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5 observations and more from No. 21 Duke football's first half against Lafayette

Running back Jordan Waters scored one of Duke's first-half touchdowns.
Running back Jordan Waters scored one of Duke's first-half touchdowns.

Thirty minutes have passed in Duke’s second game of the season against Lafayette at Wallace Wade Stadium. The 21st-ranked Blue Devils lead the Leopards 21-7 after a tight opening half Saturday evening:

Five observations:

Setting the tone early: The Blue Devils received the ball to open the game, and immediately made Lafayette pay. The running backs led the charge down the field, racking up 40 rushing yards on the initial drive before redshirt senior receiver Jalon Calhoun caught a pass from junior quarterback Riley Leonard to open the scoring just three-and-a-half minutes into the game. Before the Leopards even had a chance to get their bearings, they were down seven. 

Personnel changes: Lafayette came out with a new starting quarterback, as sophomore Ryan Schuster was benched in favor of classmate Dean DeNobile. DeNobile played a few snaps last week in the Leopards’ matchup against Sacred Heart, rushing for 28 yards and throwing for another 29. The New Jersey native came out strong too, leading his group to a touchdown on its opening drive. 

Lafayette holds down the fort: While the home team came into this matchup heavily favored, the visitors managed to hold their own after the first quarter. After the initial exchange of touchdown drives to open the game, neither team managed to put any more points on the board in the opening period. As a result, at the end of the first quarter the score was even at seven. 

Curtis leads in the backfield: The biggest offensive producer for Lafayette was sophomore running back Jamar Curtis, who racked up 181 yards on the ground last week and rode that momentum into a strong first half against the Blue Devils. He put up 35 yards on the ground and was the main offensive workhorse for a Leopards group that came out ready for a battle in the trenches. 

Lafayette sits on the ball: While Duke ended the half leading in points, it was the Leopards who controlled the ball for much of the initial periods. Lafayette was in possession for 16:49 minutes, compared to 13:11 minutes for the Blue Devils. Despite that, Duke’s offensive efficiency shone through, doing more with less time. 

By the numbers:

Rushing yards: The Blue Devils stuck mostly to the ground game in the first half, pounding out 145 yards between Jordan Waters and Jaquez Moore. The choice to stick mostly to the ground allowed Duke to run some time off the clock, controlling the pace of the game and limiting Lafayette’s offensive opportunities. The Leopards went for a more balanced attack, putting up 68 yards on the ground and 87 through the air. 

Penalty yards: The yellow flags were flying in this initial half, as the two teams suffered heavily from sloppy mistakes. The Leopards racked up three 15-yard penalties in the first half, while the Blue Devils accumulated two calls of their own. The first Lafayette touchdown drive almost ended with a field goal, but an offsides call allowed the Leopards to advance and get a new set of downs, eventually setting the stage for their opening score. 

Leonard rushing yards: Leonard, who usually brings a lot to the table both as a passer and a rusher, has been unusually quiet on the ground in this one. He only attempted to run with the ball twice in the first half, preferring to hand the ball off to Waters or Moore instead. Leonard’s legs were a key part of the victory against Clemson Monday, but it looks like Leonard may be looking to preserve his body in this one and lean on the passing game. 

A play that mattered: 

With four minutes remaining in the first quarter, Waters had the ball stripped from him at the 46-yard line by Gabe DuBois. What would have been a 19-yard gain for the Blue Devils was instead a turnover, pulling the Duke offense off the field on the first play of the drive. While the Leopards immediately three-and-outed, the strip bought the Lafayette defense some valuable time to rest and recalibrate before the next Blue Devil drive.

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