WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Duke gets a really big opportunity today, on a sun-splashed afternoon but in front of a half-full house.
The 2-0 Blue Devils will square off with 1-0 Georgia Tech, which last lost to Duke in 2003 here when current Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof was the Duke head coach.
Get a win today, and Duke will be favored for a 7-0 start. Seriously.
Duke will go with regular backup quarterback Brandon Connette, since starter Anthony Boone is out indefinitely after suffering a broken collarbone last week at Memphis.
Tech’s QB is Vad Lee, a sophomore out of Durham Hillside.
And Lee dominates all afternoon, with a touchdown responsibility of five as the Yellow Jackets roll to a 38-14 win.
But the Blue Devils respond with a methodical march, going 72 yards in nine plays — seven of them on the ground — with Jela Duncan plunging in from a yard out at 9:14.
Tech comes right back with a seven-play, 79-yard march that does not include a pass, with Lee going in from four out and Butker adding the boot at 6:04.
The Jackets make it 17-7 with 10:05 left in the half, when Lee threads the needle for a perfect 24-yard strike to DeAndre Smelter to finish a 10-play, 64-yard drive with Butker converting.
Tech stretches it to 24-7 with 42 seconds left in the first half, as Lee connects with Smelter again from 11 yards out and Butker converts to finish a five-play, 74-yard drive.
The Jackets remove any doubt with 7:22 left in the third, as Lee hits Robert Godhigh from 13 yards out to complete a 15-play, 73-yard march with Butker converting.
The Blue Devils make it a little more respectable on the first play of the fourth, as Connette runs in from seven yards out to finish a four-play, 27-yard drive with Martin on the conversion.
Lee finishes the scoring with a 19-yard toss to Zach Laskey, with Butker adding the kick with 2:10 left in the game.
Lee completes eight of 16 for 125 yards with one interception and the four TD passes, also rushing for 76 yards and TD on 22 carries. Godhigh carries four times for 79 yards with four catches for 59 yards and the TD. Smelter catches three passes for 47 yards and the two TDs.
Connette completes 15 of 28 passes for 122 yards, also rushing 10 times for 15 yards and the TD. Duncan carries 16 times for 89 yards and the score. And Kelby Brown finishes with a whopping 17 tackles including seven solos.
They said it …
Duke coach David Cutcliffe: “Our preparation was good, and I wouldn’t go back and ask our team to do anything differently. I think we were all probably shocked a little by the outcome. They kind of took the fight to us when things didn’t go well. … We fought defensively, but we weren’t opportunistic enough.”
Tech coach Paul Johnson : “It’s good to get a road and conference win to start out. I’m not sure we played a great game, but we hung in there. We made enough plays. Duke played really hard. We still have a lot to clean up, though. …(Lee) made some plays. I’m sure there were a few passes he’d like to have back, but it’s going to be a process. There’s going to be some good and some bad.”
Connette: “I think really the whole game we were able to run the ball. But after the first drive they kind of bumped more backers into the box and started rolling safeties down to try and stop the run. … The biggest thing that deterred us from moving the ball on a more consistent basis was third-down production. I’ve got to be more accurate.”
Duke DE Kenny Anunike: “They came out in new sets, things we hadn’t practiced against. So we made a lot of adjustments. We didn’t get it done today, but we’re going to learn from it.”
What does it all mean?
That Georgia Tech may even be better than advertised right now. And that Duke will need to bounce back quickly to keep its momentum going for a winning season.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Lee’s TD pass to Smelter to make it 17-7.
Duke: Lost 1.
Ga. Tech: Won 3.
Tech leads 50-30-1.
Georgia Tech vs. UNC, Sept. 21, noon.
Duke vs. Pittsburgh, Sept. 21, 12:30 p.m.