The Duke Blue Devils entered their second game of the 2014 season seeking a second consecutive victory and to push their regular season win streak to 11 games.
Local sports radio commentators and fans were left contemplating how strong this Blue Devil team is after their 52-13 victory over Elon last week. Certainly Duke looked the part of a complete football team, but the level of competition was anything by illustrative. Meanwhile, Troy had struggled in their first game of the season, losing a lopsided contest, 48-10 to UAB.
After 15 minutes of football in Alabama, those questions seemed to be answered…and not in a way that was positive for anyone wearing royal blue.
Troy knocked the Blue Devils back in the first quarter, beginning the game with two consecutive 83 yard drives for rushing touchdowns by quarterback Brandon Silvers and running back Brandon Burkett. In between the two scores Duke managed a field goal by Ross Martin. Troy rushed directly through the Duke defense, a cause for concern on the field, on the sidelines, and in the eyes of the Blue Devil faithful who made the trip to Alabama as well as the ones who were watching from home.
Then came the second quarter when the Blue Devils finally seemed to arrive and got off the bus.
For the second consecutive game, Duke would score 21 points in the period, while making defensive adjustments that changed the flow of the game completely. Over the final three quarters of play, Duke would hold the Trojans to just three points.
“Getting those fourth down stops was huge for us,” said Helton. “We weren’t making the third down stops to get to that point.”
Much of the emphasis from the Blue Devil sideline was in defending plays that began by focusing on lateral movement, designed to create space within Duke’s 4-2-5 scheme.
“We need to work on stopping the run more,” said Jordan DeWalt-Ondinijo, “stopping those stretch plays…and screen passes to the sides.”
While the defense was being torched early on, the offensive unit wasn’t hitting its stride either. But, as the second quarter arrived, things began to pick up.
It began with Anthony Boone’s 30 yard option run. The senior signal caller would also account for a touchdown pass to Isaac Blakeney. Meanwhile Thomas Sirk would throw a jump pass to tight end David Reeves for yet another score.
The early adversity may have provided indigestion for fans, but following the contest Duke seemed to accentuate the positives from the game.
“It feels good to know that we have a team that can compete when things get hard,” said starting running back Shaquille Powell. “But, we had a lot of penalties. We can’t have penalties, so we have to tighten up our discipline.”
As for what the game taught his defense, team captain Jeremy Cash says the unit will, like last season, be a group that strengthens as the game and season progresses.
“We can win on the road. One of the things we learned last year is that we’re a second half defense. I don’t think we should necessarily have to wait until the second half, but when it comes down to the clutch, we’re going to be right here and ready to play.”
As for Coach David Cutcliffe’s response to the way his team answered the early 14-3 deficit…
“It was great to see. Probably our team didn’t understand, although though we tried to tell them, what it meant to come in here. I don’t think they understood it. There was nothing easy about it. We had to come back from being shocked. There was some frustration on the sideline which we had to calm down. We had to make sure we energized and not frustrate and I think we did a good job of that.”
Going forward against stronger opponents, Duke now has game experience of getting off the mat in an early deficit. Did Duke learn what it needed to in order to avoid getting in future early trouble?
The Blue Devils will use what they learned from this test at home against the Jayhawks of Kansas on Saturday.