It took another gritty defensive performance and a little bit of good luck, but Duke moved to 4-1 and 2-0 in the ACC with a 9-7 win over Boston College. The Eagles had the chance to take the lead late, but a Colton Lichtenberg field goal missed wide left. Following a quick three and out by the offense, one final defensive stand would be enough to preserve the victory. Ross Martin was the only Blue Devil to score as Duke won without scoring a touchdown for the first time since 1978. The offense moved the ball, reasonably, well early, but couldn’t muster anything in the second half for the third consecutive week.
The Duke defense turned in another strong performance and carried the team to a victory. They held Boston College to just 100 total yards in the first half, zero through the air. The Eagles would eventually start to find some cracks in the Blue Devils defense in the second half, racking up 205 yards of offense after halftime. Tyler Flutie was threw for 129 yards in the second half, 66 coming on a long touchdown pass near the end of the third quarter. Breon Borders was beaten twice, badly, in the second half, one of which was the game’s lone touchdown. Both were very uncharacteristic plays from Borders, who has been the best one on one defender for Duke this season.
The Eagles limited success through the air came as a result of their commitment to running the ball. BC rushed 41 times in the game, an expected strategy, and broke off a handful of runs of 10+ yards. Duke gave up an average of 4.0 yards per carry, but the few plays where the defense was gashed on the ground was atypical from what we had seen during the first four games. Although it looked like the defense was poised to break at the worst time, they managed to get stops when they needed them most. A long BC field goal attempt would miss to the left and for the second week in a row the Duke offense owes the defense a nice, steak dinner.
It may not be obvious by looking at the box score, but the Duke offense actually showed some progress this week. It was never going to be easy against, arguably, the best defense in the country so far this season. Thomas Sirk only completed 18 of his 36 pass attempts for 195 yards, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Unlike the last couple of games, Sirk took plenty of shots over the middle of the field and along the seams, opposed to quick swing passes and dump downs. The only problem was, his receivers couldn’t consistently haul in the pass. Sirk was firing pinpoint passes with plenty of zip on the ball, but on multiple occasions he would see the ball bounce off the intended target’s hands.
Part of Duke’s inability to move the ball down the field against quality competition has been on the receivers and their inability to get open. Against BC they were able to create a little space, but couldn’t hold onto the ball. These drops unquestionably hindered the Blue Devil’s ability to sustain drives. TJ Rahming let a touchdown pass go through his arms in the first quarter. In a game in which yards and points on offense would be at a premium, these squandered opportunities could have been the difference in a win and a loss.
Duke didn’t turn the ball over despite taking some chances on offense. That’s always a good thing, but even more impressive considering the opponent and how the last couple weeks had gone. There could be some grumbling over Duke getting stuffed on four straight rushing attempts at the goal line. The lack of points could have came back to haunt the Blue Devils, but I feel pretty good saying Duke would’ve gotten that TD against anyone else on the schedule. It was also the correct call to go for it in that position. A TD would have, most likely, put the game out of reach and giving BC the ball inside their own 1 yard line was unlikely to result in a scoring drive.
Special teams play had a huge impact on the game. Against Northwestern, Duke lost the special teams battle after giving up a kickoff return for a touchdown and fumbling a punt in the fourth quarter. Last week, a Ryan Smith punt return to the 1 yard line and a DeVon Edwards kickoff return for a touchdown proved to be huge in the win. This week, Duke won the special teams battle again and, as a direct result, won the football game. Not only were Ross Martin’s three made field goals Duke’s only scoring in the game, Lichtenberg’s late miss squandered an opportunity for the Eagles to take the lead, and this was in addition to a botched snap on a BC field goal attempt earlier in the game. Johnell Barnes recovered a fumbled punt early in the second half. Duke wasn’t able to cash in, but the games lone turnover gave the Duke defense an opportunity to rest up for what would be a tiring second half. A Will Monday punt late in the fourth that went sideways and out of bounds, giving BC the ball at midfield needing just a field goal to win, could have cost Duke the game, but the defense was there to bail the Devils out once again.
Additional News & Notes
Duke is 4-1 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1965.
Duke is now 13-5 in the ACC since the start of the 2013 season.
Duke hasn’t lost in October since a loss at Florida State on October 27, 2012.