MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — David Cutcliffe likes to attack early and often. Knowing how high-powered Middle Tennessee can be, the Duke coach decided well before kickoff that he wanted to steal a possession.
So he had his Blue Devils onside kick on their second kickoff of the game.
That set the tone as Quentin Harris threw for 237 yards and four touchdowns and also ran for 107 yards as the Duke Blue Devils scored 34 straight points in beating Middle Tennessee 41-18 Saturday night.
“I thought it had a chance of building momentum,” Cutcliffe said of the onside kick. “And when you steal a possession and then score, that really hurts the opposing team.”
The Blue Devils (2-1) recovered their own onside kick after scoring a TD on their first drive, then Harris hit a 27-yard pass on fourth-and-3 as they scored on four of their first five possessions and led 31-3 at halftime.
Harris completed his first 12 passes before finally missing Noah Gray when hurried at 6:25 of the second quarter. Harris finished 24 of 27 with a 12-yard TD pass to Jalon Calhoun, an 11-yarder to Eli Pancol and a 25-yarder to Aaron Young ruled good after review in the final seconds of the first half for a 31-3 halftime lead. He added an 18-yard TD to Young in the third.
“We want to be an aggressive team and really give the fight to the other team, so I thought we did a good job of being on the offensive side of things today,” said Harris, who now has thrown four TD passes in back-to-back games.
The Blue Devils outgained Middle Tennessee (1-2) 463-339 in total offense. Chris Rumph II had two of Duke’s six sacks.
“The big thing was we could never get off the field,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said. “We couldn’t stop them. Then offensively, they pretty much dominated us the first half.”
Middle Tennessee has plenty of history upsetting Power Five teams, the last in 2017 with a win at Syracuse. The Blue Raiders’ opening drive ended with a field goal after an offensive pass interference followed by a sack backed them up, and the Blue Raiders salvaged a 41-yard field goal only after Asher O’Hara scrambled 20 yards for a 3-0 lead that didn’t last long.
Duke answered with a 14-play drive capped by a 3-yard TD by Deon Jackson before Damond Philyaw-Jackson recovered the onside kick. Harris capped that drive with the first of his TD passes.
Middle Tennessee went three-and-out on the next possession and didn’t find the end zone until 10:41 of the third quarter. O’Hara hit CJ Windham with a pair of TD passes in the second half for the final margin.
Duke: Cutcliffe may be friends with Stockstill and like home-and-home games with Group of Five teams to prep for Atlantic Coast Conference portion of the Blue Devils’ schedule. That doesn’t mean Cutcliffe takes it easy on an opponent. He went for it on fourth down twice in the first half, converting both. Young finished with six catches for a career-high 106 yards and two TDs.
Middle Tennessee: Senior Ty Lee, the NCAA’s active leader with 222 career receptions coming into the game, tied the school record with a catch in his 43rd consecutive game. O’Hara, a redshirt sophomore, hit his first seven passes in his third career start. He finished throwing for 201 yards and running for 67 more.
The onside kick came early enough it took at least one of the Blue Devils by surprise. Safety Michael Carter said they knew they’d have a chance from watching film.
“I wasn’t expecting that, so I know they weren’t either so everything worked out,” Carter said. Just going for it on fourth down, it just shows how aggressive we are and how bad we want to win the game.”
Duke: Blue Devils get week off before visiting Virginia Tech on Sept. 27.
Middle Tennessee: Week off before visiting Iowa on Sept. 28.