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Extra point: Duke football's defense, strong ground game carries it to blowout victory at Miami

Brandon Johnson logged a pick-six in the game's final minutes.
Brandon Johnson logged a pick-six in the game's final minutes.

Duke football bounced back from its loss against North Carolina with a dominant road win against Miami. The Blue Zone is here to provide three key takeaways, stats and a look ahead following the blowout victory:

Three key takeaways

1. Learning to close out the game

After back-to-back late-game losses to Georgia Tech and North Carolina in overtime and the late fourth quarter, respectively, it seemed like Duke had been struggling to put points on the board and make big stops when it mattered. Those concerns were alleviated, at least temporarily, after this week. The Blue Devils scored 21 points in the fourth quarter alone, with one coming on a short-field drive after a forced fumble and another from an interception that defensive back Brandon Johnson took all the way home. If Duke can keep its fourth quarter performance from Saturday up through the rest of its schedule, fans will feel much more secure as the clock runs down. 

2. Playing to offensive strengths

Looking at the statistics, Saturday was not an especially remarkable day for Duke quarterback Riley Leonard, especially through the air. He only made 25 pass attempts for a total of 136 yards. Despite that, the Blue Devils still racked up 45 points. Duke is ultimately a team built around the speed of its offensive core. Leonard put up 61 yards on the ground, while Jaquez Moore and Jordan Waters added 63 and 47 rushing yards, respectively. Especially against a Miami team that prides itself on its pass rush and ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Blue Devils’ choice to keep the ball on the ground prevented the ball from sitting in Leonard’s hands in the pocket, where the Miami defensive line could have caused problems. 

3. Injuries 

Miami has had a rough few weeks on the injury front. It has lost several key players on both sides of the ball, and there was another casualty during Saturday’s game. During the second quarter, quarterback Tyler Van Dyke left the game and received x-rays for some sort of shoulder injury. Backup quarterback Jake Garcia did his best to hold the game together, but ultimately it was not enough. Garcia threw three interceptions and finished the game with an abysmal 10.2 efficiency rating. News is still forthcoming on the severity of Van Dyke’s injury, but it could be the final dagger to a Miami team that has struggled immensely even with the starting quarterback healthy. 

Three key stats

1. Eight turnovers

That is how many times Miami coughed the ball up to the Duke defense Saturday. Darius Joiner, DeWayne Carter, Cam Dillon, Cameron Bergeron and Aeneas Peebles all forced the ball out of the hands of Hurricanes Saturday, and Jaylen Stinson racked up two picks on top of the interception that Johnson took to the end zone. It is nigh-impossible to win a football game when a team is giving up the ball as frequently as Miami was on Saturday, and ultimately those turnovers made the difference down the stretch, when the Hurricanes handed the Blue Devils two easy scores.

2. 200 rushing yards

Most of Duke’s offense Saturday came on the ground. Four players ran the ball for at least 30 yards, and that rushing was a big reason why the Blue Devils were so dominant. It allowed them to beat the tough Miami defense down with physical, in-your-face play that stranded the Hurricanes on the field for long stretches of time. By the middle of the second half, the Miami defensive unit was exhausted, which allowed Duke to pull ahead late and secure the win. 

3. 7/16 on third down

While the 44% third-down conversion rate is not especially impressive, the fact that Duke made both of its fourth-down opportunities is an indication of how much faith head coach Mike Elko has in his team. On the drive that put Duke up 24-21, the Blue Devils converted twice on fourth down and three times on third down. The willingness to go for it extended drives and kept the Miami defensive unit on its toes. Even if the Hurricanes managed to stop the Blue Devils on third down, there was always the looming threat of a fourth down conversion to keep the defense on the field. 

Looking ahead

The Blue Devils will be on their bye this week before they travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass., to play Boston College. The Eagles are coming off of some blowout losses to ranked teams in Wake Forest and Clemson, while Duke comes from a week of rest and recovery after its big win in the Sunshine State. Boston College has been trending down these past few weeks, and it will look to recover against Connecticut before the Blue Devils come to town. Duke should come in expecting to win, but if we have learned anything from this season, expectations guarantee nothing. 

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