Takeaways: Duke 52, Elon 13

Coach Cutcliffe took over in Durham with an idea for a system that would endure, and Saturday's big victory proves the system has firmly taken hold and is thriving at Duke.

The start of each football season at Duke, since the hiring of David Cutcliffe as head coach, has produced new and renewed optimism for a program that has had little success over the past couple of decades. Cutcliffe was brought in to change the culture of Duke football and to establish a winning program that had experienced more down years than up.

Part of establishing that successful program was planning and defining exactly what Cutcliffe’s system would be. After all, Duke presented unique challenges and distinct advantages - both of which had to be taken into account from game day preparation to the recruiting trail. In short, things needed to change.

After Saturday evening’s 52-13 performance over Elon University, it seems that the system is not only in place, but is working like a finely tuned machine as everyone in royal blue is on the same page. The Blue Devils had many players take the field for the first time in their collegiate careers, but the offensive system clicked and was efficient regardless of which players were between the lines.

The Blue Devils scored on their opening drive of 61 yards over the course of 11 plays, culminating with a four yard touchdown pass from Anthony Boone to Isaac Blakeney. Boone would account for three more touchdown passes with two of them to Jamison Crowder, including a 46 yard pass, and one more to Blakeney for 19 yards.

Thomas Sirk reported for the first live game action of his career on a 4th and 1 in the first half. During the second half, he would take over the team for his first full drive. Sirk would pass and run effectively moving the ball down the field. He would also account for two touchdown runs in the 4th quarter. Redshirt freshman quarterback Parker Boehme led the team 54 yards down the field at the end of the game, coming close to completing a touchdown pass to Johnell Barnes on fourth down.

The system is built around a steady hand under center, but it's also not all about the quarterback position. Duke’s returning running backs, Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell, began the game strong, running most plays north/south directly at Elon’s defense. A sign that the system is firmly in place is that Duke’s second leading rusher on the night Shaun Wilson, a true freshman from Charlotte, NC, with 71 yards second only to 74 yards by Snead.

“We haven’t had one like Shaun Wilson,“ Cutcliffe told the media. “He’s just a different back than what we’ve played with.”

Duke also had a promising performance from a fourth running back playing his first collegiate game in Joseph Ajeigbe, a redshirt freshman from Riverside, California.

Thomas Sirk spoke about the comfort level within the system that Coach Cutcliffe and new Offensive Coordinator, Scottie Montgomery, have established.

“Coach Montgomery did a great job calling tonight, a very similar offense that we run under Coach Cutcliffe. A lot of same plays, a lot of new things he brings. The tempo was a little bit faster than the one under Coach (Kurt) Roper….All units did a great job of executing.”

Duke’s top offensive threat, Jamison Crowder, agreed.

“I thought we executed our offense the way we wanted to. We had a couple of drives where we had to punt. We had more points as opposed to punts. That is something that Coach Mo (Montgomery) has preached to us is Points vs Punts.”

Duke would punt twice on the night.

For his part, the Duke head coach was well pleased with his new coordinator and believes his relative inexperience will be a non-factor going forward.

“If you’re thinking whether if Scottie Montgomery can coach quarterbacks and coordinate the offense, you don’t have to think about it anymore, do you? He did a really nice job.”

How did the first game feel to Shaquille Powell?

“It felt really good, really fluid. I was really impressed. First games you usually have something go wrong, you have substitution errors, guys not playing low. I think things went very well,” Powell said. When asked about the contributions of Ajeigbe and Wilson at running back, he continued, “It felt really good just to know that we have confidence in them, that they can come in, produce, and get yards. If ever we’re tired or if one of us goes down, (we need) to have confidence in them to keep our running game going.”

With the system in place, depth is no longer an issue. The team is completely focused on each opponent and each game. The recent success, two bowl games in back to back years, has built confidence throughout the program in the coaches and players. The next step is completing a season with a conference championship and/or a bowl victory.

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