Duke football: Disappointments abundant in loss to Georgia Tech

Sep 17, 2022; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko reacts during first half against the North Carolina A&T Aggies at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 17, 2022; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko reacts during first half against the North Carolina A&T Aggies at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports /

Disappointments. If there is one word that comes to mind when I think of the overtime loss to Georgia Tech it is disappointments. Duke football was disappointing in a lot of ways on Saturday.

Offense and defense were equally disappointing

I think the most disappointing thing to me was Georgia Tech was more physical on both sides of the ball. The Blue Devils had proven to be a rugged bunch through their first five games, but too often on Saturday the Yellow Jackets just plain ate their lunch. Their defense made it difficult for the Blue Devils to run the ball and had quarterback Riley Leonard under duress all day-they sacked him three times and were credited with five quarterback hurries. Duke managed to run for 142 yards, but rarely did they do so with any consistency.

The results from the passing game for the Blue Devils was even more of a disappointment than running the ball. Leonard, who came into the game completing seventy-two percent of his throws, was held to less than fifty percent (20-42) in large part because his receivers struggled to find separation and get open, and he was constantly harassed. The most telling stat of the hardships of the passing game is it averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per attempt.

ALSO READ: Riley Leonard is turning into one of the ACC’s best

Once again, we saw the offense struggle to finish drives. Twice in the third quarter they drove deep into Tech territory only to come away with a total of three points. In the fourth quarter, another great opportunity would be wasted. After Samhir Hagans returned a punt eighty-one yards for a touchdown (the team’s first since 2014) to pull the Blue Devils to within seven points, he had another outstanding return to set up the Blue Devils at the Tech forty-four-yard line. A false start penalty before the first play hampered that drive and they would end up turning the ball over on downs after four plays.

The Georgia Tech offense was more physical and looked faster than the Blue Devils defense. Duke had a hard time stopping any type of perimeter run, along with the read option. Against an offensive line that had given up seventeen sacks, the Blue Devils defense managed just one on quarterback Jeff Sims. But perhaps the most disappointing thing about the defense on Saturday was allowing a quarterback who had completed just over fifty percent of his passes to have a big day. Sims completed 23-34 for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Too often, Yellow Jacket receivers ran free through the Duke secondary.

Blue Devil head coach Mile Elko put it bluntly in his postgame press conference, “The reality is for three and a half quarters we did not make enough plays to win a football game in the ACC. That is really what it comes down to. We have to execute better, and we have to run the football a little bit better. We have to be able to execute better on defense and not give up so many uncontested throws.”

ALSO READ: Blue Devils must be wary of rejuvenated Georgia Tech

The silver lining

Here is what is not disappointing about Saturday’s game: Mike Elko’s team fought hard. HARD. They gave themselves a chance to win a game they had no business being in at the end. The defense made plays and got stops in the fourth quarter, including a key one late that set up the game-tying drive. Riley Leonard fought, scratched, clawed, and simply dragged the team down the field with him for the tying score. He got banged up after being driven into the turf, but refused to leave the game. When the time came, he delivered a perfect ball to Nicky Dalmolin that allowed the tight end to get into the end zone and put the game on the verge of overtime. A fourteen play, eighty-yard drive that took two minutes and thirty-three seconds to tie the game with just eight seconds remaining. Credit needs to be given to holder Jackson Hubbard for adeptly handling a bad snap and getting the ball set for kicker Charlie Hamm’s game-tying extra point. That snap was along the turf and had disaster written all over it. Elko was impressed with his young quarterback and the team, “A lot of moxie out of him. He didn’t have his best game for sure and we didn’t do the best job of protecting him. We didn’t give him the best situation to succeed. Through it all we got the ball with two minutes left and no timeouts and took the ball down the field with a chance to win the game in overtime. I love the fight and we executed a two-minute drill really well. We executed some things on defense at the end of the game that gave us a chance, but we just have to be better early to give ourselves a chance on the road.”

They had injuries going into the game, injuries during the game, and they lost their best linebacker to an ejection. They didn’t play their best, but still had a chance to win in the end. A loss is a loss and there are no medals for trying, but let’s all remember the Blue Devils are a work in progress and there will be rough spots. You can see the beginnings of the foundation Elko is building for a successful program. Learn and move forward.