Observations From Duke’s Win Over No. 20 Georgia Tech

Credit:Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Devils bounced back in a big way with a win over the defending Coastal Division champions on a rainy day at Wallace Wade.  The Duke defense came up huge again with a performance that can only be described as dominant.  They held the powerful Georgia Tech triple option to just 2.9 yards per rush.  Duke returned with a strong special teams performance and overcame another horrid second half by the offense to defeat Georgia Tech for the second straight season.

Key Observations

It’s time to stop wondering if the Duke defense is good enough to win the Coastal.  Coming into the season the biggest question was whether or not Duke could play well enough up front to slow the kind of rushing attacks they would see in conference play.  Through four games Duke has one of the most formidable defensive units in the nation.  The Yellow Jackets average 377 rushing yards per game.  They left Durham with only 173.  You can’t say enough about how well Duke has obsorbed the losses of Kelby Brown, David Helton, Dezmond Johnson, and others.  The rotation on the defensive line and at linebacker features so much speed and athleticism Duke can adapt to defend almost every kind of offense they will see.  Breon Borders has become a shut down corner.  Borders hasn’t been tested very often this season, but one of the few times he was on Saturday turned into a crucial interception late in the game.  There are no words to accurately describe the kind of season Jeremy Cash is having.  The All-American safety looks like a pro playing in the college game.  It seems like Cash has an impact on nearly every single play.  Saturday’s game was one of his best in a Duke uniform.  Cash was credited with 12 tackles, 5 solo, 1 sack, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 QB hurries.  As impressive as that stat line is, it undersells the kind of impact Jeremy Cash had on the football game.  Enjoy him Duke fans, you don’t get to see many players like this.

The most surprising part of last week’s loss to Northwestern was how poorly the Blue Devils performed on special teams.  The Blue Devils gave up a touchdown on a kickoff and Ryan Smith fumbled a punt that would have given Duke the ball at midfield in the fourth quarter.  Clearly special teams was a point of emphasis this week, because Saturday was a total reversal for the Blue Devils.  Ryan Smith took a punt 69 yards before going out at the one yard line.  Smith had shown some nice moves on a few returns this season, but by and large has had very few opportunites to give a good return.  Duke’s blocking on punts had not been very strong through three games.  Then in the second half when the Blue Devils desperately needed a spark, there was DeVon Edwards taking a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.  In just the fourth game of the season Edwards scored his second kickoff for a touchdown in 2015 and the fifth of his career.  Games are won and lost on special teams and Coach Cutcliffe puts as much emphasis on special teams as he does offense and defense.  It has shown during the past few successful seasons in Durham and may have been the difference Saturday, as well.

It wasn’t all thumbs up for the Devils’ performance against Georgia Tech.  For the second consecutive week, after a solid start to the game the Duke offense has totally disappeared.  Duke gained just 75 yards and had only two first downs in the second half.  Thirty of those yards came on a game sealing touchdown run by Shaq Powell, his third of the day.  They simply could not generate any momentum in the second half.  Sirk only had 114 passing yards on 17 completions, as he settled for short passes or QB runs on the option.  He ran for 52 yards on 13 carries.  He threw 2 inexcusable interceptions in the second half and if it wasn’t for the spirited performance by the defense the game story might have been very different.  The problem still hasn’t been pinpointed exactly.  Sirk still hasn’t found his go to reciever, nor has the recieving unit proven capable to consistently get open down the field.  While the run game has performed well overall, Duke hasn’t been able to make much room up the middle in the second half.  It certainly doesn’t make things any easier on the offense when all of your third downs need 6 or more yards to move the chains.  Duke will be going up against a very good defense next week when Boston College comes to town.  They are going to have to create some opportunities for themselves on offense, because the Eagles aren’t going to give them any easy ones.

Additional News & Notes

Jela Duncan saw his first action of the season after tearing his pectoral muscle in practice.  He had 23 yards on 4 carries and one catch for 5 yards.

Duke has won back to back games against Georgia Tech for the first time since winning three straight in the series from 1987-1989.

Duke is 1 of only 9 teams in the nation to have played 2 ranked opponents in the first four weeks of the season.

Duke is now 4-1 against ranked teams in the regular season since 2013.