Duke ran its record to 2-1 with an impressive 41-18 road victory over Middle Tennessee State Saturday night. The Blue Devils spotted the Blue Raiders an early 3-0 lead but scored the next 34 points, scoring on their first seven possessions.
Duke did a little of everything, long passes, short passes, options, smash mouth, even an onside kick.
With the exception of the onside kick, Quentin Harris was at the center of all of these. The redshirt senior quarterback had his second career game of the month, completing 24-of-27 passes, throwing four touchdowns and amassing 344 yards total offense.
Without a turnover.
After a thunderstorm that delayed the start a few minutes and gave us some extra time to figure out this whole Facebook Stadium thing, MTSU took the opening kickoff and marched down the field to the Duke 26. An offensive pass-interference call pushed the home team out of field-goal range but a 20-yard scramble by quarterback Asher O’Hara put them back in range.
Crews Holt converted from 41 yards out and Duke was down 3-0.
Keep in mind Duke was less than a touchdown favorite and the weekend has already seen Boston College lose at home to lowly Kansas, Georgia Tech lose at home to the Citadel and Virginia Tech barely beat Furman at home.
So, maybe the upset bug would bite the ACC again.
Nothing to worry about.
Duke responded by marching down field, Harris hitting five straight passes to four different receivers before Deon Jackson took it in from the three. The big play was a fourth-down completion to tight end Noah Gray from the MTSU 18.
If passing up the 35-yard field goal seemed risky, take a look at what happened next.
Onside kick. Duke football at the MTSU 47.
“We were able to steal a possession on the onside kick,” David Cutcliffe said.
Five plays later-three of them completions by Harris-Duke was on the scoreboard again, freshman receiver Jalon Calhoun breaking some tackles and taking it for a 12-yard score.
The rout was on. Maybe the Blue Raiders aren’t as good as their making-a-minor-bowl-game-every-year-reputation suggests. Certainly, tougher opponents await.
But Harris looked every bit like you want a quality fifth-year senior to look. Everything Duke called seemed to work, Harris was in complete control and at this early point in the season it looks like Duke may have surrounded him with more weapons than they ever gave Daniel Jones. And that’s with running back Brittain Brown and wide receiver Jake Bobo sitting out with injuries.
“We felt like we had good matchups in the throwing game,” Cutcliffe said. “Quinton was absolutely perfect. He put it where our guys could catch it and our guys caught it. I don’t think we can be much better than that. The biggest thing [Harris] did today was when we gave him some audibles. We didn’t want him to look to the sidelines and call [the audibles]. He got us in good plays against their pressures.”
Redshirt senior Aaron Young had six catches for 106 yards and two scores, the first two-touchdown game of his Duke career.
“Getting his foot down (on the first touchdown reception) wasn’t so easy,” Cutcliffe said. “It was a spectacular play. He’s a 6-foot-4-inch, strong guy. I’m hoping this is a sign of things to come. I think we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg.”
Calhoun added six catches; he already has 15 on the season.
Connor Vernon holds the Duke-freshman record with 55 back in 2009.
Freshman Eli Pancol had an 11-yard touchdown catch, his second score on two catches.
Gray hauled in four passes and has 15 on the season.
And don’t forget A.J. Reed who made both of his field-goal attempts, including a 49-yarder when Duke was up 14-3 and the outcome was still in doubt.
Reed is perfect on the season, four field goals and 11 PATs.
On the defensive side of the ball Duke held the Blue Raiders without a touchdown into the middle of the third quarter. Perhaps it was the heat or perhaps Duke took its foot off the gas, but Duke did give up a couple of long TD drives after intermission. Then again, MTSU scored 21 points against Michigan and O’Hara is one tough cookie. He took a lot of hits and was able to find some holes in Duke’s secondary.
“[O’Hara] got us tired,” Cutcliffe said. “We rushed the passer well. He did a good job with some of their [run-pass options]. [Middle Tennessee] has some skill players that can really run. We didn’t tackle as well in the second half. I think we lost a little bit of an edge, but all-in-all I think our defense had a great plan and played extremely well.”
While the game was still up for grabs, Duke shut down O’Hara and company, defensive end Chris Rumph being an especial thorn in his side, with two of Duke’s six sacks and three quarterback hurries.
Eleven MTSU plays went for a loss.
Duke didn’t force any turnovers; neither did MTSU. The Devils did stop MTSU on two of its four fourth-down attempts. And Duke did cut down on the penalties, three for 20 yards.
Duke also held touted MTSU receiver Ty Lee to 19 receiving yards on three receptions.
So, some time to rest and rehab and recover and get ready for the ACC opener in Blacksburg against a Hokies team that has handled Duke with ease the last two times they’ve met but looks vulnerable early.
But right now, time for a well-deserved pat on the back from the head coach.
“There’s no question [that was our most complete performance of the year]. [Middle Tennessee] got three points early, but we moved the ball consistently throughout the first half. I thought there was better pressure on the defense and we did a better job of mixing run and pass.”