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Duke Beats Kansas 52-33 To Move To 3-1

A solid win by the Blue Devils

NCAA Football: Kansas at Duke
 Sep 25, 2021; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils quarterback Gunnar Holmberg (12) celebrates a touchdown during the 1st half of the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Wallace Wade Stadium. 
Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

That’s what happens when you invite a Big-12 team to town. You get a good, old-fashioned Big 12-style shootout, the kind of game with 85 points, 48 first downs and 1,137 yards total offense.

But it’s a fun kind of shootout when Duke is on the winning side, 52-33.

Duke and Kansas traded leads for the first 33 minutes or so, Duke leading by scores of 7-0, 14-10 and 21-17 but unable to make any of them hold up for very long.

“I thought they had carried the fight to us,” David Cutcliffe said of the first half. “I pointed out to them that we had out-gained them by a hundred yards but if you don’t win the turnover margin. Defensively the conversation was explosives and offensively the conversation was stopping ourselves, penalties, turnovers. Who’s going to carry the fight to who? You’re sitting here at home. What kind of mentality, what kind of edge? I think they tried to respond to it.”

About those turnovers. Two, both costly. Duke drove to the Kansas 23 on the game’s first possession but a second-down Holmberg pass to nobody wearing Duke colors was intercepted by Ra’Mello Dotson. Holmberg chased down Dotson after a 65-yard return and Kansas came up empty after a clipping penalty and a missed field goal.

A big stop, to be sure. But Duke was poised to jump on top early and also came away empty.

Duke responded with a 57-yard Durant TD run. But leading 7-3 Holmberg and Durant messed up a simple handoff, a play they’ve probably practiced a thousand times this summer. The official ruling was Durant fumble. It took Kansas three plays to go those 18 yards and take a 10-7 lead.

The game turned in the opening minutes of the second half. Kansas was ahead 24-21 at intermission and got the ball first in the second half. Devin Neal exploded for 62 yards on the first play from scrimmage before being chased down by Nate Thompson.

First down at the Duke 13 and it looked like it might be slipping away.

But three plays netted the Jayhawks only two yards. Jacob Borcila’s 29-yard field goal extended the Kansas lead to 27-21 but that’s still a one-possession lead.

Duke defensive end Ben Frye took responsibility for the big gain.

But Kansas didn’t punch it in.

“We managed to keep it to a field goal, thank god, which was a big relief,” Frye said. “I think the momentum kind of changed after that. We started playing some hard-ball defense.”

And then it was a no-possession lead. Gunnar Holmberg led Duke down the field on a seven-play, 75-yard TD drive that gave Duke another lead.

The key play came with Duke on their own 39, 1st and 10. Holmberg somehow eluded a potential sack and found star running back Mataeo Durant open on the right flat.

“Just a hard-run fake,” Holmberg said. “Teo was our lay-off for that play. They blocked [Jake] Marwede well and I took my eyes off him to get to Teo. I saw someone in my face, was able to keep my balance and get the ball to a really good player. He made a really-good catch on it and the guys blocked really well on the perimeter for him. That was really cool to see, a really fun play.”

Durant turned the lay-off into a 53-yard play, giving Duke the ball at the Kansas 8.

Jordan Waters scored three plays later.

Crucial play?

Holmberg’s take.

“When you’re playing in a close game like that, when it’s back-and-forth and you go out every drive , you’ve got to respond and I think we did really well the majority of the game.”

Duke was up 28-27 and never again relinquished the lead. Duke’s defense finally gained control of the game. Shaka Heyward intercepted a Jake Bean pass to set up a Duke TD, then Duke forced a punt and the next thing you know Duke’s high-octane offense had added three more points and it was 45-27. Kansas got one more explosive but Duke answered and Duke posted its third straight win.

Holmberg, Durant and receivers Jake Bobo and Jalon Calhoun continued to dominate opposing defenses. Holmberg hit 22 of 29 passes, for 328 yards. He also rushed 17 times, for 88 yards. Holmberg rushed for four touchdowns and passed for another, 26 yards to Calhoun. Durant rushed for 124 yards and added 62 on three receptions. Calhoun added 67 yards on five catches.

“I think our offense is playing at a high level,” Cutcliffe said. “Gunnar can run. He had some big runs. Mataeo continues to come up with big play after big play.”

Plenty of work to be done, especially cutting down the other team’s explosives.

“We’ve got to minimize that,” Cutcliffe conceded.

But Duke can enjoy this one for awhile.

“Really, really proud of the group as a whole,” Holmberg summed up. “The way we came back in the second half.”