The Duke Blue Devils (5-2, 1-2) go on 35-0 run to breeze past the shocked Virginia Cavaliers (2-5, 0-3) in Charlottesville, 35-22.
Whenever a comeback takes place in the world of sports, fans make a habit out of trying to find the ‘turning point’ of the contest: the moment where every little thing changed. While it is a bit crazy – the turning of the tide is always a result of moving pieces, shifting approaches – there always seems to be that one key moment in every game where the last positive result takes place for one side, while the other reaps the endlessly joyful benefits.
These moments usually consist of the losing team finally making a key interception or a third-string running back breaking five tackles and rumbling into the end zone. It is a moment of pure glory where, almost instantly, the mythical ‘momentum shift’ takes place, and both teams are aware of it.
In the case of Duke-Virginia, however, the commonly observed turning point came in the second quarter, as Virginia was busy kicking the Blue Devils while they were down.
Virginia, leading 20-0 after RB Kevin Parks‘ third touchdown of the day, lined up for the two-point conversion and easily converted on a sweep to WR Miles Gooch. The Cavs broke out into full-on celebration on the sidelines. Head coach Mike London eccentrically bounced around like a man who had clinched at least another week of job security. The party was starting early in Charlottesville, and the energy was undeniable.
It certainly woke Duke up.
Virginia wouldn’t add so much as a single point the rest of the night, all while Duke’s offense marched up and down the field to the tune of 472 total yards and thirty-five points. By the time the dust settled, the scoreboard suggested it hadn’t been very close at all, a tribute to the undeniably effective halftime-adjustments David Cutcliffe and his staff implemented (rather than the result of the two-point conversion being a ‘turning point’) and the spirit of a Blue Devil team that refused to say die.
With all due respect to the coaching staff, the biggest reason for the turnaround goes to QB Anthony Boone. At one point, Boone was 4-14 for 29 yards passing the ball, and he did everything to earn it. He frequently missed throws and reads, struggling to make the easiest of tosses. However, as the game ran on and adjustments were made, Boone began to tear the Virginia secondary to pieces. He would go on to finish with a fairly respectable line, going 21-39 for 245 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The biggest single play, however, came in the fourth quarter, when backup-QB Brandon Connette faked a handoff on 4th-and-short, rolled out and dumped it off to TE Braxton Deaver, who raced 47 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. It was the kind of play that exemplified the brilliance of Cutcliffe. Connette, Duke’s run-first specialist, faked out the Virginia defense with both the play action and the roll out. It was a gutsy call that worked to perfection, and Virginia’s defense never seemed to recover (they would give up ten more points in the quarter).
Despite the early struggles, this was the type of game I’ve been waiting on from Duke. They showed relentlessness, never wavering as the possibility of a Virginia blowout grew more and more likely. They were balanced; the team finished with 180 rushing yards, with four separate players averaging 4+ ypc. The Blue Devils even showed how dangerous they can be at pressuring the quarterback, as they revealed numerous blitz packages we hadn’t seen before in the contest.
Yes, there was plenty of bad to pull from the game. The Blue Devils may have lost safety Dwayne Norman for awhile with a leg injury, the defense still has quite a bit of holes and the schedule is about to get a lot tougher, but we have five weekdays to address the downsides. For now, revel in the glory of victory and the thought that Duke is one win away from their second-consecutive bowl-eligible season. That is what I plan to do.
Go, Blue Devils.