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Alabama 42, Duke 3

As the Tide rolls in the second half.

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Alabama v Duke
 ATLANTA, GEORGIA - AUGUST 31: The Alabama Crimson Tide offense faces off against the Duke Blue Devils defense in the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on August 31, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Duke’s 42-3 season-opening loss to Alabama wasn’t unexpected, although I thought it would be closer. Duke didn’t talk much in the off-season about winning or losing this game but more about using it as a measuring stick. Just like last-year’s game at Clemson, Duke hung with a heavily-favored opponent until the middle of the third quarter or so but the Duke defense just wore down.

Alabama gave Duke some chances early. Following a fumble by Jerome Ford, Duke marched to the ‘Bama 7 . Duke went for it on fourth and one but came up short.

Why not take the field goal?

“I look at any opponent,” David Cutcliffe said. “I look at their offense and I didn’t think we could win the game taking field goals. We weren’t trying to have a moral victory, we were trying to find a way to win the game. There are ranges that I’m going to go for and we should have gone for there and we should have made it, and we’re going to challenge our team that when we make those decisions, there shouldn’t be a doubt, and that’s the way we have to approach it.”

An Alabama penalty nullified a long pass, Duke got an early sack on Tua Tagovailoa, Will Reichard missed a field goal and the first period ended with no score.

But Duke wasn’t sharp enough to take advantage of the mistakes. Cutcliffe came up with some wrinkles, including a triple-option set.

But Duke couldn’t complete passes against ‘Bama with any frequency. Better quarterbacks than Quentin Harris have struggled against these guys but there’s no denying that he struggled.

There’s also no denying that he didn’t get a lot of help from his young receiving corps.

After Tua and the Tide cranked it up and took a 14-0 lead late in the second quarter, Duke made a game of it. But again Duke couldn’t convert yards into touchdowns. Harris connected with Scott Bracey on a 37-yarder and Aaron Young drew a pass-interference penalty in the end zone. But freshman Jalon Calhoun couldn’t come up with a jump ball in the end zone and Duke settled for a field goal, a 30- yarder by A.J. Reed, making it 14-3 at the half.

Duke had the ball first after intermission and drove to the Alabama 35. But Duke came up inches short on fourth down and the wheels came off after that, dumb penalties, missed tackles, two poorly thrown Harris interceptions. Sixth-year senior Edgar Cerenord was ejected for a personal foul in the 42nd game of his college career.

Cutcliffe cited the penalty.

“And then the story in the second half became a big penalty and an ejection on defense led to the first score. Then we turn around and we have a big penalty,a chop- block penalty on offense and then we get a resulting turnover, another score.”

If Duke measured itself today the result can’t make anyone happy. We saw an inconsistent Duke team that couldn’t capitalize on three scoring opportunities and clearly didn’t do a good job of handling adversity. When things started going downhill in the middle of the third period, no one stepped up and even slowed down the avalanche.

“Games like this kind of -- you go one of two ways,” Cutcliffe said. “They set you back or you get better from them. I know in my heart of hearts that our team will get better from this.”

Senior safety Dylan Singleton added his thoughts.

“First half we were able to match up with them well. We looked good in the first half. We tried to give Tua some looks that he hadn’t seen before. As far as building off of the game, there’s some good things that we did, but obviously a lot of bad things that we did. We just have to go in this week and fix those things in practice and just keep progressing. We still have to play. We still have eleven more games that we have to play, so we still have to come out with that mentality every week.”

Duke won’t play any one this tough again this season and lots of freshmen got their feet wet. Time for Cutcliffe and his staff to get back to the drawing board and figure this out.

NOTES

Many people thought that Duke’s running game was ahead of its passing game and the results bear that out. Brittain Brown, Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant picked up 102 yards in 21 rushes. But excluding Bracey’s contested catch Duke got four yards from its wide receivers. Tight end Noah Gray had a nice game, five catches for 45 yards. Harris was 12-for-22 but picked up only 97 yards on those 12 completions and both of his interceptions were poorly thrown balls.

On defense, Koby Quansah did play and played well, with 11 tackles. Singleton had 13. And Duke did get some pressure on Tagovailoa. But he was Heisman-Trophy runner-up for a reason. He just shredded Duke’s young corners, hitting 26-of-31, for 336 yards and four scores to four different receivers.

Reed’s field goal was his first place-kick since 2016.

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