:

Five observations:

Opening drive: Fifteen seconds is all it took for Duke to set the tone with two quick explosive plays. On the game’s opening kickoff, junior safety Jaylen Stinson took it 67 yards all the way down to North Carolina A&T’s 33-yard line. Immediately after, despite a delay of game penalty, sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard dotted a pass to junior tight end Nicky Dalmolin for a 38-yard touchdown. Just like that, Duke went up 7-0.

Fast start: Three games, three terrific starts. Once again, the Blue Devils came out firing with a 21-0 lead, just as they had against Temple and Northwestern. This time, however, it happened just more than five minutes into the game thanks to a defensive touchdown, Duke’s first since 2018. Junior defensive tackle Aeneas Peebles strip-sacked North Carolina A&T QB Jalen Fowler, which led to a DeWayne Carter fumble recovery and score.

Moore’s impact: Sophomore receiver Jordan Moore has been Duke’s most explosive player in the first half. Coming in and out of the lineup, he has made the most of the opportunities he has gotten. The backup quarterback has been Leonard’s favorite target early with five receptions so far, and with those 37 yards and a touchdown.

Big plays: The Blue Devils are making a statement in the first half with big shot after big shot. First it was a 38-yard bomb to Dalmolin for the first touchdown. Then it was 14- and 15-yard completions to Moore and junior receiver Jontavis Robertson, respectively. Duke did not slow down in the second quarter either, as sophomore Sahmir Hagans caught another big shot for 41 yards.

Missed opportunities: The score is overwhelming in Duke’s favor, and although that has mostly been the case, there is a lot more to it. North Carolina A&T has had its fair share of opportunities to break into this game. In their second possession, the Aggies converted consecutive first downs but fumbled just as they were gaining momentum. They later managed to intercept Leonard late in the second and had a deep play within their grasp, but the pass was dropped down the sideline and North Carolina A&T came away without a touchdown.

By the numbers:

Leonard completions: In just 11 completions, Leonard has already tallied 155 yards with two passing touchdowns and one interception. He has been incredibly efficient with the ball, averaging more than 14 yards per completion and doing it with a 92% completion rate. Five of his receivers each already have receptions of 10-plus yards.

Time of possession: In just 12:37 with the ball, Duke has scored four touchdowns with 201 total yards, while North Carolina A&T held the ball for 17:23 with only six points to show for it. It took 8:21 and 14 plays just for the Aggies to secure their first field goal.

63 Aggie passing yards: North Carolina A&T has had no luck in the air through the first half of the game, only totaling 63 passing yards and struggling to find any big plays. The Aggies’ longest completion was 18 yards to Zachary Leslie and their average yards per completion is just 7.5. This is in stark contrast to Duke, which thrived through the air in the first half with Leonard’s 155 passing yards.

A play that mattered:

Despite all the big, explosive plays Duke has already executed, arguably the most important one was a bold decision less than four minutes into the game. In its second possession, Duke was forced into a tough choice on whether or not to go for it, as it was fourth down and short on North Carolina A&T’s half of the field. Offensive coordinator Kevin Johns decided to risk it and it paid dividends. Leonard was not able to find a target but received great protection from his offensive line that allowed him to rely on his feet, and the sophomore scrambled for the first down, one that would eventually lead to Duke’s second score of the game. This was huge in keeping the momentum on the Blue Devils’ side. 


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