It was a night and day first and second half for the Blue Devils in Atlanta, but the Blue Devils’ comeback fell short. The game appeared to be over nothing after the opening kickoff. Shaun Wilson and Jela Duncan each had costly turnovers and the Duke defense looked completely unprepared as Georgia Tech took a 28-7 lead into halftime. Duke would take advantage of a couple Yellow Jacket turnovers in the third quarter and eventually took the lead, but the defense couldn’t hold. Duke will return home to host Coastal Division leaders Virginia Tech next weekend.
Statistically the Blue Devils defense had been very solid this season. Those numbers combined with how well Duke had prepared for and played against the triple option over the last few seasons seemed to give Duke a very real change at getting to .500 two third of the way through the season. However, the turnovers on offense and big plays given up on defense that had become habits this year doomed the Devils once again. The defensive staff was outclassed in this one and the players failed to execute at an embarrassing level in the first half. Duke made Justin Thomas look like a prolific passer, giving up an astounding 264 yards through the air on just 14 pass attempts. The Yellow Jackets came out slinging the ball and Duke was caught completely off guard and failed to adjust. Even when Duke was able to disrupt plays in the backfield they could not bring down Thomas, giving up huge runs at the worst times. The Blue Devil defense could not hold on to the second half momentum immediately giving up a touchdown drive after Duke took the lead in the fourth and failing to force a punt on the following possession, ending the game in frustrating fashion.
Daniel Jones had one of his best games of the season. Jones got the ball out quickly despite being under constant pressure once again. Jones took just enough chances on down the field throws and played virtually mistake free. His one interception came on a play in which the Yellow Jackets had a free rush on the QB. Jones was hit as he threw and the ball floated in the middle of the field. The freshman topped 300 yards for the third time this season. Jones looked much more comfortable in the pocket that he had at any point so far this season. The offensive line and running backs didn’t do him any favors, but Jones stayed tuned into his mental clock and didn’t allow a pressuring defensive front to get to him.
The Duke tight ends had their best day of the season by far. Danial Helm, Davis Koppenhaver, and Eric Schneider combined for 12 catches for 173 yards. Helm caught two touchdown passes. Coming into the season the tight ends figured to be a strength for Duke, but up until this point the in game production hadn’t been there. They consistently got open down the seam and converted several key third downs. Chris Taylor showed well filling in for the injured Anthony Nash, but it was the tight ends who paced the offense.
Duke’s bowl chances were slim heading into the final 5 games of the season, but any sliver of hope of saving the season is gone now. Georgia Tech was the most winnable game remaining on Duke’s schedule, but the Blue Devils just couldn’t get it done. Their winning streak against Georgia Tech and triple option teams is over and any improvement over the last month of the season will only serve as hope for a better 2017.