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

Duke jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead Saturday against Virginia.
Duke jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead Saturday against Virginia.

Duke came out strong in the rainy atmosphere Saturday evening at Wallace Wade Stadium, jumping out to a 21-7 halftime lead against Virginia in its ACC opener. With 30 minutes to play in Durham, the Blue Devils are firmly in control.

Five observations:

Weather: While the forecast initially looked like the weather would clear by kickoff, the rain has been coming down in Durham. Short kicks and errant passes on both sides are evidence of the effect the weather is having on the game. Virginia, in particular, was struggling to hold on to the ball—it botched a handoff on its first offensive series and fumbled on a kickoff return late in the first quarter. 

Slow start, quick rebound: Duke’s first offensive possession was by no means reminiscent of the efficient and explosive play the unit had exhibited earlier this season. Two Riley Leonard passes for negative yardage exemplified the stagnant offense, and the group was forced to punt after just five plays. Its next series, however, was a completely different story. The Blue Devils drove 87 yards in just more than two minutes to notch their first touchdown of the day. 

Leonard using his legs: The sophomore has been showcasing his running talents. Toward the end of the first quarter, he took off on second down for a 17-yard gain. Just three plays later, he crossed the goal line for his second rushing score of the season. He also has 88 yards and a touchdown through the air, propelling the Blue Devils to their early lead. 

Penalties: The Virginia defense committed three penalties in the first half, giving up 42 yards. Two of those penalties occurred on Duke’s second offensive drive—the 30 penalty yards contributed to the Blue Devils’ fast pace and eventual touchdown. The Cavaliers will need to cut down the penalty yards in order to make a comeback.

Spreading the workload: Duke has been spreading its offensive workload. Seven different players have recorded a catch with Jalon Calhoun and Nicky Dalmolin both over 20 yards. While the offense has not been quite as explosive as in past weeks, the Blue Devils are moving the ball consistently and putting points on the board. 

By the numbers:

First downs: At the end of the first quarter, Duke had 10 first downs to Virginia’s three. That trend continued throughout the half, with the Blue Devils tallying 16 first downs by the whistle. The Duke offense is moving the ball effectively, even converting its lone fourth-down attempt en route to Jordan Waters’ Superman-esque touchdown run.

Rush attempts: The Blue Devils have rushed 25 times for 118 yards. They established the ground game early, rushing on their first two plays of the game. Duke needs to continue to move the ball on the ground in order to maintain its lead. 

Punts: Duke only punted three times in the first half. The Blue Devils’ long drives have been key to keep Virginia on its heels. The long possessions also gave the defense a chance to breathe as the Cavaliers ramped up their offensive attack. 

A play that mattered:

With 13 seconds left in the first quarter, Duke’s Charlie Ham was kicking off. The team had just scored its second touchdown of the game, going up 14-0. The momentum was firmly in the Blue Devils’ favor—until Virginia return man Demick Starling started running. Starling seemed like he could take it to the house before Ham got a hand on him, forcing Starling to lose his footing and the ball. Terry Moore recovered the fumble. Duke was able to capitalize on the great field position and made it a three-possession game less than five minutes later.


Rachael Kaplan | Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.

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