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

Leonard scored the first touchdown of the night with a 60-yard run.
Leonard scored the first touchdown of the night with a 60-yard run.

Duke seized control as the first half went on Friday night in Chestnut Hill, Mass., jumping out to a 24-14 lead at the break. With two more quarters to play, the Blue Devils look poised to secure a big win on the road.

Five observations:

Mad dash: After a shaky opening minute featuring a pair of penalties, the Blue Devils found themselves backed up to their own 13-yard line. But less than three minutes into the game, Duke was already in the end zone courtesy of Riley Leonard’s 60-yard rushing touchdown. First-year head coach Mike Elko’s team is no stranger to fast starts or big first quarters, but Duke’s 82 opening-drive rushing yards set the tone right out of the gate as the Blue Devils dashed 147 yards on the ground before the break. Whether it was redshirt junior Jordan Waters, sophomore Jaquez Moore or Leonard, Duke looked like it could burst past the sluggish Boston College defensive line for another long score on any given play.

Air Morehead: Boston College did its best to make life easy in the early going for redshirt freshman quarterback Emmett Morehead, making his first-career start in place of injured starter Phil Jurkovec. The 6-foot-5 California native played mistake-free football in the first quarter, taking few chances aside from his 36-yard completion to Joseph Griffin Jr., which set up a walk-in touchdown for star receiver Zay Flowers moments later. Morehead has been set up to succeed so far and looked comfortable in the pocket, but with the Eagles trailing by multiple scores with 30 minutes to play, head coach Jeff Hafley will likely have to put a fair deal more on his signal caller’s shoulders. 

Slow and steady: Duke has made a habit of not only starting fast, but playing fast, getting to the line and keeping opposing defenses on their heels throughout the game. The Blue Devils are still doing so Friday, but a bit differently—rushing has been the name of the game for offensive coordinator Kevin Johns’ unit, and in return, Duke has tired out the Boston College defense simply by dominating time of possession.

Eagles rising: It was a fairly unexciting half of football for the home team, although Boston College did find the end zone after being held to three points in last week’s loss to UConn. Still, the Eagles found their footing late with Morehead, quietly stringing together an impressive drive to end the half aided by Duke’s second end-zone defensive pass interference call of the night. Griffin hauled in Boston College’s second score on the very next play, giving his team life heading into the second half.

Urgency and calm: It’s no secret that the Blue Devils are playing for more than just the average win Friday; a victory would make them bowl eligible at 6-3 and bring Duke’s remarkable turnaround to new heights. For as big of a deal as it would be for this team to make it official, the Blue Devils have looked properly focused to this point and, as a result, are in the driver’s seat heading into the second half. 

By the numbers:

50-yard rushing touchdowns: Leonard’s first-quarter trip to the end zone was his third rushing score of 50-plus yards this fall, moving him one shy of the program record of four. With nine rushing touchdowns to his name this season, the sophomore quarterback continues to do it both through the air and on the ground.

36 total plays: It took some time for Duke to take control, but the disparity in offensive snaps has been telling. The Blue Devils have taken 36 total snaps with the ball in their hands, leading Boston College’s 28 by a fair margin. It has been a meticulous effort for Duke, but an effective one all the same.

6 first downs: The Eagles are having a hard time moving the chains, whether or not they are keeping the Blue Devils’ turnover-happy defense from doing what it does best. Boston College’s offense has just six first downs, making life difficult on its defense as Duke leads time of possesion 18:07-11:53 at the half.

A play that mattered:

It was nowhere near as exciting or flashy as Leonard’s opening score, but Waters’ seven-yard capper to a 10-play, 51-yard touchdown drive spanning nearly six minutes of clock gave Duke some control with a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter. The Blue Devils, before roaring back against Miami last time out, have often come out on the wrong side of the score in matchups that are close early—Waters’ score, while fairly standard, has given Duke some cushion as it looks to win with a different script.

Jonathan Levitan

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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