“You gotta feel good. You’re 1 and 0. At the end of the day, half the teams in college football are going to be 0 and I and half are going to be 1-0. It’s a good feeling to be in the winning side of that.”
That’s Joe Giles-Harris’s reaction to Duke’s 34-14 win over Army Friday night, Duke’s seventh-consecutive opening-game victory.
It was hardly perfect. It’s August after all. But Duke won the physicality battle, played a relatively clean game, dominated special teams and hit more than a few of those down-field shots we’ve been talking about.
Duke also apparently dodged some injury bullets.
It wasn’t exactly what we expected. Army threw the ball on its first possession. It was complete for 12 yards. This was a team that passed about twice per game last season. But Giles-Harris said Duke had heard that new Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. “could throw it a little bit.”
He could. And did.
In fact, Hopkins hit 10-21 passes, for 197 yards matching Daniel Jones’s yardage total for Duke. But Jones was the more efficient of the two by far and Duke played a much cleaner game.
David Cutcliffe acknowledged had spent more time preparing for Army’s triple-option attack than 21 passes.
Duke also concentrated on trying to force fumbles.
“We made an emphasis on getting the ball out,” safety Dylan Singleton said. “Just go to the ball and punch it out.”
Army fumbled five times, losing two.
Army actually fumbled on its first two plays. The first went out of bounds but Marquis Waters covered the second at the Army 32.
Duke got to the Army seven but a false start penalty led to a 25-yard Colin Wareham field goal, the first kick of his college career.
Army answered with a 13-play, 59-yard drive but came up empty when Landon Salyers was wide right from 33 yards.
The miss seemed to take the wind out of the old gray mare, as Duke dominated the rest of the half. After some rope-a-dope passes at the line of scrimmage-at least that’s one explanation—Duke started hitting downfield, Jones connecting with Rahming on a 35-yarder to the Army 45.
Brittain Brown took over from there, five rushes for 48 yards, the final 12 yards taking it in the end zone.
Brown appeared heading for a super game but was dinged up several times afterwards and ended the game with 75 yards on 11 carries.
Cutcliffe said that Brown would be sore for a day or two but did not appear to have suffered any significant damage.
Giles-Harris also went down with cramps but came back and said he was fine.
Army marched to the Duke 34, hitting a 29-yard pass and converting a fourth down. But Michael Carter recovered a botched pitch at the Duke 29.
It took Duke three plays to travel the 71 yards, 61 of those coming on a pass to Aaron Young that saw him tackled inches from the goal line.
Jones scored on a keeper.
Young was the break-out star of the game for the Duke offense, catching four passes, for
114 yards, perhaps the deep threat Duke has been looking for.
“We came out in the second half with some plays that we thought could work,” Young said. “This summer we put a lot more emphasis on longer passes and earned the trust of our offensive coordinator that we could make the plays.”
Cutcliffe cited Young’s work in the weight room, giving him strength and toughness he had not previously displayed. “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s matured.”
Jones added to the praise. “He’s a big playmaker. He didn’t really surprise us. He certainly has that ability. We’ve seen it all summer.”
It was 17-0 at the half. But Duke, in Cutcliffe’s words, Duke “hit a little lull” in the third quarter.
Duke reached the Army 39, when Jones was sacked and lost the ball.
It was Duke’s only turnover of the night and Army’s only sack.
The pressure came from the right edge and Cutcliffe suggested that Jones might have dropped too deep.
Given new life, Army got on the board with an 11-play drive which included a 34-yard pass to Kell Walker.
Duke responded with a drive Cutcliffe called pivotal. “It was a huge drive. I think it shocked them.”
Jones was again the key, a 10-yard run and passes to Johnathan Lloyd of 14 and 18 yards. With Brown banged up, Deon Jackson took it in from seven yards out, his first Duke touchdown.
Army again closed to 10 points, when blown coverage left Cam Harrison wide open down the right sideline for a 45-yard dagger.
At 24-14, it was a ballgame.
Duke tightened up, holding Army scoreless for the final 16 minutes, while tacking on another touchdown, 25 yards from Jones to Young, and a 30-yard field goal from Wareham to close the scoring.
So, 1-0. But as Giles-Harris finishes up “we’re not done. We didn’t practice all summer for one game. We have to get ready for next week.”
Duke kicked off to Army seven times. Army fair caught six of them, taking advantage of the new rule, which places the ball on the 25 on a fair-caught kickoff.
The one time they ran it back, they got it to the 16, so maybe they had the right idea.
Brown returned two kickoffs for 32 and 26 yards.
Rahming had two punt returns, for 23 yards. Navy had zero punt-return yards. Duke also blocked a Salyers field goal late, Ben Humphreys with the block and Singleton with a 33-yard return to the Army 35, setting up Duke’s second field goal.
Singleton said he needed one more move to score his first touchdown since high school.
He didn’t get it. But he did notch a game-high 11 tackles.
Speaking of field goals, Duke debuted an entirely-new specialist lineup tonight, John Taylor on the snaps, Jackson Hubbard on the holds and Wareham on the kicks.
Six for six. Cutcliffe praised the trio for doing the work over the summer to develop the habits necessary to execute in the game.
Army sacked Jones four times last season. Only once this time. Jones gave credit to his offensive line.
“I thought they did a great job. We changed up our protections several times and they picked it up. They did a great job on run-blocking, opening up holes for Brittain and Deon. It started with a strong running game, the ability of the line to impose their will.
Jones was 13-17 for his 197 yards, with no interceptions. He added 43 rushing yards, as Duke averaged 5.4 yards per carry.
Army specializes in fourth-down conversions and went 4-4 against Duke, even converting a 4th-and 13.
Cutcliffe said Duke would work on its fourth-down defense.
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