Duke opened the 2017 football season—its 100th—with a decisive 60-7 win over local rival and three-time defending MEAC champion North Carolina Central.
The Blue Devils were never remotely in danger, taking only 3:39 to open up a 14-0 lead.
It wasn’t perfect. Two touchdowns were called back by penalties and there was another of those pesky missed kicks.
But Duke played 10 true freshmen, about as many redshirt freshmen, three quarterbacks, five running backs, eight receivers and four tight ends. No fewer than 27 Blue Devils notched a tackle, 13 players caught a pass.
After an NCCU three-and-out, Duke marched 51 yards in seven plays, Shaun Wilson taking it in from a yard out.
Following a touchback, Bryon Fields picked off Micah Zanders and went 28 yards down the sideline for the score.
“I kind of sat back and read the quarterback and jumped it,” Fields said. “I took a chance and it paid off.”
It was the third pick-six of his career.
If you follow Duke football, Shaun Wilson and Bryon Fields are familiar names.
But some lesser known players started to make their mark.
Brittain Brown is a touted running back from Georgia. Duke held him out last season, declining to burn his redshirt, even after Jela Duncan went down for count at midseason.
“I had a whole year to get better, to lift, to get stronger, to get faster. I just wanted to give it my all, to show what I can do.”
Brown picked up 24 yards in his first collegiate carry, then a 39-yard scoring burst on his second.
“I didn’t even have to juke any defenders,” Brown said. “I just followed the hole. The O-line gave me lanes all night.”
Brown ended the game with 120 yards on 10 carries.
Wilson had 59 on nine rushes, not playing after intermission. David Cutcliffe said Wilson was a little banged up but nothing serious.
Central coach Jerry Mack praised the duo.
“They have two nice running backs that are going to be explosive. Both of those guys, as a one-two combination in the ACC, I think people will have their hands full.”
Brown’s touchdown and Austin Parker’s PAT made it 21-0.
Daniel Jones added a short run, Duke got a safety on a bad snap from center, and an Austin Parker field goal. Jones hit Aaron Young with a 54-yard bomb and it was 40-0, in the middle of the second quarter.
The visitors broke three years of frustration when redshirt freshman Isaiah Totten got some good blocks at the line and outsprinted everyone for an 81-yard score. That single play accounted for over half of NCCU’s first-half total offense.
Backup quarterback Quentin Harris—he’s the clear number two—marched Duke downfield one more time and Duke went into the locker room up 47-7.
Fields said after the game that Duke didn’t play well for all four quarters against Central last season, while Cutcliffe told him team that he and his assistants would be carefully evaluating the second half.
Duke certainly didn’t try to run up the score but they got a lot of second-half tape on a lot of young players looking to move up the depth chart.
Ironically, two veterans were called for two, big third-quarter penalties. Senior Alonzo Saxton was called for a hold that negated a 75-yard punt return by T.J. Rahming, while redshirt senior Mike Ramsey’s roughing-the-passer call came on another Fields interception-turned-touchdown.
And Parker clanked a PAT off the left upright. Cutcliffe called it “an ongoing problem that we will evaluate.”
He also wasn’t happy that several third-down completions didn’t result in first downs because of poor field awareness by the receivers.
But that’s what opening games are for, especially against overmatched FCS teams.
“We had a lot of sophomores, redshirt freshmen and true freshmen that were able to get some game experience,” Fields said. “There is no replacement for that. We drill those guys during scrimmages and tell them until we’re blue in the face what it’s going to be like, but until they get out there and have real game experience, they don’t know what it’s going to be like.”
Cutfcliffe says it looks like Duke suffered no significant injuries.
Jones completed 19 of 25 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns and extended his streak of non-interceptions to 198, second-best in school history.
Young led everyone with five catches, for 89 yards, while Joe Giles-Harris notched eight tackles.
Duke scored the most points since a 67-0 win over Richmond in 1949.
I was not at that game.
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