Duke goes for 600-plus yards, gets into win column at Syracuse

The Blue Devils got their first victory of the year with a 38-24 win over the Orange

Duke running back Deon Jackson sets career-highs in carries (30) and yards (169) in the Blue Devils' 38-24 win at Syracuse. (Dennis Nett / The Post-Standard via AP)

The Duke Blue Devils got their first win of the 2020 season, piling up more than 600 yards of offense and overcoming four turnovers in a 38-24 win at Syracuse. Duke had two running backs rush for more than 160 yards each, Chase Brice threw for 270 yards and two scores, and nine different players had a reception.

Three Thoughts

1. The Duke offense overcame its mistakes and dominated the game, piling up 645 yards — including 363 on the ground — and nearly doubling up Syracuse in time of possession with a 39:43-20:17 edge. The Blue Devils held a 36-11 advantage in first downs — including a staggering 22-5 in the first half — while only committing two penalties. The 645 yards were the third-most for Duke’s offense under coach David Cutcliffe, and the 38 points scored were the most for the Blue Devils in nearly a year — Duke scored 41 in a home win against Georgia Tech last Oct. 12.

2. The Blue Devils came into Saturday’s game with a minus-7 turnover ratio through four games, and things weren’t much better against the Orange. Duke turned the ball over four times, including three lost fumbles in four drives in the first half at a time when it looked like the Blue Devils’ rushing attack was poised to take over the game.

Instead, Duke handed Syracuse a 14-10 lead when Brice fumbled after being hit by the Orange’s Cam Jonas and Geoff Cantin-Arku returned the ball for a touchdown. The defense didn’t force any turnovers — the first time this year the Blue Devils didn’t create one, leading to a minus-4 on the turnover ledger and minus-11 on the season.

3. Duke’s defense held quarterback Tommy DeVito and the Syracuse offense in check, but the Blue Devils did allow big plays that jeopardized their first win of the season. After the Duke offense put together a 7-play, 75-yard drive to open the game with a touchdown, the defense quickly allowed a 79-yard touchdown pass to Taj Harris.

Then in the third quarter with a 13-point lead, the Blue Devils gave up another big scoring play on a 53-yard catch-and-run by Syracuse tight end Luke Benson. Take away those two plays totaling 128 yards, and the Orange only had 158 yards of offense on the day, and Duke knocked DeVito out of the game in the fourth quarter with a sack that had the Syracuse quarterback watching the rest of the game on crutches.

Number To Know

63 — Rushing attempts for Duke as it carved up the Syracuse front seven with 5.8 yards per carry. It was the most rushing attempts for the Blue Devils since they had 63 in a 49-6 season-opening win over NC Central in 2016.

They Said It

“I thought our front was ready and we responded, and there was a toughness to our team today that just didn’t really exist before. So it was good to see that. That mentality is one of the things you have to grow, and it’s just been a different year and hopefully we can hang on to this.”

— David Cutcliffe, Duke coach

Player of the Game

Deon Jackson, Duke running back — Both Jackson and Mataeo Durant — who had two touchdowns — racked up yards against the Orange, but it was the senior captain who led the way. Jackson finished with 169 yards on 30 carries — both career highs — to stabilize the Blue Devils when Brice struggled to complete a pass or turnovers threatened to discourage the offense.

“Honestly, it didn’t even feel like 30 carries,” Jackson said. “I wasn’t that fatigued, I would say, but it’s kind of crazy I had 30 carries. I’ve never had 30 carries in my life, high school or college. So it was kind of crazy to see that at the end of the game that I actually carried it that many times.”

Jackson was guilty of one of the lost fumbles, but his big plays and ability to add extra yards on the end of each run by keeping his legs moving proved invaluable.

Critical Thinking

There’s no denying that Brice has all the tools to be a successful college quarterback, especially under the guidance of Cutcliffe, but the junior continues to struggle protecting the ball.

Brice showed lapses in pocket presence — he fumbled twice, once for the aforementioned Syracuse touchdown — and made some poor decisions throwing the ball, finishing with one interception in the red zone. That led to a one-series benching, and Brice recovered even though he did make a couple other passes that weren’t picked off only because Syracuse defenders failed to hold onto the ball. The Blue Devils also need better play in the red zone, and they need to be able trust their quarterback to not only avoid mistakes but also make plays.

All that said, there were flashes of how effective the passing game can be, especially when coupled with a dominant run game, and Brice will have to perform well if he’s going to remain the starter.