Posted: 10:05 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013
Duke opened its 2013 season with a decisive 45-0 thumping of North Carolina Central, posting the program’s first shutout since beating North Carolina 41-0, back in 1989. It is Duke’s first shutout at Wallace Wade since edging Wake Forest 3-0, in 1978.
David Cutcliffe said the shutout “wasn’t a fluke. They lined up well, did what they had to, competed well. It’s hard to do that [a shutout] in this day and age.”
Central plays at a level below Duke and there was never much of a chance they could pull off the upset. But that’s 20/20 hindsight. And this is Duke football we’re talking about.
Or is it? The off-season narrative has been that Duke is going to build on last season’s bowl run and it’s hard to argue with that narrative so far. There were some late penalties, a few dropped passes and a missed field goal. But Duke outgained the visitors 488 yards to 184, turned it over but once and didn’t punt until the middle of the third period.
Put simply, Duke took care of business, the way that good programs take care of business.
The Blue Devils came up empty on its first possession, keeping the ball for five minutes and 12 plays. But Max McCaffrey–making his first Duke start–dropped a third-down pass and Ross Martin missed a 38-yard field-goal.
But Duke shrugged it off. The Duke defense got a three-and-out and the Duke offense went back on the field. This was the last thing Central wanted. FCS teams don’t have as many scholarships to offer, it was brutally hot and Duke executed its hurry-up offense with efficiency that belied the August date. Central hit the wall early and often.
A 25-yard Jamison Crowder punt return set Duke up at the Central 43. Six plays later Brandon Connette connected with tight end Braxton Deaver for the 3-yard score.
NC Central picked up their initial first down but had to punt again. This time Crowder took it at the Duke 24.
Here’s his description of what happened next. “Once I caught it, I just saw a crease and everything was well blocked by our guys, so i just wanted to hit the crease full speed. That happened and I was able to take it to the house.”
It was the seventh-longest punt return in Duke history.
The rout was on. Duke made it 21-0 with a 73-yard drive, overcoming a Takoby Cofield holding penalty when Anthony Boone connected with Brandon Braxton for 19 yards on 3rd-and-11. Two plays later, Connette scored from a yard out. It was the 18th rushing touchdown of Connette’s Duke career; Mike Dunn leads in that category for quarterbacks, with 22.
The Eagles briefly got on the scoreboard when Tazmon Foster scooped up an apparent Anthony Nash fumble and took it in. But after a lengthy video review, the officials ruled that Nash never had possession of the ball and changed the call to incomplete pass.
Duke not only retained possession but leveraged the opportunity into another touchdown drive, 82 yards worth. An illegal block pushed Duke back to its 13 but Boone connected with true freshman Ryan Smith, a 5’7″ speedster, for 39 yards on 3rd-and-13.
Boone finished off the drive, from a yard out.
Central made a final push, right before halftime. But Ross Cockrell broke up a third-down pass and Oleg Parent was wide left from 41.
The third period was more of the same, two more Duke scores.
An early Duke drive stalled in NCCU territory and Will Monday made his first punt of the game, with 9:50 left in the third. Returner Theo Livingston was tackled at the 12, one of many big plays that led Cutcliffe to single out for praise his special teams; a subsequent Monday punt was downed at the 2.
Duke got it back and moved 55 yards in five plays, the first two passes from Boone to Crowder, the last three runs by Jela Duncan, the score coming from 3 yards out.
Duke’s final touchdown came late in the third quarter, following an exchange of turnovers. Duke’s was an interception on a shaky Connette pass. But Josh Snead–one of four Duke running backs to rush for at least 30 yards-broke a 31-yarder and Connette redeemed himself with a 19-yard scoring strike to Isaac Blakeney.
Up 42-0 after three quarters, Duke dialed it down in the fourth, throwing sparingly and playing pretty much every healthy human being wearing blue. A couple of penalties killed a promising drive but Martin got a chance to start a field-goal-streak and nailed it, from 39 yards.
That ended the scoring.
A trio of missing-in-action-last year players shook off the rust with solid performances. Deaver had three catches, while linebacker Kelby Brown led Duke with seven tackles; Fellow linebacker David Helton matched that number. Safety Jeremy Cash had six tackles, after sitting out last season as a transfer.
But lots of guys had positives to carry into next week. Boone was 16-20 and that’s with two drops. Tailbacks Duncan, Snead, Juwan Thompson and Shaquille Powell rushed 34 times for 206 yards and nine receivers caught passes; tight end Nick Sink and freshmen wideouts Smith and Johnell Barnes had their first career catches. True freshman Breon Borders had an interception in his first college game.
It gets tougher next week, a visit to Memphis, coming off a lousy 2012 season. But it’s a road game against an FCS team looking to start a rebound season of their own. Kelby Brown says Duke won’t rest on its laurels. “A lot of stuff to correct. A lot of stuff to clean up. A chance to make huge strides.”
Notes. Duke defeated NC Central 49-14 in 2009 and 54-17 last season.
The win was Duke’s fourth consecutive over in-state opponents. It ended a five-game losing streak.
Five true freshmen saw the field; cornerbacks Borders and Bryan Fields, safety Deondre Singleton and wide receivers Barnes and Smith.
Central was held to nine first downs and 184 yards. The former is the second-lowest total of Cutcliffe’s Duke tenure
Crowder’s punt return was the 39th punt return for a touchdown in Duke history, the first for Crowder. Crowder had 113 return yards and 62 receiving yards, on six catches.
Kenny Anunike had a sack in the first quarter, the 10th of his career.
by Jim Sumner