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Duke 38, Syracuse 24: Defense falters as Blue Devils run over Orange

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Injuries were the salt in the wound for the Orange

NCAA Football: Duke at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The first three weeks of the season were spent praising Tony White’s new 3-3-5 scheme that had energized the Syracuse Orange defense. However, cracks in run stuffing against Georgia Tech were blown into gaping holes by the Duke Blue Devils as former Clemson nemesis Chase Brice handed the ball off to multiple hundred yard rushers in a 38-24 ‘Cuse loss.

Syracuse began the game kicking off to Duke, and the Blue Devils hit the ground running, literally. Two big plays (a 20 yard run and a 10 yard pass) moved the visitors into ‘Cuse territory, and after a big 3rd down conversion, Brice found Jalon Calhoun for a 26 yard touchdown to make it 7-0.

The Orange decided that the best way to answer was with a big play. On 2nd and 14, Tommy DeVito nailed Taj Harris on a 79 touchdown that was simply Harris burning Leonard Johnson and DeVito dropping a dime for Harris to catch in stride.

With the game tied 7-7, Duke went back to work earning solid yardage against the Orange on the ground and with backfield passes. It took just 4 plays to move into Syracuse territory after the kickoff, and a Brice 10 yard pass to Jarett Garner got the Blue Devils to the 39 yard line. A big 3rd down stop led to a Duke 4th down conversion attempt that failed after an under thrown pass to a wide open Eli Pancol was dropped.

The Orange went 3 and out, punting to Duke, who promptly got to the Syracuse 19 thanks to a 49 yard run by Mateo Durant. On 3rd down, Brice overthrew Calhoun right into the arms of a very surprised Trill Williams, who couldn’t hold onto the ball. Duke nailed the field goal, going ahead 10-7.

Syracuse’s next drive was helped by by a 15 yard pass interference that moved the ball to the ‘Cuse 48. But drops and missed throws stalled the Orange, and a good punt was negated by a 50 yard rush by D. Johnson. However, Rob Hanna saved what could have been another Duke score by forcing a fumble that the Orange recovered on their own 32. However, another 3 and out led to a 62 yard Cooney punt and Duke back on their own 20.

A Duke 3 and out got the Orange the ball on their own 28, but another 3 and out (with more drops) led to another ‘Cuse punt. Brice and Duke ended the first quarter with a big third down rushing conversion, allowing the Blue Devils to keep the ball going into the 2nd quarter, but it would go downhill for Duke from there. On 2nd and 8, Brice rolled out right, and an unblocked Cam Jonas laid out Brice, setting up an easy scoop and score by Geoff Cantin-Arku, putting the Orange up 14-10.

That play apparently was enough for Gunnar Holmberg to enter the game, and the redshirt-sophomore earned a couple of Duke first downs, moving into Orange territory on 6 plays. However, fumble luck continued to favor the Orange with a forced fumble by Mckinley Williams recovered by Cody Roscoe. Sean Tucker was the showcase player on the Orange follow up drive, earning 41 yards. However, a bad spot on an attempted quick 4th and 1 conversion led to the Orange turning the ball over.

With Brice back at QB, Duke methodically moved the ball up the field, with a combination of runs, pass interference penalty, and darts by Brice. However, once Duke made it to the Orange 33, Brice was almost picked by Mikel Jones, which seemed to stop the momentum. On 4th and 6, Duke missed the 46 yard kick, but a Garret Williams roughing the kicker penalty was sold by Charlie Ham. Durant punched it in from the 15, and Duke went ahead 17-14.

The Orange were unable to muster anything on the follow up drive, with the Syracuse offensive line struggling against 3 and 4 man rushes. A 58 yard punt pinned Duke inside their own 20, but that wouldn’t slow them down. It took 7 plays to move 35 yards and reach Syracuse territory, but a block in the back moved Duke to their own 48. Brice found Garner for a 52 yard touchdown, made possible by Cantin-Arku’s inability to wrap up the receiver in front of the first down sticks. ‘Cuse would be unable to do much before the end of the half, and the Orange trailed 24-14 at the beginning of the 2nd half.

The Orange started the half with a ball on their own 12, and a guaranteed TD from DeVito was dropped by Nykiem Johnson. A bad 3rd down designed draw led to another ‘Cuse punt, giving Duke the ball on their own 49. Duke opted to keep the ball on the ground, grinding a first down, and Cantin-Arku suffering a painful looking knee injury on the play. A big third down forced fumble by Kingsley Jonathan forced Duke to settle for a field goal, extending their lead to 27-14.

The Orange offense finally woke up, thanks to a big play from DeVito to Taj Harris, the latter who broke a tackle and earned 23 yards on a reception. The next play, DeVito hit tight end Luke Benson out of the backfield for a 53 yard touchdown to cut the Duke lead to 27-21.

Duke answered with yet another methodical drive, moving into Red Zone on just 6 plays. However, Mikel Jones stepped up and picked off Brice over the middle after an unblocked Roscoe caused the QB to panic. However, the Orange went 3 and out on the ensuing drive, and a poor punt put Duke on the ‘Cuse 45.

The Blue Devils ended up back in the Red Zone after G. Williams was unable to contain a first down throw to Calhoun, and on second down on the next series, Brice found Jake Bobo to put the ball on the goal line. The Orange defense held firm, and forced a field goal to keep the deficit manageable at 30-21.

The next Orange drive saw the 3rd quarter end the Orange offense do something it had not done much of: put together a drive. It took 7 plays and 40 yards to move into Duke territory, and a first down completion to Aaron Hackett got the Orange to the Duke 35 and into Andre Szymt’s range. After a completion to Anthony Queeley, DeVito was sacked an apparently injured. Rex Cullpepper found Harris who was unable to break free of his tackle, setting up a 48 yard field goal, pulling the Orange within 6.

Duke was able to continue to move the ball, but on 2nd and 7 from their own 48, Brice had another potential interception dropped by Ja’Had Carter. Brice converted the 3rd down, and the Duke running game carried the Blue Devils into the Red Zone. The rushing game finished off the drive, with Durant scoring, and Brice scampering for a 2 point conversion to make it 38-24 Duke.

Cullpepper took the helm as DeVito joined the sidelines in a boot with crutches, and was unable to complete a pass, taking a sack on 3rd down forcing a ‘Cuse punt that essentially ended the game. Duke ran out the clock, and walked out of The Stadium with a victory.


The loss wasn’t fun, the defense was worrisome, but the injuries that completely decimated the defense (especially the secondary) along with Tommy DeVito. This could mean the rest of the season’s outlook has completely changed after this game.