DURHAM — A year ago, Duke had an unpleasant late-season trip to West Point. On Friday night, the Blue Devils made sure Army’s return visit was just as displeasing to the Knights.
Duke suffered an upset loss to Army last season, 21-16, which very nearly cost the Blue Devils a shot at becoming bowl eligible. Duke had to sweep its final two games of the season to reach six wins.
In the 2018 season opener at Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke got a measure of revenge, shutting out Army in the first half and cruising to a 34-14 win.
“It was an outstanding performance,” coach David Cutcliffe said, “mostly because we were so much more physical than we were a year ago.”
The Blue Devils held Army’s triple-option ground attack to 168 yards rushing, bending but not breaking to run out to a 17-0 first-half lead. The Blue Devils also forced four Army fumbles — there was a fifth fumble on a bad handoff — recovering two.
Duke’s dominance of the ground game forced Army to unfamiliar territory—the passing game.
Looking more like Air Force, the Black Knights passed 21 times—four more than Duke—completing 10 for 197 yards. The West Pointers threw just 65 passes all of last season. Army scored on a 45-yard pass and had a 32-yarder set up a touchdown run to quash Duke’s hopes of a shutout.
“I know our defense is upset about giving up a few big plays,” Cutcliffe admitted. “You’re not quite ready for that. It’s a good lesson for us. If you get ahead of a triple-option team, you have to have a few more answers in coverage.”
On offense, the Blue Devils borrowed a page from Army’s playbook, running it twice as much as they passed (35 rushes to 17 passes). The Blue Devils gained 184 yards on the ground and 197 in the air.
“We were an efficient football team tonight,” Cutcliffe said. “We averaged 10 yards per play in the first half and seven for the game.”
Quarterback Daniel Jones completed 13 of 17 passes and added 43 rushing yards, second to Brittain Brown’s 75. Jones threw one touchdown pass—a 25-yarder to Aaron Young—and ran for another.
Young had a breakout game, catching four balls for 114 yards.
“Aaron did a great job of getting behind some of those guys and getting separation,” Jones said.
Young’s performance was a testament to the team’s emphasis on being more physical than Army this time around.
“Aaron is big,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s fast. He’s mature. We’re more physical at every position, including receiver. He utilized his physicality a lot and his speed.”
Duke’s offensive line also won the battles in the trenches, keeping Jones upright.
“A year ago, he got blindsided in the game,” Cutcliffe said. “He got pressured. We gave up 3 sacks. This year, there was just the one.”
Duke had two scares, as linebacker Joe Giles-Harris and running back Brown both limped off the field after suffering injuries. Both were able to return to the game. Brown suffered a hit to his knee on a fourth-down run and appeared to be in a great deal of pain on the field.
“I was scared to death,” Cutcliffe said of Brown’s injury. “But the knee is stable. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to be sore.”
Overall, however, Duke came out of the game healthy, a remarkable feat in a game where the Blue Devils put an emphasis on being the bully.
“That was the most physical we’ve been in quite a while,” Cutcliffe said.