Yellow Jackets offense swarms Duke defense

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network a

Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee throws 4 touchdown passes in win

DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke Blue Devils got worn down during a 38-14 loss to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in front of 21,267 in attendance at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.

The Yellow Jackets’ ground game did just that to the Duke defenders – it ground them down.

Linebacker Kelby Brown (17 tackles) along with safeties Jeremy Cash (14 tackles) and Dwayne Norman (12 tackles) led the Blue Devils defense against a dominating run game that the Yellow Jackets employed in gaining 344 total yards while keeping possession of the ball for over 38 minutes in the game.

Blue Devils quarterback Brandon Connette (15-28, 122 yards) made only his second career start and it began with a quick swing pass and handoff to Juwan Thompson for short yardage before going three-and-out on the Blue Devils’ first offensive series of the game.

It was a challenge that he and the Blue Devils offense would face throughout the game, finishing 3-of-14 on third-down conversions.

“I’d say the biggest thing that deterred us from moving the ball on a more consistent basis was third-down production,” Connette said.

“A lot of that was just me being inaccurate – missing guys that were open and just throwing a little behind or a little bit low. I’ve got to be more accurate, more consistent on third downs in order to keep our offense on the field longer.”

Connette took snaps during the warmup as close friend and the team’s original starting quarterback Anthony Boone, with his right arm in a sling, strode up and down slapping hands with teammates before kickoff.

The Blue Devils hadn’t beaten the Yellow Jackets in their last nine meetings dating back to 2004, and the two-teams’ 81st all-time meeting, their Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) opener, didn’t end in Duke’s favor again.

Georgia Tech scored a field goal on five plays over 19 yards on its first drive of the game, and took an early 3-0 lead with 12:03 remaining in first quarter.

After regrouping from their opening drive, Connette and the Blue Devils answered back with a nine-play, 72-yard sequence in just under three minutes that gave Duke its only lead of the game, 7-3.

At one point, Georgia Tech brought its trainers on the field to give the defense water as Duke completed its scoring drive.

It looked as though the Blue Devils would utilize their no-huddle offense to put together another solid offensive effort against another opponent at home.

However, it was the Yellow Jackets offense led by Durham native Vad Lee that took over and kept the Duke defense busy throughout the game.

After the Blue Devils scored with Jela Duncan (16 rushes, 89 yards) running the ball in for a one-yard score at the 9:14 mark of the opening quarter, Lee put together scoring drives that posted 28 unanswered points and had the Blue Devils trailing 31-7 early into the third quarter.

“This time we met a test,” defensive end Kenny Anunike said.

“Georgia Tech is a good football team, but this game does not define us. We’ve got Pittsburgh coming in here next week. We’re gonna’ go ahead and learn from this.”

As both teams traded possessions that ate up most of the clock for the remainder of the third quarter, the Blue Devils threatened to score after the Yellow Jackets couldn’t advance past their own 11-yard line.

Connette scored Duke’s first points since the first quarter when he ran the ball into the end zone from the seven-yard line and narrowed the Georgia Tech lead to 31-14 with 14:56 to play.

The Blue Devils defense continued to do its job against Lee and the Yellow Jackets offense as Anunike followed up Connette’s score by blocking a 30-yard field goal attempt just over five minutes later.

“I thought that we were able to stay in there the whole time,” Brown said of Duke’s defensive endurance late in the game.

“Our conditioning level was really good. We have a lot of depth right now, especially on D-line which is helping us stay in there.”

As the Blue Devils valiantly attempted to advance the ball in order to put points on the board, they continued to struggle in converting third downs.

On the other side of the ball, Lee put together one final scoring drive for Georgia Tech and posted the game’s final points with a pass to Zach Laskey that finalized the game’s score at 38-14.

For head coach David Cutcliffe, Duke did not cleanly execute in all three phases of the game.

It’s a point of emphasis that he and the team will carry forward in preparing for next week’s game against Pittsburgh.

“We gotta’ maintain an aggressiveness which is hard to do, particularly defensively against an offense that you’re reacting to all the time,” Cutcliffe said.

“The second thing is that we have to be the best team in all three phases on third and fourth down. They won the third and fourth-down matchup. Besides emotion, I thought that was the most important factor for us to win the game.”

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