5 observations and more from Duke football's first half against Troy in the Birmingham Bowl

Jaylen Coleman celebrates his touchdown in the first half of Duke's battle with Troy.
Jaylen Coleman celebrates his touchdown in the first half of Duke's battle with Troy.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Duke, for the second-straight year, is looking to close its season on a high note with a postseason win. This time, against Troy in the Birmingham Bowl, the Blue Devils are in control at the break, leading the Trojans 14-0:

Five observations

Missing pieces: Duke had a flurry of starters not participate in the bowl game for a variety of reasons, impacting the depth of the Blue Devil roster. On the offensive line, starters Graham Barton and Jake Hornibrook were both out, as redshirt freshmen Matt Craycraft and Brian Parker had to step in. Defensive backs Brandon Johnson and Myles Jones were unavailable due to injury, and middle linebacker Dorian Mausi opted out after announcing that he will be transferring to Auburn. 

Protection struggles: Both sides struggled to protect their respective quarterbacks, and the formidable defensive lines took advantage. Duke’s redshirt freshman quarterback Grayson Loftis was stripped early in the first quarter as T.J. Jackson came from his blindside, causing a fumble at the Blue Devil 30-yard line. However, Troy was unable to put points on the board as a sack by Aeneas Peebles pushed the Trojans back into an unsuccessful 47-yard field goal attempt. In the end, Troy allowed two sacks and Duke only allowed one as the line got better throughout the half.  

Signs of the future: Next year’s Blue Devils will certainly look different, but there were some encouraging signs from returning players. Junior running back Jaquez Moore was Duke’s leading rusher with 52 yards, frequently juking out Trojan defenders to get extra yards. Defensive ends Wesley Williams and Vincent Anthony Jr. combined on a sack, and redshirt sophomore linebacker Tre Freeman led the team with three tackles. 

Loftis finds his rhythm: The first two offensive drives for Duke did not prove fruitful, as the Blue Devils had a total of 15 yards and Loftis did not record a completion. Some of this was due to pressure and a couple throws were off the mark. However, the Gaffney, S.C., native settled in, leading a touchdown drive with a 26-yard completion to redshirt senior wide receiver Jalon Calhoun. The following Duke drive, Loftis connected twice with junior Jordan Moore, and Loftis ended the half with 13 completions for 128 yards.

Getting tricky with it: As this is the last game of the season, both teams opened up the playbook and used trick plays to their advantage. After graduate running back Jaylen Coleman scored the first touchdown of the game, Duke lined up in an unorthodox formation for the 2-point conversion and snapped it to senior tight end Nicky Dalmolin, who scored to put the Blue Devils up 8-0. Troy had a key play of their own, using a double pass as wide receiver Chris Lewis linked up with running back Asa Martin for an 11-yard gain and a first down.

By the numbers

Vidal neutralized: Troy’s Kimani Vidal came into the contest as the Sun Belt’s leading rusher and Offensive Player of the Year, so the Blue Devils knew they had their hands full. However, for the majority of the half, Duke’s front seven contained the star back very well. Vidal had a total of 27 yards, and the Trojans’ rushing attack was effectively a non-factor throughout the first half.  

Key penalties: The Trojans had multiple key penalties that hurt their momentum in the first half. Vidal had a touchdown that would have been the first score of the game, however, it was called back due to a holding penalty. In addition, Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson’s longest completion of the half was affected by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call after the play. Troy also had two crucial pass interference calls trying to defend Jordan Moore, including one on third-and-13 that gave Duke an automatic first down and eventually a field goal. The Trojans had a total of five penalties for 58 yards. 

Sharing the wealth: As Loftis settled in and the Blue Devil offense put together sustained drives, many weapons contributed. A remarkable seven different players caught a pass in the first half out of a total of 13 completions. Notably, freshman wide receiver Sean Brown hauled in his first-career reception, a tunnel screen for 12 yards which converted a crucial third down. He finished the half with two receptions for 19 yards. 

A play that mattered

As the second quarter began, Duke was in a good spot, leading 8-0 and driving. However, Troy stopped Coleman on a fourth-and-1, which gave the Trojans the ball at the Troy 47-yard line. But the Blue Devils had a key fourth-down stop of their own. Troy was facing fourth-and-3 at the Duke 35-yard line, and while Watson was able to connect with Jabre Barber, he was stopped one yard short by cornerback Al Blades Jr. This was essential for Duke in snatching back the momentum, as the Blue Devils scored a field goal on the ensuing possession and kept the Trojans scoreless.

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Sports Editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and sports editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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