PALO ALTO, Calif. — The first play of Duke's first possession Saturday night at Stanford Stadium was a false start. As it turned out, so was the entire first quarter for the Blue Devils.
And when Stanford's Drew Terrell ran back a punt for a 76-yard touchdown a few plays after that opening penalty, the tone was set for a 50-13 Duke loss.
"From the beginning ... the punt return and turnovers ... you can't play Stanford that way," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose Devils fell to 1-1 after an impressive opening win.
On five possessions in the first quarter, Duke had one first down and punted four times. Stanford led 23-0 before the Devils notched the scoreboard.
"Once you get behind a good team on the road, this is what happens. We haven't done well on first possessions in either game [in the second play last week Florida International University went 67 yards for a touchdown].
"We need to execute right out of the gate. From the get-go you have to be the guy who makes plays. Stanford did that."
Duke's only scoring drive in the first half came with 1:27 left, starting on its own 49-yard line. On second and 7, Sean Renfree completed his longest pass of the half -- 20 yards to a wide open Conner Vernon, down the left side.
But that first down was only Duke's third of the game, and when the drive stalled, Ross Martin's 29-yard field goal only cut Stanford's halftime lead to 23-3.
Duke's defense did limit Stanford to field goals after Terrell's punt return in the first half. But in the second half, the Cardinal found its way into the end zone time and time again.
"We continued to fight the whole way," said Duke's Russ Cockrell, who finished with one interception, four tackles, and two assists. "We knew what they were going to do and tried to stop it. Tonight they were the better team.
"We just have to keep moving to the ball--that's what I did on the interception. I thought they were going to run; then I read it and jumped back and got the ball.
"In the second half they changed their scheme. They threw more and we were prepared for the run. We weren't prepared for the pass."
Cockrell's interception came with 5:50 left in the second quarter, but Duke was unable to convert it into points. On four-and-2 on Stanford's 14, Renfree's pass under pressure was incomplete.
The second half started much like the first. Duke tried an onside kick to start the half, but Stanford recovered on Duke's 43. Four plays and 2:30 later Stanford's Terrell caught a 19-yard pass from Josh Nunes (16-for-30, 1 interception for 275 yards) for the score.
Just a few plays later Renfree's pass was tipped and intercepted by Jordan Richards on Duke's 8 yard line. A pass to Stephan Taylor (14 carries for 69 yards and 1 touchdown) for five-yards and a 3-yarder for the touchdown to Levine Toilolo gave the Cardinal a 37-3 lead with 10:41 left in the third quarter.
"We didn't protect the ball well enough," said Coach Cutcliffe. "This was a big part...we didn't protect the pass rush. The pressure, the constant people in your face...we had a lot of errant throws."
Duke did answer Toilolo's TD with a scoring drive. Starting on Duke's 25-yard line, Renfree completed a 30-yard pass to Desmond Scott (11 catches for 83 yards).
After a sack and an incompletion, Renfree (28-for-40, two interceptions for 200 yards), on third-and-17 at Duke's 48 yard line, completed a 35-yard pass to Blakeney.
Three plays later Martin kicked a 29-yard field goal to make the score 37-6 with 7:20 left in the third quarter.
Duke's only touchdown came with 53 seconds left in the third quarter on a four-yard run by Brandon Connette. Anthony Boone (13-for-21, 1 interception for 147 yards) replaced Renfree on this drive, which started on Duke's own 18-yard line. Boone connected with Jamison Crowder (10 receptions for 112 yards) for a 51-yard pass the longest pass play of the game for both teams.
"You can't put playing poorly behind you," Cutcliffe said afterward. "You need to address it. I am accountable. It's 100 percent on my shoulders. We have to go back to work and get better quickly. We can't waste time."