The Duke Blue Devils played two very different quarters in the first half, ending the first quarter up 16-3 before being outscored 14-0 by the Bearcats in the second. So, what the heck happened?
Duke came out looking sharp. The offense moved with ease, carving up Cincinnati via air and ground attacks, en route to a quick 9-0 lead. The Bearcats looked baffled early on, looking especially lost when Duke utilized Brandon Connette, who ran in their first touchdown, in offensive packages.
It wasn’t just the offense, either, as both the defense and special teams came up with big plays early on. The defense utilized constant pressure and fairly solid coverage to hold a high-octane Bearcat offense to just 3 points early on. Eleven minutes in, special teams decided to join the partyby blocking a punt deep in Cincinnati territory, resulting in Tony Foster recovering it in the endzone for a touchdown, extending Duke’s lead to 16-0. Cincinnati would tack on a field goal before the end of the quarter, but the Blue Devils appeared to be in complete control of the football game. Then, the second quarter happened.
Games with such drastic scoring differences amongst quarters typically have a single turning point one can point to, that one play that sparked the huge momentum swing. This game proved to be no exception, as Duke’s Jela Duncan fumbled as he was heading into the endzone, giving Cincinnati the football at their own one-yard line, rather than Duke taking a 23-3 lead.
From that point on, it was all downhill. Cincinnati began throwing and running the ball at will, Duke’s offense failed to convert a 4th-and-short, and by the time the dust settled, the Blue Devils found themselves down 17-16.
It was a disaster of a quarter, one which saw Duke give up four plays of 25+ yards. Duke had the chance to take the lead via a 53-yard Ross Martin field goal on the last play, but an illegal substitution penalty on Cincinnati forced Martin to retry the kick from 48-yards after his initial success. He would miss the kick, hooking it to the left by no more than a foot.
It will be interesting to see how the Blue Devils bounce back in the second half, as there is no momentum to be found for Coach Cutcliffe and Co.