Duke football kicks off head coach Manny Diaz's tenure with annual Blue and White game

Transfer quarterback Maalik Murphy drops back to pass.
Transfer quarterback Maalik Murphy drops back to pass.

It was a day of many firsts for the Blue Devils. New head coach Manny Diaz’s first time in front of Duke football fans in Wallace Wade Stadium. Transfer quarterback Maalik Murphy’s first appearance. In the Blue Devils’ annual Blue & White Game, this time with a revamped format, it was ultimately the defense that prevailed 21-16. While the final score was important for fans, it was the development that mattered for Diaz and the program.

“I think our players have got an understanding of what we're trying to do in all three phases, which was a major emphasis we had going into the spring,” Diaz said after the game. “And more than anything, their attitude that they didn't let the fact of how we had to practice or any of our limitations bother us. They came out every day, they got better.”

The game saw the Blue team, made up of the offensive and special teams personnel, against the defensive White team. In the new format, the offense was scored the traditional way, while the defense received six points for a turnover, 12 for a touchdown, three for a stop on fourth down, two for a safety, two for a three-and-out and one for a sack. 

Before the game itself commenced, the two teams found other ways to compete. Receivers and defensive backs did one-on-one drills, and the defense managed to pull out the 9-8 win. However, in an unfortunate circumstance, freshman wide receiver Jayden Moore appeared to suffer a non-contact knee injury, and he was carted off the field. From there, the two squads moved to seven-on-seven drives with only the skill-position players. Other drills continued, including duels between the offensive and defensive linemen, as the offense came out on top. 

Eventually, however, each squad returned to its own sideline and the main event began. It was the Blue team that struggled to get going early, as Murphy threw two incompletions and redshirt sophomore tight end Jeremiah Hasley could not find the line to gain. The defense put up the first points of the game, forcing a three-and-out. On the next drive, an incomplete pass on fourth down resulted in Murphy sitting down to take a break as rising sophomore quarterback Grayson Loftis came in for a drive. After two drives, the defense led 5-0. 

One noticeable challenge for the Blue Devils in the scrimmage was the lack of depth on the offensive line. Only five players suited up at the position, forcing the offense to alternate between drives with and without protection. With multiple transfers en route after the end of the school year it likely will not be a major concern for Duke in the regular season, but the shortage was noticeable Saturday. Despite that, its victory in competitions against the defensive line was big for morale.

“They were outstanding and natural, that was dominant,” Diaz said. “We've done that a few times in spring, that was probably the most lopsided it was, which will give those guys a lot of confidence.”

Once again, as Loftis came in without pressure, the offense struggled to find the end zone. He threw seven consecutive completions, but had a fourth-down attempt nearly picked off by redshirt junior linebacker Tre Freeman and three more points went to the White team. 

Finally on the fifth drive of the game, the Blue team looked to be in position to score. With the ball on the 8-yard line, Murphy overthrew his receiver on third down before kicker Todd Pelino connected on a field goal for the first offensive points of the game. On the next trip down the field, the kicker nailed another one from about 53 yards after the defense got a stop. At the end of the period, it was the defense that led 11-3. 

In the second 15-minute half, the offense continued to struggle. The defense got another stop to tack on three more in the opening period, before Loftis managed to bring his squad into field-goal range to add three right back.  

Finally, with eight minutes left in the game, the Blue team got a touchdown up on the board. Murphy threw it up to veteran receiver Jordan Moore, who managed to come down with it against junior cornerback Chandler Rivers for the first 6-point score of the game. The White team now led just 14-13. Murphy has taken steps since his arrival in Durham, but the transfer knows he still has a long way to go. 

“Missing throws, that's not like me at all... throwing the ball is the strength of my game,” Murphy said. "So getting that timing down, getting that chemistry with my receivers to know that whoever I throw the ball to, to get it exactly how they want it every time.”

From there however, it was the defense that dominated. A forced punt followed by an interception by freshman cornerback Vontae Floyd gave the White team a 10-point lead that would not be made up. The final score favored the defense by five points. Now, the Blue Devils look to the summer, where players will train and prepare for the first game of the year against Elon Aug. 30. 

“[I] told the team we need to have a great summer, we have to come back a better team for practice one than we were for practice 15,” Diaz said. 


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