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Observations from Duke’s win over Georgia Tech

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

There is no way to sell short the Blue Devils victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday.  This win was huge.  The win kept Duke from falling to 0-2 in ACC play and dealt the first loss to the Top 25 Yellow Jackets.  Duke will keep pace in the Coastal Division as they head into an even bigger matchup with Virginia, who are currently in first place in the division.  The win also broke a ten game losing streak to Georgia Tech and was the Blue Devils’ first win in Atlanta since 1994.  As expected, Jeremy Cash led the way for the Blue Devil defense, who played their best game of the season, and had one of their more memorable games in years.  The offense executed a balanced gameplan that saw the run game excel without starter Shaquille Powell and Anthony Boone bounce back from a rough couple of games with a consistent, turnover-free performance.

Key Observations:

Is the strength of the Blue Devils their defense?  Through the first half of the season, and especially against Georgia Tech the answer would have to be yes.  Through six games the Duke defense is giving up an average of just 15.5 ppg.  Early on, the strong performances could have been chalked up to the weak competition, but that strong play has continued into two ACC games so far this season.  Jeremy Cash again led the way for Duke.  Cash had 7 tackles, a forced fumble, and a fourth quarter interception.  True freshman linebacker Zavier Carmichael also had his second career interception.  The Yellow Jacket offense has given Duke fits in the past, but Duke was more than ready on Saturday.  They held Georgia Tech without a touchdown until the end of the second quarter and blanked them in the third before a late rally made the score close.

We have all seen the talented stable of running backs on display this season, but there still seemed to be some apprehensiveness to really lean on the running game on offense.  There was no shying away from it Saturday.  Duke was missing starting running back Shaquille Powell, but no one noticed as the rest of “The Stable” ran all over the Yellow Jacket defense.  Duke racked up 242 rushing yards.  Josh Snead led the way with 102 yards and a touchdown.  Joe Ajeigbe had 53 yards, Shaun Wilson had 31 rushing and 37 receiving.  Anthony Boone added 49 yards on the ground, continuing to do well in the read option offense and Thomas Sirk had 2 short yardage touchdowns, as he continued to transition into the “phantom” role left behind by Brandon Connette.

The run game provided a great balance on offense that really helped the Blue Devils stay on the field, rest their defense, and balance out the time of possession.  Anthony Boone didn’t have a huge numbers day, but he was much more consistent and appeared to find his accuracy again, for the most part.  A couple of drops on the opening drive had Duke fans frustrated, but the Blue Devils found their rhythm.  The way the run game was churning out yards there wasn’t a need for a lot of passing attempts, but when Duke needed a big play they found it.  Boone did a great job of spreading the ball around.  He completed passes to 7 different receivers, including himself.  Which should be worth points, and not a penalty, based on how difficult it is to actually do.

Additional News and Notes:

Duke has now defeated 3 ranked opponents in their last 13 games.  Two of those wins have come on the road.

With a win on Saturday Duke would become eligible for the third straight season.  Duke had never been to back to back bowl games until 2012 & 2013.

Wide receiver Ryan Smith came up with two crucial grabs on onside kick attempts by Georgia Tech that essentially sealed the game for Duke.