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DURHAM, N.C. — A big fourth quarter interception, fumble recovery and timely explosives on offense proved to be the difference on Saturday, as Duke moved to 3-0 on the season with a 34-20 victory over Baylor.
"I’m proud of our team,” David Cutcliffe said. “We won the fourth quarter. We won the effort game in the fourth quarter, the intensity game in the fourth quarter and that’s something we’ve worked very hard at trying to do."
Despite three notable breakdowns resulting in long scoring plays, the Blue Devils had a strong performance on defense helping them pick up the win, holding the Bears to 320 yards of total offense and forcing four turnovers. The most notable aspect of Duke’s effort was its dominance on third down. Baylor, just as Northwestern and NC Central, had no answer for the Blue Devils relentless pressure on third down.
The result for Baylor was just one conversion on 12 third down attempts.
Joe Giles-Harris was strong for the Blue Devils from the start, disrupting Baylor’s ground and pass attacks. Giles-Harris wreaked havoc in the offensive backfield, posting 2.5 tackles for loss, while also helping fellow linebacker Ben Humphreys provide pressure on the quarterback.
The sophomore linebacker finished the game with a team-best 12 tackles, while also registering one interception after Jordan Hayes forced the ball loose from the Bears’ intended receiver.
Humphreys and Jeremy McDuffie were perhaps the Blue Devils’ biggest contributors on third down defense. Humphreys lived in the offensive backfield with three official quarterback hurries, and countless other instances in which he helped flush quarterback Zach Smith out of the pocket and into additional defenders.
McDuffie was responsible for multiple solo tackles on third down, while also adding four pass breakups and one pick in the game.
Humphreys also came up big in pass coverage with a fourth quarter pick-6 to swing the momentum back in Duke’s favor and push the Devils’ lead from four points to 11 at 31-20 with 11:31 remaining in the game.
The interception by Humphreys reignited the Duke defense, which held Baylor to a three-and-out on their next possession. Duke’s defense stepped up again on Baylor’s next possession when Michael Carter forced a Zach Smith fumble. Drew Jordan recovered it at the Baylor 26-yard-line, which ultimately led to a Duke 26-yard field goal by Austin Parker and a 34-20 lead to seal the victory.
"Joe had a lot of big tackles for losses and every time you looked up No. 44, particularly early, was doing something," Cutcliffe added. "And Ben’s ability to blitz, Ben’s ability to time things - and he timed that zone coverage and got the pick-6. What a time in the game for that. It was a thing of beauty."
As a whole, Duke’s defense registered 10 tackles for loss, nine quarterback hurries, eight pass breakups and three interceptions. Though Duke has decreased the number of explosives it has allowed as a whole, the Devils have not been able to eliminate them, as 196 of Baylor’s 320 yards came on three big plays.
Baylor connected on scoring plays of 79, 73 and 44 yards. Each of Baylor’s explosives came through the air.
"I understand the explosives and what’s occurring," Cutcliffe noted. "I know that’s probably all Jim Knowles is focused on - well, he shouldn’t be. There were too many other things to focus on. Yes, you’ve got to minimize explosives, but we knew going in that was going to be the approach. We did a nice job defending a bunch of them. It’s something for us to work on defensively. I thought overall we tackled well."
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Offensively, Duke had some positives, but also plenty of concerns.
The Blue Devils did manage some more gaudy numbers on offense - 439 total yards, including scoring plays of 65, 50 and 34 yards.
Duke’s ground game was a force from the start, with Shaun Wilson posting 176 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. His touchdown runs of 65 and 50 yards made him Duke’s all-time leader in touchdowns on plays of 50 yards or more with six.
Wilson was also a threat in the passing game, pulling in five passes for 32, including a 21-yard reception.
Brittain Brown also had a strong effort, rushing for 86 yards and one score on 18 carries. He, too, was a big threat in the Duke passing game with four receptions for 71 yards.
Aside from the effort of Duke’s running backs, it wasn’t exactly the best showing of the season for the Blue Devils.
Quarterback Daniel Jones was 20-of-35 for 193 yards, but his decision-making was questionable at times. He was picked off once, and nearly intercepted on at least two additional occasions. He was sacked five times, which the offensive line certainly takes partial blame for, but Jones had opportunities to prevent sacks by throwing the ball away. Unfortunately for Duke, Jones did not get rid of the football, ultimately putting the offense in tough situations.
In Jones’ defense, he’s still very much a young quarterback, but careless decisions with the football helped put Duke in a much closer game than it should have become.
Despite the struggles at times, Duke showed a lot of promise and an ability to move the football. Cutcliffe was particularly pleased with the running game.
"Offensively, the running game is going to be critical. One of the things that happens in the running game against multitudes of stunts, is you have to just keep calling it. Sometimes the tendency is to get away from it when you get stopped for one or two or three yards. But also what happens is what we saw Shaun Wilson do. You have to trust. You have to systematically trust the way you approach it."
The offensive line was exposed for the first time this season, as Baylor put constant pressure on the backfield. As mentioned, Jones could have helped prevent some of the sacks by throwing the ball away, but the young signal caller had a defender in his face all day long.
Six quarterback hurries and 12 tackles for loss kept this Baylor team in the game for much of the day.
Baylor penalties, particularly in the first half, countered much of the Bears’ positive efforts. For the game, Baylor was whistled 11 times for 100 yards.