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Observations From Duke’s Win Over Notre Dame

Duke Football, Notre Dame
The Blue Devils bounced back from a difficult couple of weeks with a huge win on the road against Notre Dame.  Duke shrugged off a rough start and made plays in all three phases of the game to earn the victory.  The team showed a high level of focus and poise after going down 14-0 early.  Duke found a spark after Shaun Wilson ran back a kickoff for a touchdown and the Blue Devils really found a grove on offense and were able to control the game for stretches before an Anthony Nash TD and an AJ Reed field goal late in the fourth gave the Blue Devils the win.  Duke has evened their record at 2-2 and will host Virginia next Saturday.

Key Observations

Everything that had gone wrong for Duke in the previous 10 quarters of football seemed to go right against Notre Dame.  As in any close victory some of that can be called luck, or being in the right place at the right time, but it was evident in the film that every player on the field stepped up their efforts Saturday in South Bend and found a way to make plays, often big ones.  You could say that Duke made their own luck.  Duke’s rally from behind started with a special teams play and another special teams play gave Duke the final margin of victory.  The third phase of the game has been a strength in the Blue Devil program for years, but so far in 2016 it had been a sore spot.  That all changed when Shaun Wilson fielded a kickoff just short of the goal line after Notre Dame had scored their second touchdown of the game to take a 14-0 lead.  Wilson’s return for a touchdown couldn’t have come at a better time.  The last two games and the first few minutes of Saturday’s contest had drained a lot of the Blue Devil’s confidence.  Duke needed a spark and Wilson provided it.  The defense responded with a stop and the offense followed with a beautiful drive capped off with a Jela Duncan 18 yard touchdown run.

The Blue Devils and Irish went back and forth for the remainder of the game with Duke controlling the second quarter and the Irish taking control in the third.  After a Deondre Singleton interception gave Duke the ball near midfield the offense executed another nice drive that stalled inside the 10 yard line.  After going for it on fourth down in field goal range twice earlier in the game, Cutcliffe decided to let freshman kicker AJ Reed, who had yet to make a field goal and had missed one extra point attempt also, try and win the game.  Reed split the uprights on the 18 yard attempt and gave Duke the final victory margin and hopefully establishing some self confidence as well.

Duke’s inexperience had shown in the first three games of the season.  Specifically with penalties and turnovers.  David Cutcliffe has taken a lot of pride in having a focused, disciplined team that doesn’t make many mistakes.  So far in 2016 Duke was falling well short of that standard.  In the first three games the Blue Devils had 10 turnovers, 8 fumbles and 2 interceptions.  Those kinds of numbers alone makes winning a game against a competent opponent difficult, but when you throw in the penalties, Duke was really making things tough on themselves.  The Blue Devils came in to Saturday averaging over 7 penalties for more than 56 yards a game.  The young team really tightened things up against the Irish.  The Blue Devils had just one turnover, a Daniel Jones interception late in the third quarter that he more than made up for.  There were no lost fumbles.  Against a strong and athletic team like Notre Dame ball security is very important and the Blue Devils took care of the ball Saturday.  Duke was also able to cut out the penalties.  Duke was flagged once on Saturday for a five yard penalty.  That kind of focus a discipline will win ball games and it went a long way to contributing to Duke’s upset victory this past weekend.

Plenty of seasoned quarterbacks have been known to struggle on the road.  When you throw in the talent on the opposing team and an environment in South Bend that can’t be replicated in practice the slightest mistake can snowball into a disaster for a rookie quarterback.  Not Daniel Jones.  Jones had a near perfect game on Saturday.  Jones made the right reads in the passing game, showing no fear in throwing the ball down the field.  The Duke offense couldn’t manage much in the third quarter and the frustration was capped off by a Jones interception late in the period.  This is where it all could have gone bad for Duke, but instead of panicking Jones turned the game around.  In the fourth quarter Jones went 6 for 9 passing for 107 yards and a touchdown.   His poise steadied the team.  Great leadership from the freshman QB.

Additional News & Notes

Jela Duncan ran for over 100 yards for the second time this season.  In just four games he has matched his career total for 100 yard rushing games.

Since 2013 Duke has 14 true road wins, second only to Ohio State nationally. (ESPN Stats & Info)