USA Today Sports
DURHAM, N.C. — A slow start defensively and missed opportunities on offense cost Duke a chance to move to 5-0 Friday night.
The Blue Devils fell to Miami 31-6 after falling behind by two scores early in the first quarter, and never able to recover. David Cutcliffe’s squad was pushed around defensively on the first two drives, but despite a strong final three quarters of play, Duke was never able to recover.
The blame falls heavily on Duke’s inability to find the end zone on offense, despite moving the ball fairly well between the 20s.
“You’ve got to give credit to them and their defense," Daniel Jones said. "Bringing pressure where it made us have to do something to pick it up and a lot of that’s on me with protection and make sure I’m managing that. We’ve got to get better there. There front seven played great and give credit to their secondary.
"I think we moved the ball effectively for a large majority of the game. I think there were certainly times where we didn’t, but I think it just came down to third downs. We just weren’t executing. We weren’t able to stay on the field. We were able to move the ball and we were able to run the ball especially well. We just weren’t able to stay on the field on third down and that makes it hard."
Miami appeared to be in a position to completely dominate the game, after the Devils defense gave up 144 yards and two touchdowns on the Hurricanes’ first two possessions.
Hurricane quarterback Malik Rosier was picking apart the Duke secondary, connecting on his first nine pass attempts of the game. The junior quarterback faced almost no pressure from a defense that ranks among the nation’s best in sacks.
Then things changed.
Duke registered back-to-back sacks from the combo of Trevon McSwain and Drew Jordan, and then Mike Ramsay. It was at that point the Blue Devils began to settle down and take control defensively. After completing his first nine passes, Rosier connected on just 6 of his next 17 and tossed one interception in the process.
The next two drives resulted in punts before the Hurricanes tacked on three more points after a Duke turnover deep in its own territory. Even with the additional three points, the Blue Devils defense stood tall, posting an impressive goal-line stand to force the field goal.
Duke’s defense continued to keep the Blue Devils in the game until late, but he Hurricanes ultimately finished with 409 total yards.
A lapse early in the fourth quarter, a 49-yard touchdown strike from Rosier to Ahmmon Richards sealed the win for the Hurricanes, putting them up three scores. Duke’s defense gave up yet another big play late in the game, a 40-yard scoring run by Travis Homer.
“They did a good job," Mike Ramsay said in reference to Miami's strong start. "They opened up and got some big bombs. I feel like we just came out flat footed and didn’t play well. We rallied after those two big touchdowns. We started playing harder, and then there was a drop off there at the end.
"Those (sacks) were big plays that we needed to get energy up and bring momentum in our favor. But we’ve got to keep it going. We can’t just have one or two. I feel like I personally didn’t do well in the second half. You have to keep it going throughout the entire game"
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the offense was never able to find a groove. Despite gaining 349 total yards and visiting the red zone three times, Duke was never able to close the scoring gap created early in the first half.
The Blue Devils offense turned it over on downs two times on the night, two of which killed promising drives - one being the first of the night, the second coming late in the third quarter after Bryon Fields picked off Rosier for his third interception of the season.
Daniel Jones and the Duke passing game failed to exploit a Miami secondary that had been an obvious weak spot for the Hurricanes defense through their first two games of the season. Jones completed just 21-of-41 pass attempts for 166 yards and an interception. He was unable to find the end zone, despite connecting with Johnathan Lloyd for nine receptions and 82 yards.
Opportunities were certainly present for the Blue Devils, as the defense continually provided the offense chances to close the gap on the scoreboard. Third down conversion issues were a culprit of Duke’s struggles, most notably seen through passing down issues.
The Duke ground game did produce 183 yards, averaging four per carry. But, just as Duke’s passing attack struggled to get going, the Devils’ running backs were unable find their way into the end zone during visits to the red zone.