Duke opened its 2019 ACC play by opening a lot of eyes, a 45-10 demolition of an out-manned and out-coached Virginia Tech team.
No, I did not think I would ever write those words, at least the first part of the sentence.
Most knowledgeable football observers would have looked at Duke’s early-season football schedule and predicted a loss to Alabama and wins over North Carolina A&T and Middle Tennessee State.
Which is exactly what happened. Duke went to Blacksburg a slight underdog with a chance to answer lots of questions on a nationally-televised Friday night match up.
The early answers were not promising.
It’s amazing that Duke only trailed 3-0 after one quarter, five total yards of offense, two defensive penalties on third down, the second a roughing-the-passer penalty by Derrick Tangelo that nullified a Leonard Johnson interception and led to a chip-shot field goal by Tech’s Brian Johnson. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more one-sided 3-0 game.
A blowout loomed.
And we got one. Just not the one that was looming
“Field position and penalties in the first quarter kind of put us behind the eight ball,” David Cutcliffe said. “We continued to play hard, we created a turnover on defense, and the offense responded. We played as good as we’ve played in stretches tonight.”.
One play turned it around. Tech’s Hendon Hooker fumbled backwards--an unforced error-and Koby Quansah recovered for the Blue Devils at the Tech 16.
Duke had one first down to its credit at that point and that was on a Tech penalty. But Quentin Harris found tight end Noah Gray wide open for a score on the first play and the complexion of the game changed.
That sequence seemed to take the air out of the Hokies’ balloon, perhaps a sign of a team struggling for confidence. Or perhaps Duke really is that much better than Virginia Tech and it took a quarter for them to figure it out.
And how about offensive co-ordinator Zac Roper? It’s not often we see a Bud-Foster coached defense look flummoxed. But Duke went conventional offense, option, power-I, empty backfield, hurry-up and after that first period darn near everything worked.
“We went in knowing we were going to run a bunch of different formations,” Cutcliffe said. “I do take my hat off to Quentin Harris, because he’s a quarterback that can manage. He’s a veteran, he’s smart, he can manage all the things we ask him to manage. I think when he watches the tape, he’s going to see some things he’d like to have back. He went underneath a lot; I can never complain about that.”
You name it, Duke did it. One-play drives, long drives, a wide-receiver throwing a touchdown pass, a successful fake punt, a fourth-down stop, the team’s first interception of the season (by Leonard Johnson), a Chris Katrenick TD run, even a fourth-down completion deflected off an official.
Duke’s second period might have been the best quarter of Cutcliffe’s Duke tenure, outscoring the storied home team 21-0. After the one-play drive, Duke put together a pair of nine-play TD drives, one totaling 57 yards, the final 91 yards.
The final drive ended with high-school quarterback-turned-college-receiver Jalon Calhoun hitting high-school receiver-turned-college-running back Deon Jackson from 25 yards out.
“We knew we were going to run it,” Cutcliffe said. “They were chomping at the bit. I think that’s a good sign. If our skill guys are having fun, they’re going to play hard.”
It was 21-3 at the half and the home team never made a credible threat to get back in the game. Down 24-3 Tech went for it on fourth-and-one from their 43 and Hooker never even got back to the line of scrimmage.
Credit Quansah again.
Adding insult to injury, Harris went 42 yards on a keeper for the score on the first play.
Yes, Duke’s quarterback outran Virginia Tech’s secondary.
Quansah and Harris were the keys to the win.
Quansah ended the game with 13 tackles and the two biggest defensive plays of the game.
Harris hit 20-of-27 passes for 163 yards, two touchdown passes--both to Gray--and added 100 rushing yards and a rushing TD.
And directed an offense that did not turn it over.
Tech did hit one second-half explosive pass, a 72-yard strike from Ryan Willis to Damon Hazelton which ended Duke’s 31-point run and made it 31-10.
But Willis, who tormented Duke with 332 passing yards last season, was otherwise ineffective, 7-for-18, 112 yards and that interception. Duke put pressure on Willis, covered his receivers and held the Hokies to 3.2 rushing yards per carry.
The win ended a three-game losing streak to Virginia Tech. But Cutcliffe’s only three wins in the rivalry came in Blacksburg. Sometimes it seems like Duke plays better on the road.
But this game shattered more than a few molds and when Pittsburgh brings their four-game winning streak against Duke into Wallace Wade next Saturday night, Duke will have a chance to shatter some more.
Gray ended the game with six receptions, for 50 yards. Jackson had five for 45 yards, running back Mataeo Durant three for 53 yards. But the wide receiver’s got into the action with seven catches, including Jake Bobo’s first two catches of the season.
Reserve tight end Jake Marwede also saw his first action of the season, providing some badly-needed depth behind Gray.
Johnson’s interception ended a streak of 12 consecutive regular-season games without a Duke pick. Johnson had the last one, against Baylor last season. Duke did have an interception in the Independence Bowl.
A.J. Reed continues to be perfect on the season, 5-for-5 on field goals, 17-for-17 on PATs.
For the season Harris is now 86-for-118 for a 72.9 completion percentage. The single-season school record is 67.3 set by Sean Renfree in 2012.
Reed had two tackles on kickoffs and punter Austin Parker had a tackle on a punt, along with that 28-yard run. Even Duke’s kickers are athletes.
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