DURHAM — Duke moved to 3-0 on the season for just the fourth time in the last 35 years as Mike Elko continued his hot start as head coach in the Blue Devils’ 49-20 rout of NC A&T.
Elko became the first Duke coach to win his first three games since Fred Goldsmith in 1994. In the 28 seasons since, Duke coaches have won three games or fewer 15 times.
“It’s a fun ride,” Elko said, “and we just want to continue on it.”
The Blue Devils removed any suspense early, scoring 21 points in just over eight minutes to open the game.
Duke produced big play after big play in the game-opening flurry. Reigning ACC Defensive Back of the Week Jaylen Stinson returned the opening kickoff 67 yards. Set up with outstanding field position, quarterback Riley Leonard threw a 38-yard touchdown to Nicky Dalmolin on the game’s first offensive snap.
The defense then held A&T to one yard on a three-and-out possession, and Leonard led a 10-play touchdown drive, capping it with a four-yard scoring pass to Jordan Moore.
On the next A&T possession, Duke defensive end Aeneas Peebles sacked quarterback Jalen Fowler, forcing a fumble that was returned by DeWayne Carter 35 yards for Duke’s third straight touchdown. It was Duke’s longest fumble return score since 2010 and the sixth longest in school history.
“That was the most exciting play of the game,” said defensive back Brandon Johnson, who had two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble in the game.
For the second time in three games this season, Leonard flirted with the school record for perfect passing. He completed his first 15 passes of the season against Temple, one shy of the Duke mark for consecutive completions. Against A&T, Leonard completed his first 11 throws before Aggies DB Avarion Cole intercepted a deep pass. Leonard finished 11 of 12 for 155 yards and two scores. He also led Duke in rushing with 66 yards and scored twice on the ground, including a 56-yard run on Duke’s second play after halftime.
After holding Temple to 65 yards on the ground and Northwestern to 76, Duke appeared to be on the way to a third consecutive dominant performance in run defense. But A&T racked up 159 rushing yards on 11 carries in the fourth quarter, most against Duke reserves as the Blue Devils cleared the bench late in the game. Aggies running back Bhayshul Tuten finished with 133 yards on 13 carries.
Most of that production came after Duke led by more than 40 points, however, as the Blue Devils moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2018.
Elko praised Duke’s confidence, and Leonard echoed that, saying the team’s start to the season is “exactly what we thought” and “completely expected.”
The Blue Devils now face their second Power Five road game in three weeks as they head to Kansas, another surprising 3-0 team. The Jayhawks will be looking to top three wins in a season for the first time since 2009.
The last five times Duke has started 3-0, dating back to 1988, the Blue Devils have won their fourth game as well.