DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke Blue Devils contained the 20th–ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets offense and earned a 34-20 win on Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.
It was a valuable Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Coastal Division win for Duke over the defending conference champions.
Shaquille Powell led the Blue Devils (3-1, 1-0) in scoring with a career-high three touchdown runs, and totaled 88 yards gained on 14 carries, while quarterback Thomas Sirk finished 17-of-25, throwing for 114 yards and a touchdown to go along with 13 carries for 52 more all-purpose yards.
Duke’s defense once again shone particularly bright on a rainy day, led by captain Jeremy Cash (12 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL), Tinashe Bere (10 tackles), Dwayne Norman (9 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL), and Kyler Brown (9 tackles).
“Right now, our defense is playing at as high of a level as we’ve seen them since we’ve been here,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said.
“Maybe one of the highest levels I’ve see a team play.”
Under wet conditions, both teams battled from scrimmage, made short gains with swing passes and rushes, and took advantage of each’s turnovers.
Though Georgia Tech (2-2, 0-1) possessed the ball longer and gained more offensive yards, it was a physical game and an endurance match-up of which Duke eventually made the fewer mistakes in to eventually win.
“We kept winning physical battles,” Cutcliffe said.
“That was a huge display of physical offensive line play.”
Georgia Tech took advantage of its first possession as the result of a fumble between Sirk and Shaun Wilson (3 carries, 5 yards) during the Blue Devils’ opening drive.
Harrison Butker converted a 52-yard field goal attempt to open the game’s scoring for the Yellow Jackets at the 10:49 mark.
Sirk answered back and led a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended when Powell rushed into the end zone to put Duke ahead 7-3 four minutes later.
A missed long snap on a punt by Georgia Tech gave the Blue Devils the ball back quickly.
They took advantage of the opportunity as Sirk eventually threw an 11-yard slant pass to T.J. Rahming who scored his first career touchdown.
The play extended the Duke lead to 13-3.
The Blue Devils’ special teams play vastly improved from last week’s 19-10 loss to Northwestern, and was highlighted by a 69-yard punt return by Ryan Smith who set up a one-yard run for Powell to extend the Blue Devils lead to 16 points following an unsuccessful PAT.
Both teams fought for field position throughout the second quarter with the Yellow Jackets managing to score the only points of the period, a touchdown catch from Ricky Jeune (4 catches, 91 yards) that cut the Duke lead to 19-10 by halftime.
Georgia Tech got on the board early in the third quarter with another field goal from Butker.
That was quickly negated by Devon Edwards who returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to increase the Duke lead to 26-13.
It was Edward’s second kickoff return for a score this season, and fifth of his career.
With 8:02 remaining in the game, quarterback Justin Thomas (6-21, 1 INT, 1 TD) kept the ball and carried it in from 12 yards out to pull Georgia Tech to within a touchdown, trailing 26-20.
The Yellow Jackets had opportunities to score on two different possessions late in the game.
However, the Blue Devils defense continued its suffocating play, with Cash and A.J. Wolf (8 tackles) denying the Yellow Jackets the opportunity to advance further, particularly after Sirk was intercepted on the Duke 35-yard line with 6:57 to play.
“As a defense, we knew we had to get that stop to win the game,” Wolf said.
“We work hard all year for situations like that, and thankfully it paid off.”
Duke’s ensuing possession ate up valuable game time, but following Will Monday’s punt to gain field position, Johnell Barnes made helmet-to-helmet contact with intended returner Jamal Golden, and was subsequently ejected from the game for targeting.
The Duke defense soon forced a fumble and took back possession of the ball on the Georgia Tech 39-yard line with 2:12 to play.
Only needing to get a first down, Powell broke through the line of scrimmage and ran 30 yards and tallied his third score of the game.
A two-point conversion pass attempt from Sirk to wide receiver Max McCaffrey (4 catches, 48 yards) finalized the game’s scoring, and completed the victory for the Blue Devils.
Highlights – ACC Digital Network – TheACC.com
Notes: The Blue Devils’ win snapped a Yellow Jackets five-game winning trend in the Bull City that dated back to 2005, while Edwards’ 100-yard kickoff touchdown return was the longest allowed by Georgia Tech since 2010…Duke has now limited its opponent to 25 or fewer points in 14 of its last 17 games dating back to the start of the 2014 season.