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

Duke's defense forced multiple turnovers in the first half, helping it take the lead into the break.
Duke's defense forced multiple turnovers in the first half, helping it take the lead into the break.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.—Saturday afternoon's trip to South Florida started with a Duke fumble and Miami score, but several recovered fumbles and quick scoring drives for the Blue Devils helped put Duke up at the break, 17-7.

Five observations:

Setting the tone?: Despite Duke getting the first possession, it was Miami’s ball in less than a minute after they recovered a Jalon Calhoun fumble at Duke’s 46-yard line. Just when it looked like Duke may get a stop, the Hurricanes converted on fourth down before scoring their first touchdown. The Blue Devils then followed the scoring drive with a quick three-and-out on their next possession. 

It’s Young’s world: Miami wide receiver Colbie Young is having himself a game. The sophomore has been by far Tyler Van Dyke’s favorite target with seven targets and 56 receiving yards. Whenever the Hurricanes needed a big play, they could trust Young to make a play down the field, as he is averaging 10.2 yards per catch. His early touchdown in open space put Miami in front to start the game.

Leonard’s run game: When all else fails, lean on Riley Leonard’s legs. Duke’s quarterback continues to make game-changing plays on the ground in the most crucial moments. In a half where the rushing attack has been slow to get going, Leonard has 23 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Both touchdowns were short but powerful rushes within 10 yards of the end zone. Leonard has shown the ability to fight through contact and extend for the score.

Momentum flip: The start of the first quarter was all Miami, but the start of the second was all Duke. After finally slowing down the Hurricane’s momentum at the end of the first with a fumble recovery, the Blue Devils came out firing in the second. Leonard made the most of the turnover with a rushing touchdown. Then in Miami’s next drive, Duke forced another turnover that was capped off by another Leonard rushing touchdown. That completely shifted the momentum to the Blue Devils' side, and they would not look back entering the break. 

Fumble, fumble, fumble, fumble: Two sloppy offenses or two imposing defenses. Either way you look at it, this has been a game of turnovers. There have already been four total turnovers, four of which were fumbles that the opposing defenses recovered. The first was a Calhoun fumble recovered by James Williams which led to a Miami touchdown. The next three came from Duke’s defense. One in the waning moments of the first quarter, where Aeneas Peebles forced a fumble which Shaka Heyward recovered and set up Duke’s first score. Then Cameron Bergeron forced and recovered a fumble of his own at Miami’s 22-yard line early in the second quarter. The final one was recovered by Brandon Johnson after Cam Dillon forced it with a Van Dyke sack.

By the numbers:

26 Miami rushing yards: Miami has not made itself known for its rushing game of late, but it became a weakness against Duke. They only managed 26 rushing yards on 19 rushes in the first half, less than half of Duke’s.

Duke’s 41 passing yards: Just as Miami has struggled to run the ball, the Blue Devils have struggled to get anything going through the air. Although he has been remarkable running the ball, Leonard only has four completions with a 33.3% completion rate. 

Third downs: Both defenses have left their mark in this game and it shows in the third downs. Both teams have a combined four third-down conversions in 14 attempts. 

A play that mattered:

There are so many plays to choose from in what has been a wild first half. The most important of them all, however, may be what started it all for the team that dominated the majority of the first 30 minutes. Duke’s first big play came with 39 seconds remaining in the first quarter with Miami at the Blue Devils' 40-yard line. It looked like the Hurricanes were inevitably going to take a two-score lead, but the Blue Devils turned the game on its head when DeWayne Carter forced Jaylan Knighton to fumble after the catch. Heyward recovered the fumble and ran it all the way to Miami’s 23-yard line, giving Duke strong field position to punch in its first touchdown.


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