Duke football lost in the final minute against Pittsburgh Saturday, 28-26. The Blue Zone has three key takeaways, stats and a look ahead after the Blue Devils' final road game of the regular season:
Three key takeaways:
1. Familiar ending
Each of Duke’s four losses this season have been winnable. While it fell behind by two scores in the fourth quarter, sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard was able to give the team a chance to tie the game in the final minute, with a failed two-point conversion being all that stood between the Blue Devils and overtime. Before the season started, if someone had said that Duke would be 7-4 entering its final game, fans would be overjoyed. However, the Blue Devils ought to have an even better record. Duke took a big step this season, but to contend for the division and conference title, it will need to pull out wins in close games.
2. Emergence of Jordan Moore
The former quarterback shined today as a receiver, hauling in 14 receptions for 199 yards. Moore’s chemistry with Leonard was apparent, and he caused such a problem for the Panthers that he was double covered towards the end of the game. The highlight of the game for the Sykesville, Md., native was a 49-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter that brought the Blue Devils back within one score. Moore was a bright spot in the disappointing showing by Duke’s offense, and the Blue Devils will hope for the sophomore to continue to grow as a receiver.
3. Missed opportunities
Over a stretch of three drives, Duke’s offense went three-and-out twice after interceptions by its defense, and then fumbled, resulting in a Pittsburgh touchdown. Head coach Mike Elko could not expect much more from his defense today, as it held the Panthers’ offense scoreless in the second half, but his offense needed to be better. Scoring on just one of those three drives would have made the difference in the game, but Leonard and company couldn’t make anything happen until it was too late. For the Blue Devils to see success, the offense will need to take advantage of the opportunities their defense gives them.
Three key stats
With 14 receptions for 199 yards and a touchdown, that’s how many fantasy football points Moore would have had Saturday in point-per-reception scoring. He was everywhere for the Blue Devils, and he put up these numbers with relatively little experience as a receiver. This speaks to his athleticism; as he continues to improve his route running and gain experience at wideout, Moore will only get better.
While the Panthers did score a defensive touchdown after recovering and returning a fumble from running back Jordan Waters, Duke’s defense did not allow a Pittsburgh score in the second half, holding star rusher Israel Abanikanda to 56 yards in the second half—48 of those coming from just two runs. Elko has been focused on making strides defensively this season, and Saturday marked another strong showing. It still showed weakness in the secondary, giving up six receptions of 15 yards or more, but only one of these came in the second half. The highlight on the defensive end came when the Blue Devils forced a punt that was mishandled by the Panthers and gave the offense great field position for its final touchdown drive.
Only 16 points have decided Duke’s four losses this season, and it has yet to lose a game by double digits. It’s not as though the offense or defense collapses late in close games, rather the Blue Devils continually fall victim to small errors that ultimately make the difference. In yesterday’s game, that was a failed two-point conversion earlier in the fourth quarter that forced Duke to go for two at the end of the game, when Moore came up just short of the line. While Elko was likely trying to avoid the possibility of overtime in windy conditions, fans can’t help but wonder how the game would have turned out if the Blue Devils had simply kicked the extra point. After all, the defense was locking down Pittsburgh’s offense. Duke will have to move forward with that unknown and continue to improve in its final regular-season game against Wake Forest.
Duke returns home next week in its regular-season finale against Wake Forest Nov. 26. The Demon Deacons also carry a 7-4 record, including a double-overtime loss to then-No. 5 Clemson. Wake Forest is coming off a big 45-35 home victory against Syracuse, so the Blue Devils will need to carry their strong fourth quarter performance against the Panthers into next weekend. It will be one of Duke’s most challenging games of the season, and will determine which bowl the Blue Devils compete in.
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