5 observations and more from No. 20 Duke football's first half against No. 18 Louisville

Running back Jordan Waters gets dragged down by N.C. State defenders.
Running back Jordan Waters gets dragged down by N.C. State defenders.

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—On the road for the second week in a row, the 20th-ranked Blue Devils have been unable to get anything going so far against No. 18 Louisville Saturday afternoon at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium. After 30 minutes of play, Duke trails 17-0.

Five observations:

Depleted Blue Devil offensive line: While junior quarterback Riley Leonard made the start after being knocked out of Duke’s 38-20 loss against Florida State, a few other key pieces were not available. Starting offensive lineman Graham Barton was not available with a lower body injury, and his spot was filled by redshirt freshman Brian Parker II. To make matters worse, graduate offensive lineman Jacob Monk was injured in the first quarter, and after briefly attempting to come back in the game, went back out. The offensive line struggled as a result, giving up two sacks and multiple quarterback pressures.

Welcome back QB1: Leonard looked more mobile than against the Seminoles, scampering for 12 yards on Duke’s first possession to pick up a first down. He followed this up with multiple jukes of Cardinal defenders, showing his shiftiness that he displayed earlier in the season and resulting in 15 rush yards by half’s end, including lost yards from sacks. However, the Blue Devils were not able to consistently move the ball down the field as they were forced to pass — not the strong suit of this offense thus far — and depriving them of any consistent rhythm.

Jawhar Jordan show: After only tallying two carries in Louisville’s loss at Pittsburgh, the redshirt junior running back returned in a big way. On the Cardinals’ first possession, he accumulated 48 yards and punched in the first score of the game. He continued his shattering of the Blue Devil defense with a 23-yard run on Louisville’s subsequent possession. This is his fourth multi-touchdown game of the season, and he recorded 80 total yards in the first quarter alone, finishing the half with 106. 

Crucial penalties: Duke had trouble advancing into Louisville territory, but when it did, the team was not able to capitalize. In the first quarter, the Blue Devils were stopped on a crucial fourth-and-1 as Leonard slipped in the backfield. Duke had its best drive of the half in the second quarter, advancing all the way to the Louisville 43-yard line. However, back-to-back penalties — a false start and a personal foul — stifled this drive, as the Blue Devils were forced back to their 37-yard line and punted once more. 

Yards after first contact: Louisville’s offensive attack was dangerous because it both created wide gaps in the offensive line and also continued to get yards after Duke made contact. Both Jordan and wide receiver Jamari Thrash were important in this area, and Thrash finished the half with a game-high four receptions for 48 yards. The Blue Devil defense has been good at tackling this season, however, this half was vastly different. 

By the numbers:

Rushing discrepancy: While the Blue Devil offense has been led by the ground game, the stout Louisville front prevented Duke from producing. Graduate running back Jordan Waters was held to 17 yards, and while Leonard had some good runs, this was mostly from scrambling and not on designed quarterback runs. On the flip side, Jordan was not able to be stopped, frequently running without being touched. Even when he was surrounded by Blue Devils, Jordan was extremely tough to bring down, constantly pushing for extra yards. 

Plummer’s throwing accuracy: Louisville senior quarterback Jack Plummer has had an up-and-down season, making some big plays but also turning the ball over at inopportune moments. However, he started off the game strong, completing his first six passes and consistently moving the Cardinals down the field. He did this all without turning the ball over, and he made the right decisions with the ball for the majority of the half, completing 66.7% of his throws. 

Special teams success: One positive sign for Duke in the half was the ability of graduate punter Porter Wilson, who has been one of the best punters in the country over the course of the season. Wilson had four booming punts in the half, including one for 62 yards, which landed perfectly on Louisville’s 1-yard line before bouncing in the end zone for a touchback. Cardinal punter Brady Hodges made his first career punt in the second quarter, pinning the Blue Devils at their own 8-yard line. 

A play that mattered: 

For the majority of the half, Duke’s offense did not threaten Louisville. However, on one of its promising drives, the Cardinals made a big stop on fourth-and-1 to prevent the Blue Devils from advancing further into Louisville territory. Leonard rolled out to his left and was looking for the tight end, however, he was covered well by the Cardinals. The quarterback tried to make the line-to-gain himself, however, he stumbled behind the line of scrimmage and Louisville took over at its own 49-yard line. 


Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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