Army dropped more defenders into zone coverage than the Blue Devils had seen and that created problems for quarterback Sean Renfree, who a year ago made his college debut by completing 7 of 8 passes against the Black Knights.
This time, he threw two of his first five passes into the hands of Army defenders for interceptions.
"At that point in time, I think everyone was in shock," coach David Cutcliffe said. "I've been doing this a long time. That about floored me."
Duke has been outscored in the first quarter of the past two games by a combined 42-10.
The plan to work him into the mix against Army was evident immediately as three of Renfree's first four passes were intended for Vernon, who eclipsed his yardage total from the previous week in the first quarter Saturday, with two catches for 16 yards. Vernon ended up with 129 receiving yards for his third game in triple digits this season.
But this left receiver Donovan Varner, a 2009 All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, on the outside. Varner had a season-low three catches, while his 29 receiving yards marked his second-lowest total in the last two seasons.
--Duke faced a 7-0 deficit just 69 seconds into the game against Army. The previous week, Alabama took 79 seconds to score on Duke. All four Blue Devil opponents have scored first, all within the first four minutes of the game.
--QB Brandon Connette, the backup, has been effective in red zone situations. He has scored the team's first touchdown on first-quarter runs in two of the Blue Devils' four games.
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Josh Snead -- A true freshman, Snead tried to give the Blue Devils an energy boost with kickoff returns. His 32-yard return was the best of the day. He also averaged 6.4 yards per attempt on five carries out of the backfield.
KEEP AN EYE ON: S Matt Daniels -- Daniels racked up nine tackles for the second game this season. He was called upon to assist with run support more than usual against Army, and thus players in the secondary were forgiven by coach David Cutcliffe for allowing a couple of big pass plays by Army. Daniels will be required to make more adjustments with the next game at Maryland.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hey, I don't blame them. I would have left, too. True story." -- WR Conner Vernon on fans flooding toward the exits as the Blue Devils trailed 35-7 in the third quarter against Army a week after an energized crowd of mostly Alabama fans showed up to watch the nation's top-ranked team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: LB Abraham Kromah has played up to his expectations as a leader among the team's linebackers. For a unit unsure of where the playmakers would come from, Kromah notched his first double-digit game for tackles with 13 against Army.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Blue Devils went 1 of 8 on third-down conversions on offense against Army, unable to take advantage of flooding the field with receivers. Duke was so shaky in these situations that it chose to punt on fourth down from near midfield with about 10 minutes remaining, drawing a round of boos. "I would have booed too," coach David Cutcliffe said.
--LB Austin Gamble, a sophomore, was elevated to the starting lineup against Army but he went out with an injury in the second quarter and didn't return.
--WR Brandon Braxton, a freshman who had only one catch through three games, was the starter at one of the wideout spots in place of WR Austin Kelly. Braxton caught a 21-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
--DE Sydney Sarmiento, a redshirt freshman in the starting lineup, blocked a first-quarter field goal attempt against Army.