Duke sent their seniors out in style Saturday evening with a come-from-behind 43-20 trouncing of Georgia Tech, ending a six-game losing streak and moving closer to a bowl game in the process.
It’s easy for the more cynical among us to look at things like Senior Day with a jaundiced eye. But David Cutcliffe said “the respect our players had for our seniors” was the key to the victory.
Duke spotted Tech a 14-3 lead, before dominating the final 40 minutes. Not only did Duke hold the Yellow Jackets scoreless in the second half, they also held them to two first downs after intermission, keeping their dangerous offense off the field, while wearing down their defense.
The game did not start well for the home team. Tech got the ball first and went 75 yards in a dozen plays, TaQuon Marshall hitting Qua Search for 35 yards on a third-and-12.
Duke almost matched that, driving to the Tech one before an errant pitch from Daniel Jones to Shaun Wilson led to a 30-yard Austin Parker field goal.
It got worse before it got better. Another drive saw Tech end the first quarter at the Duke five, with safety Jeremy McDuffie joining linebacker Ben Humphrey on the sideline with a knee injury.
They scored two plays later. 14-3.
Down by 11, on a downward slide, it could have gone south in a hurry.
“We knew something good was going to happen,” senior center Austin Davis said, “if we just kept grinding. We knew we weren’t going to get many possessions, so we had to make each one count. Whenever you’re down, you’ve got to stick with the plan and have the mentality of winning every play.”
Cutcliffe said that the coaches told the team “playing option teams, you have to be prepared to play from behind. You have to catch up to their speed.”
The Duke offense kept up its end of the bargain, marching 73 yards for a touchdown. Jones hit Wilson with a swing pass from 11 yards out. Wilson celebrated with an end-zone shimmy that wouldn’t get him very far on Dancing With the Stars but did draw a 15-yard penalty and the ire of Cutcliffe, who called it “easily preventable.”
Back-to-back 27-yard runs by Brittain Brown keyed the drive.
Tech took over at their 40 following the penalty and kickoff. A 22-yard run and two short gains brought up third-and-six from the Duke 34 and arguably the game’s biggest play.
Marshall dropped back to pass and his pass was batted up in the air by freshman end Victor Dimukeje.
Now, 250-pound defensive lineman aren’t generally known for their catching ability. But Dimukeje snatched it out of the air and rumbled 26 yards to the Tech 27.
“I saw the quarterback drop back and I tried to get to him,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to get there, so I just put my hand up, saw the ball up in the air and I tried to intercept it and score the touchdown.”
Cutcliffe said this play jump-started Duke’s defense.
Duke didn’t take full advantage of it, settling for a Parker field goal, from 25 yards.
This interception was Duke’s only third-down stop in the first half. The Techsters converted four third-down plays on the ensuing drive, including a 48-yard Marshall run to the 17.
But Mike Ramsay blocked the PAT, leaving it 20-13.
Duke has struggled at the end of the first half much of the season.
But not today.
Duke overcame their only sack and converted a fourth-and-5 from the Tech 36 with an eight-yard pass from Jones to Daniel Helm. A pass interference in the end zone set Duke up at the two, from where Brown punched it over two plays later.
Parker’s PAT tied it 20-20 at the half.
There were no punts in the first half, no missed field goals, no loss of downs and only one turnover, albeit a huge one.
Losing coach Paul Johnson lamented “the end of the first half killed us again.”
Duke owned the second half, doing to Georgia Tech what they frequently do to opponents, moving the chains, keeping a tired defense on the field and forcing a sense of desperation.
“We felt like our matchups were better than they had been,” Cutcliffe said of his offensive line. “You have to take on the challenge of outrushing them and that means staying on the field.”
Duke took the second-half kickoff and kept the ball for nine plays, Wilson again finishing the drive with a swing pass from Jones, this time from 16 yards out.
And no dancing.
This was Duke’s first second-half lead since the Pittsburgh game.
At this point it looked like one of those last-team-with-the-ball-wins-type of games.
But Duke’s defense had finally figured out Tech’s offense, had caught up to the speed.
Joe Giles-Harris said Duke didn’t make any schematic adjustments at halftime.
“Do your job. Everybody honed in and did their job. We knew we couldn’t panic. Nobody on this team is a ‘me’ player. We came in at halftime and said we can’t have that. We fed off the D-line, they fed off the backers, we fed off everybody.”
The Duke D got a three-and-out and Parker added another three points.
Then, another three-and-out, the first two punts of the game.
Johnathan Lloyd keyed the next drive with a spectacular 27-yard diving catch. Jones picked up a fourth down with a sneak and Duke ended the third quarter at the Tech 15.
Georgia Tech picked up five yards in the third quarter.
Duke moved to the four, second-and-goal. Wilson took the ball, jumped and threw a strike to Helm for the score.
Cutcliffe said Duke put the play in just this week.
Parker missed the PAT, which left the score 36-20, a two-possession game, potentially damaging if Tech had regained its offensive mojo.
Not to worry. Georgia Tech does many things well but their offense isn’t designed to come from behind in a hurry,
“Our goal was to put them in a position where they had to pass,” Giles-Harris said. “Anytime you make Georgia Tech throw the ball, it’s to your advantage. We didn’t think they could throw on us.”
They couldn’t, at least not with any regularity. Marshall did hit one bomb, a 45-yarder to Ricky Jeune, to the Duke 35. But four plays later, Giles-Harris was forcing Marshall into a fourth-down incompletion.
Duke finally had to punt but a fake-punt failed on Tech’s next possession.
Duke took advantage of the short field, Jones going around left end from 32 yards out and the final touchdown.
Duke rushed the ball for a season-high 319 yards, Brown with 116, Wilson 73 and Jones 91. Brown said Duke could “smell blood in the water” in the second half, as they abused a tired Tech defense.
“We just wanted to go back to playing how Duke plays and not worrying about how other offenses played against the opponents we were about to go up against. We just got back to our run game and our pas game.”
Duke played lots of people at the end, including walk-on grad-transfer kicker William Holmquist, who kicked the final PAT. A delighted Cutcliffe said he told Holmquist “you’re now on the books.”
But it wasn’t just mop-up time. Reserve offensive linemen Christian Harris, Rock Chambers and Zach Baker were on the field much of the third quarter.
Jones completed 17 of 24 passes, for 176 yards. Lloyd had five catches, for 57 yards. But most importantly, there were no turnovers, only one sack and only one penalty, the call on Wilson.
I guess that’s what the Duke offense can do when it stops shooting itself in the foot.
McDuffie will undergo an MRI tomorrow. Cutcliffe says he is “not very encouraged.”
He did praise freshman Marquis Waters for “literally getting better before my eyes every snap.”
Cutcliffe also said that Humphreys is getting better and held out hope that he could be back Saturday against Wake Forest, as Duke goes for six.
Saturday is Dimukeje’s birthday.
- Its bowl hopes all but gone, Duke attacked its shortcomings head on and won
- PALPABLE BUZZ: Duke football puts up 43 points to blow past Yellow Jackets
- Duke snaps 6-game skid in win over Georgia Tech
- Georgia Tech's Option Out-Paced By Duke's Defensive Play
- Final Score: Cutcliffe, Blue Devils thump Yellow Jackets, 43-20
- Duke defensive lineman tracks this tip drill ball like a seasoned wide receiver and snags the interception
If you're going to shop Amazon, please start here and help DBR and while you're there check out Jim Sumner's latest book | Drop us a line at our new address