Posted: 8:47 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013
Duke ended the non-conference portion of its 2013 schedule with a surprisingly easy 35-7 win over a dangerous Navy team.
Duke started Anthony Boone at quarterback, his first game since breaking a collarbone against Memphis back on September 7. Boone got the start after Brandon Connette told Duke he couldn’t go. More on that later.
Boone was rusty early. Duke moved the ball down to the Navy 19 on their first drive but Boone lost yardage on fourth and inches.
The play was supposed to be a pass to tight end Braxton Deaver. “I was supposed to hit the tight end,” Boone said “ and he got banged up and I took my eyes off him and thought he fell.” Boone tucked, ran and came up short.
It looked like a big missed opportunity at the time but ended up being merely a footnote. Because, after that, it was Duke that made the big plays, turning a close game into a second-half route.
Truth be told, Navy helped Duke out early. The Midshipmen marched from their 13 to the Duke six, converting a fourth and two along the way. But Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo played it safe on fourth and one, opting for the field goal. Nick Sloan drilled the short kick. But Navy was called for a false start. Sloan then missed from 29 yards out, wide right, preserving a scoreless tie.
Duke got another break on the subsequent drive when center Matt Skura recovered Jamison Crowder’s fumble at the Navy 37.
Three plays later Boone hit Isaac Blakeney for a 27-yard touchdown.
Ross Martin’s PAT put Duke up 7-0, with 9:35 left in the half.
Navy responded quickly, beating Duke on option pitches for 9, 7 and 47 yards, setting up an eight-yard Darius Staten score. Navy used only 1:46 in a five-play drive that tied the score.
By this point, Boone says he was settling in. He called the first period “flying bullets,” as he adjusted to the speed of the game. But once he found his sea legs, he was almost unstoppable, finding a variety of receivers, including redshirt freshman Anthony Nash, who made the first three receptions of his career, one of which was a 14-yarder on third and 10 that set up Duke’s second touchdown.
Boone hit Max McCaffrey from the three for the score.
Duke has been plagued in recent weeks by late-half defensive lapses and it looked like deja vu all over again when Navy converted a third and 20 from the Duke 46.
Navy had a first down at the Duke six, with less than a minute to play in the half. A spike stopped the clock, setting up the biggest play of the game. Keenan Reynolds dropped back to pass and found a whole lot of Kenny Anunike in his way.
“I remember everything slowing down in my mind,” Anunike said, “and seeing the quarterback keep the ball and I hit him as hard as I possibly could and the ball went flying.”
A sack and a fumble. Just what Duke’s beleaguered defense had not been generating. Kelby Brown fell on the ball at the 10, ending Navy’s last scoring opportunity.
Brown’s take? “Kenny got great pressure and I just happened to be there. I probably should have picked it up and ran but something in my head said fall on it before anyone else can.”
Brown can be forgiven for the indecision. David Cutcliffe said after the game that he didn’t expect Brown to play and the redshirt junior admitted that he had had a rough week at practice. But he said he felt comfortable in pre-game warm-ups and told Cutcliffe that he could be effective.
Navy got the ball at the beginning of the second half, down only seven. Cutcliffe said the late turnover energized Duke at halftime. He also said Duke made some adjustments to the pitch, forcing Navy to “decide earlier.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said Jeremy Cash enabled Duke to match Navy’s versatility, while the defensive line “controlled the line of scrimmage.”
Whatever the recipe of energy scheme and personnel, Duke shut down Navy in the second half, holding the visitors to three first downs and 73 total yards, while forcing two more turnovers.
On the other end of the ball, Duke was blending runs, short passes and the occasional down-field shot into long scoring drives. Duke moved 72 yards on its first possession of the second-half, all on Boone’s arm, the final 18 coming on an Isaac Blakeney catch.
A Jonathan Woodruff sack on third down led to a Navy punt. Duke took over at their 28. Boone started the drive with passes of 21 and 9 yards to tight end Braxton Deaver, but then Jela Duncan–the fourth of Duke’s pick-a-name-out-of-the-hat-running-back rotation-carried five times out of six plays, taking it in from the five.
Duncan had 33 rushing yards on that drive.
Duke converted a fake field-goal to set up its final score. Shaq Powell took it in from seven yards out for his first Duke touchdown, with 11:36 left.
Duke probably could have scored again but took some knees late. Who saw that coming? Remember Duke was a tenuous three-point favorite over the 3-1 Middies.
Cutcliffe said it “was the best game we’ve played as a team since we’ve been at Duke” and it’s hard to argue with a four-touchdown win over a program that’s been to nine bowls over the last ten seasons.
Niumatalolo said Navy “got our butts whooped. We got outcoached, we got outplayed. It’s been a long time since we’ve been beat that bad in every phase.”
Getting back to a bowl is a sub-plot of every Duke game and at 4-2, it’s very doable, especially if Duke can build on this for the upcoming two-week invasion of Virginia. But this was a must-win or pretty close to it for Duke and the Blue Devils responded with a superb all-around effort.
Connette tweaked an ankle while jogging in from practice Thursday. He practiced yesterday and appeared fine. But the pain increased and he underwent treatment at 6 Saturday. He told Cutcliffe he couldn’t go and Boone found out he was getting the nod about 10 minutes before kickoff.
Boone ended the game 31-38, for 295 yards. His .816 completion percentage is the sixth best in Duke history.
Jamison Crowder caught 10 of those completions, for 88 yards. Crowder has 47 catches on the season.
Anunike’s sack was the 12th of his career. He is eighth on Duke’s career list.
All four of Duke’s running backs averaged at least five yards per carry.
Duke defensive end Jamal Wallace likely will need surgery after suffering an ankle injury.
by Jim Sumner