Duke football cruised to a 49-20 win over North Carolina A&T at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday. Considering the Aggies were a winless FCS team entering the game, there really isn’t much you can take a deep dive into. But here are some things I took away from the game.
Set the tone early
In a game like this, you don’t want to let your opponent hang around, gain confidence, and begin to believe they can pull off an upset. The Blue Devils jumped on the Aggies from the get go. Jaylen Stinson returned the opening kickoff sixty-seven yards and Riley Leonard found a wide-open Nicky Dalmolin down the middle of the defense for a thirty-eight yard touchdown pass. The Blue Devils led 7-0 just fifteen seconds into the game. Leonard hit Jordan Moore a few minutes later with the converted quarterback’s third TD catch of the season. On the next series, Aeneas Peebles stripped the ball from Aggie quarterback Jalen Fowler, DeWayne Carter scooped it up, and rumbled thirty-five yards to the end zone (big guy touchdowns are so much fun) for the first Blue Devil defensive touchdown since 2018. Duke led 21-0 with barely half the first quarter gone.
Riley Leonard can be elite
It isn’t that Riley Leonard went 11-12 that impressed me, it is how he did it. The sophomore quarterback put the ball where it had to be each time he threw. He hit open receivers in stride and allowed them to gain yards after the catch. He placed balls where only his receiver could get it. If you watch enough college football, you know how few quarterbacks can do this. Leonard has become a weapon with his legs as well. That fifty-six yard touchdown run showed just how fast he is when he gets into the open field. He talked about his running ability after the game, “Being a dual threat quarterback is something I pride myself on. A lot of people don’t know that I can get outside the pocket but being able to have some confidence in myself in that aspect. I think moving forward, I can definitely utilize that a little more, and tonight I definitely showcased that and I’m just looking forward to doing that for the rest of the season.”
The defensive line might be something special
One college football preview magazine rated the Blue Devils’ defensive line last in the ACC. After watching them for three games, I’d put them in the top five right now. Carter, Peebles, and Ja’Mion Franklin lead an ornery group that has been a disruptive force and generally a pain for opposing offensive lines. Their depth allows for fresh legs to be rotated in often. Against a physical Northwestern line, they sent notice they are not going to be pushed around. I really like this bunch.
Young guns get their chance
It was great to see head coach Mike Elko have opportunity to get experience for some younger players. In all, eight Blue Devils made their collegiate debut. That included true freshman quarterback Henry Belin IV, who went 5-6 for forty-three yards and led the offense on its final touchdown drive. That drive was capped off by another true freshman-Eric Weatherly’s fourteen-yard scoring run put the Blue Devils up 49-13 midway through the fourth quarter. It’s always fun to see those recruits you’ve read so much about finally get to play.
A team that was predicted by most to go 2-10 is now 3-0. But Mike Elko and his Blue Devils are in for their most difficult test to date when they go on the road to take on undefeated Kansas.