Inconsistent offense costs Duke in loss to Virginia Tech

The Blue Devils fell to 0-4 on the season

Duke running back Deon Jackson dives for a touchdown against Virginia Tech during the Hokies' 38-31 win Saturday in Durham. (Nell Redmond / AP Photo)

Duke continued to struggle with inconsistency on offense as the Blue Devils lost to Virginia Tech, 38-31, at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday. After turning the ball over 12 times in two games, Duke limited its turnovers to one Chase Brice interception. The Blue Devils struggled in other areas, however, including pass protection and penalties at inopportune times.

Duke went to a more up-tempo offense in the second half and moved the ball more effectively, scoring 24 second-half points, including 17 in the fourth quarter.

The defense also struggled, giving up several long runs by Tech and surrendering 324 yards on the ground. Coach David Cutcliffe said that the Blue Devils once again tired in the second half.

Duke fell to 0-4 on the year, while Tech improved to 2-0.

Three thoughts

1. The Hokies had 23 players and several assistants miss last week’s game after being quarantined for COVID-19. Most of the offensive players returned to the field this week, but Virginia Tech was extremely shorthanded in the secondary. The top four cornerbacks on the depth chart — starters Jermaine Waller and Armani Chatman and backups Brion Murray and Devin Taylor—all missed the game, as did starting free safety Divine Deablo and two assistant coaches from the secondary.

2. Both teams gave up big plays on special teams. Duke scored the game’s first points when Tayvion Robinson muffed a Duke punt and Blue Devil Jaylen Stinson recovered in the end zone. On the other side, Tech return man Khalil Herbert gained 150 yards on kick returns, including an 83-yarder that set up a touchdown and a late-game return to midfield that helped the Hokies kill the clock.

3. Damond Philyaw-Johnson scored two touchdowns on kick returns last year and was a preseason All-American at return man. He appears to have lost his job four games into the season, however, as Stinson handled the duties for Duke. Philyaw-Johnson lined up at receiver, so it wasn’t injury-related.

Number to Know

7 — The number of times Brice was sacked by the Virginia Tech defense. Brice didn’t blame his line after the game, saying the sacks were the result of good protection by the Tech secondary, who was missing its top four cornerbacks and a starting safety. He also blamed Duke’s five-wide sets. “You don’t have your back to help out. So they got to me a few times,” he said.

They Said It

“When one got going something else didn’t hold up.”

— Duke coach David Cutcliffe on the offense’s inconsistency

Player of the Game

Marquis Waters, Duke safety —After getting targeted by opposing quarterbacks earlier this season, Waters had a big game against the Hokies. He had eight solo tackles and 10 total, adding a sack and two tackles for loss. He also broke up a pass.

Critical thinking

Duke got the ball back with 2:20 left trailing by 10, and, inexplicably, proceeded to go on a very deliberate drive, taking 15 plays to march 54 yards, using up all the remaining time. At one point, team radio announcer Dave Harding remarked that the offense appeared to be in no hurry. Charlie Ham then hit a field goal as time expired to cut the final margin to a seven-point deficit.