DURHAM — Gunnar Holmberg tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns as Duke shook off a slow start to beat Kansas, 52-33.
In what coach David Cutcliffe called his quarterback’s best game to date, Holmberg completed 22 of 28 passes for 328 yards and a touchdown. He also added 88 rushing yards and found the end zone four times while running the ball. He became the eighth Blue Devil to rush for four scores in a game and first since another quarterback, Brandon Connette, did it in 2013.
“We did what we had to do,” Holmberg said of his increased ground work. “When they focus on Taeo (Mataeo Durant), it opens up running lanes for me.”
Holmberg scored three of his touchdowns after halftime, when Duke erased a 24-21 deficit, sparked by a 21-3 outburst in the third quarter.
Duke struggled early in the game due to two common problems — turnovers on offense and explosive plays allowed on defense. Holmberg threw an interception on Duke’s first drive, and Durant fumbled on the fourth drive, with Kansas getting the ball in the red zone both times.
“We were kind of dead in the first half,” Holmberg admitted.
“We’re better than that,” Cutcliffe said of the offense. “We have to be. … Unless we were stopping ourselves, I didn’t think they were going to stop us.”
The Blue Devils also allowed several big plays to the Jayhawks, including catches of 42 and 45 yards by Trevor Wilson, a 61-yard touchdown catch by Kwamie Lassiter II and a 62-yard run by Devin Neal to open the second half.
“We gave up vertical seams in the run game,” Cutcliffe said, “and I think they averaged 15 yards per completion (actually 17). That’s a first down and a half every time they catch the ball. You can’t survive doing that. … We’ve got to minimize yards to minimize points.”
“I think we gave up 10, 15 explosive plays on defense,” defensive lineman Ben Frye said. “That makes it much harder on our offense. That makes it much harder to win.”
The Blue Devils were able to tighten up in the second half, however, allowing just nine points to the Jayhawks in the final 30 minutes.
The win allowed Duke to complete its nonconference schedule with a 3-1 record. The Blue Devils travel to Chapel Hill next week to face North Carolina in the annual rivalry game.
“We’re getting ready for it to get real now,” Cutcliffe said.
“It’s that week,” said Frye. “We’ll be taking our Wheaties in the morning this week. It’s time to get it done.”