DURHAM — The Duke Blue Devils got back on track, defeating Coastal Division favorite Georgia Tech, 34-20, in Wallace Wade Stadium on a wet, dreary day in Durham.
Luckily, Duke (3-1,1-1) didn’t let the conditions dampen the way they played. From the start, the Blue Devils dominated the Yellow Jackets (2-2,0-1) up front on both sides of the ball, prompting coach David Cutcliffe to call the game “vicious” at the line of scrimmage.
Even though Tech outgained Duke in total yards (316-279) and won the turnover battle, the Blue Devils outplayed the Yellow Jackets in every aspect of the game. Duke turned the ball over on its first offensive possession, which led to a Georgia Tech field goal, but once the Blue Devils got on the board, they never trailed, giving the fans who braved the rain something to cheer about.
“We got better,” Cutcliffe said. “The most important thing about that football game was we got better as a team.”
Duke jumped out a 19-3 lead after the first quarter, getting two rushing touchdowns from Shaquille Powell (14 carries for 88 yards, 3TDs) and a scoring hookup through the air when Thomas Sirk found T.J. Rahming for an 11-yard score. That scoring drive came after Georgia Tech muffed a punt and Duke took over with decent field position.
Georgia Tech closed the gap right before halftime when Justin Thomas found Ricky Jeune from 10-yards out. But big plays and some huge defensive stands in the second half helped Duke preserve the win.
The first three drives of the second half were a punt exchange between the two teams. Tech broke the scoring drought with a field goal on its third possession. On the ensuing kickoff, Duke’s DeVon Edwards made a house call, going 100-yards for the score.
In the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets pulled to within six, 26-20, after a 12-yard rush from Thomas, but instead of becoming unravelled, Duke had an answer. Jeremy Cash forced Thomas to fumble the ball and Britton Grier recovered on the 43. Four plays later, on fourth and one, Powell broke loose for a 30-yard, game sealing score.
“He wanted the ball in those situations,” Sirk said of Powell. “In those situations he’s saying ‘give me the ball,’ that’s just the type of player he is.”
The big take-away from the day was how Duke contained the triple-option. With Georgia Tech, you know what’s coming at you all afternoon. The Blue Devils prepared for it well (thanks to some help from the Notre Dame game film) and, perhaps, laid a blueprint for shutting down Tech.
“As a team we took on a challenge,” linebacker Dwayne Norman said. “We said we were going to go out and stop them and win this game.”
Game changer – In the first quarter, Duke’s Ryan Smith took a punt back 69-yards to the 1-yard line. Initially, the play was ruled a touchdown, but after review, Smith was ruled out at the one. Duke needed one play to get the real touchdown, a run by Powell, and the Devils had confidence they could take it to the Yellow Jackets.
Stick with it – Whatever Duke did this week in practice to fire up its defense, they should bottle it up and do it the rest of the year. The Blue Devils knew they were up for a physical battle, and took that as a challenge, a challenge they were well prepared for.
“Our attitude for the day was, ‘Take the fight to them,’” defensive tackle A.J. Wolf said. “We really took the fight to them and they had a really tough time with us.”
Get rid of it – Not much went wrong for Duke. The main thing was two botched extra points. Holder Will Monday mishandled two snaps, instances in which Cutcliffe told the senior to just “slow down.”
4.6 – Average per rush from the Duke ground attack.
9 – Number of receivers who caught at least one pass for Duke, led by Max McCaffrey, who finished with four catches for 48 yards.
2 – Number of consecutive wins in a row over Georgia Tech by the Devils.
Powell, Duke: Eighty-eight yards doesn’t sound like a lot, but Powell averaged 6.3 yards per touch and finished with three scores.
Cash, Duke: If votes went in today, Cash would be my choice for ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He finished with 12 tackles, three for loss, and seemed to be all over the field, causing all sorts of problems for Tech.
“They probably felt like we had two Jeremy Cash and two Dewayne Norman’s on the field today,” Cutcliffe said.
Norman, Duke: Speaking of Norman, he finished with nine tackles and one sack. On the edges, the undersized linebacker felt right at home in the Ga. Tech backfield all day.
“It fits my game better,” the converted safety said. “I like to be up on the line of scrimmage, I’m known as a heavy hitter. I like to be up there so I can showcase my skills better.”