Posted: 1:02 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013
A funny thing happened on the way to the shootout. The Duke defense showed up and salted away a 38-31 victory over Troy Saturday afternoon. The victory ends a two-game losing streak and puts Duke back on the good side of .500, at 3-2.
Duke trailed early, at 7-0, took a two-touchdown lead, at 28-14 in the middle of the second quarter and then saw Troy tie it at 28-28, less than two minutes into the second half.
At that point, defensive end Kenny Anunike says, Duke decided enough was enough. “We said we had to show them that we are a good team, a good defense. Get after that quarterback, take pressure off our back end and that’s what we did. We definitely intensified as the game went on. We started getting off blocks and getting to the quarterback.”
After allowing 28 points in the first 32 minutes, Duke held Troy to a single field goal over the final 28 minutes, garnering three sacks, while batting down two passes at the line of scrimmage.
Duke went three-and-out the first two times it had the ball. Troy converted a fourth down at the Duke five and scored two plays later.
Duke’s offense found its stride after that. Josh Snead went 52 yards on the first play from scrimmage after the Troy score and Brandon Connette connected with Max McCaffrey from seven yards out a few plays later.
That started a Duke surge in which the Blue Devils scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions, displaying a potent quick-strike capability. The second score included a 21-yard Jamison Crowder punt return an 18-yard Snead run and a 24-yard pass to Crowder. Connette scored from the three.
The next drive chewed up 94 yards in three plays, all passes, the final one 60 yards to a streaking Crowder.
Troy responded by going 75 yards in less than two minutes. That made it 21-14.
Duke answered, keyed by a play that David Cutcliffe called “one of the finest plays we’ve had here.” Pinned back on the Duke 18, third and twenty after a holding call, Connette hit true freshman Johnell Barnes with a 50-yarder, down the sideline.
But Cutcliffe said Duke threw it in that situation because they weren’t sure their defense could stop Troy. And after Troy held serve, making it 28-21, it looked for all the world like last week’s loss to Pittsburgh.
Duke finally got a big stop late in the first half, when Connette was intercepted at the Troy 34, with plenty of time for some more fireworks. But Anthony Young-Wiseman made a big tackle on third down and the half ended 28-21.
The respite was brief. Troy took the second-half kickoff and went 91 yards, aided by a roughing-the-passer call on Justin Foxx. Shooting Yourself in the Foot, 101.
But that was Troy’s high-water mark. Connette settled down and Duke converted a trio of third and longs to regain the lead. The big play was a 48-yard completion to Max McCaffrey on third and 10. That moved it to the four and Connette scored on the next play.
Duke missed a chance to get some separation when Ross Martin was wide left on a 38-yard field goal.
Duke tried to keep Troy in the game, the missed field goal, a botched handoff torpedoeing one drive, an off-side penalty keeping alive a Troy drive. But a Jonathan Woodruff sack forced a 37-yard field goal, that made it 35-31, with 12:44 left.
Troy picked up holding calls on its next two possessions, as Duke defensive line started asserting itself. “We started getting off our blocks and getting after the quarterback,” Anunike noted. Linebacker David Helton said Duke’s defensive line “played their butts off in the second half.”
Helton had a career-high 15 tackles, so he deserves more than a little praise in that area.
Duke got the ball back at its 33, with 4:12 left, picked up two first downs and forced Troy to use all three of its time-outs. Martin connected from 34 yards. Troy’s last-ditch effort was picked off by Jeremy Cash, as the clock struck zero.
Connette deserves much of the credit for Duke’s offensive prowess. He completed 20-28 for 324 yards and only that one interception. He passed for three scores and ran for two more. Connette has seven touchdown passes and four touchdown runs over the last two games.
Snead rushed for a career-high 108 yards, while Crowder had seven catches for 149 yards, adding 31 more yards on punt returns.
Duke has a week off before facing Navy and Cutcliffe says his team needs the rest. “We weren’t perfect in any area but we made some big plays. We shot ourselves in the foot and missed some chances to put the game away. My message at halftime was ‘win your personal battles’ and we started doing that.
“They caught us a little unready early and you can’t play defense back on your heels. We got better at managing that as the game progressed and became more aggressive.”
Connette rushed for his 22nd and 23rd touchdowns for Duke, passing Mike Dunn for the Duke career lead in rushing TDs by a quarterback. Only two running backs, Tom Davis (28) and Jay Calabrese (24) have more.
Duke’s 94-yard drive in the second quarter was their longest of the season and their 15th of at least 70 yards. Duke had seven plays of at least 20 yard, a season high.
Duke had a season best 10.0 tackles for loss, with safety Jeremy Cash accounting for 2.5.
No early word on injuries to Kyler Brown and Jela Duncan. Connette suffered what he called bruised ribs but said he never considered not coming back out.
Cutcliffe acknowledged after the game that Martin has been struggling in practice and that he wasn’t surprised when Martin missed in the third quarter. He also said he thought long and hard about not kicking the final one. He also said he has some ideas about how to get Martin back on track. He did not share those ideas.
by Jim Sumner