It was a collapse, there is no other way to sugar coat Duke blowing a 21-point half-time lead to lose the Chick-fil-A Bowl 52-48 to Texas A&M.
The talk of the game on the national front will obviously be the incredible play of A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and the comeback performance, perhaps of the year. On the Blue Devils’ front, however, this one hurts and will haunt the players coaches and fans for at least the next 7 to 8 months.
Duke’s breakdown started really at the end of the first half when, with a chance to go up 42 to 17, the Blue Devils settled for a field goal while near the Aggies goal line. That put the halftime score at 38-17 and it appeared like Duke was in complete control. Little did anyone know that failing to convert a touchdown there could be a game changer.
Understandably the Duke coaching staff was thinking that as dominant as they were offensively in the first that that might continue over into the second. It didn’t. The Blue Devils got the ball to open up the half and quickly drove down the field.
The Blue Devils, however, failing to convert on fourth down ended up with no points for the first time all game and you could feel the momentum shift from there as the defensive stop gave the Aggies and Manziel a lift. They quickly scored and the comeback was on.
The most surprising short coming from the Blue Devils was the inability of their defense to get stops when it counted. Duke has done that all year but were unable to do so when it counted against A&M and the Aggies took advantage.
Whether it was the secondary lapses that occurred all night, a failure to stop A&M in a key 4th and 4, which resulted in a touchdown, the Blue Devils defense which had been so good most of the year, got worked over, especially in the second half.
The offense that was so good in the first half hit a wall. They were able to move the ball into Aggie territory but stalled time and time again around the 40 yard mark. They appeared to lack the aggressiveness in the play calling and when A&M closed the gap they looked rattled.
Duke was able to put together a couple of scoring drives but when it counted Anthony Boone, who had played a near flawless game, committed turnovers on back-to-back possessions including throwing the game winning pick six.
Boone obviously will take the loss hard as will everyone else. He will receive a lot of blame, which in a way he deserves for the costly two turnovers, but the loss in no way is just his fault. It would be easy to think that but Duke lost as a team.
The defense’s inability to get a stop or even force a turnover cost them.
The bright side is that Duke made a statement. They nearly, and one could argue, should have won a game they were heavy underdogs in. They did it on a national stage and the attention the program will get, beyond the bitterness of the loss, will undoubtedly be positive.
For the Blue Devils, however, given how close they were to pulling off the upset and setting the stage for an offseason that would have seen an even greater amount of positive publicity had they won, this loss stings worse than perhaps any in a good long while.
Losing is never fun. Duke has had its fill of losing but now that they are winning, losing becomes all that more painful, because the expectation is to win and a loss like the one in the Chick-fil-A Bowl sticks with you for a while.
In a side note, I would like to send my condolences to the family of Associated Press Photographer Dave Martin who passed away following the end of the bowl game. He died of an apparent heart attack. While I didn’t know Martin, I could see by the reaction of his fellow photographers and media who knew him that he was one of the good guys.