Duke opens with easy 45-0 victory over NC Central

calexander@newsobserver.comAugust 31, 2013 

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    The Duke-N.C. Central game is called the Bull City Gridiron Classic and gives the Eagles' program added exposure. But Saturday's game had a crowd of 22,251 and was never close. If Duke is to take the next step as a football program, it might need to schedule a better opponent.

    Last year, North Carolina's Gio Bernard arguably was the ACC's most dangerous offensive player. But this season, with Bernard in the NFL, it could be Duke's Jamison Crowder. The 5-9 junior can beat you in any number of ways.

    Duke couldn't have played much better defensively than it did Saturday, and a lot of defensive players got some experience, which should help. But please. It was Central. It will take a few more games to see how much the defense has progressed.

— As season openers go, Duke's victory over N.C. Central on Saturday had very few blemishes or rough edges.

The Blue Devils won 45-0 at Wallace Wade Stadium in a game with little or no suspense.

Quarterback Anthony Boone was very efficient. Jamison Crowder was a game-breaker, returning a punt 76 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. The defense was stout for four quarters. And nearly everyone in a Duke-blue uniform got on the field and contributed.

The shutout was Duke's first since ripping North Carolina 41-0 in Chapel Hill on Nov. 18, 1989. It also was the Blue Devils' first shutout at Wallace Wade Stadium since blanking Wake Forest 3-0 in 1978 – something Duke coach David Cutcliffe mentioned to his team after the game.

While much was made of Duke winning six games and reaching the Belk Bowl last season, the year ended with five straight losses as the Blue Devils' defense was hammered time after time. But the Blue Devils limited the Eagles to nine first downs and 184 yards in total offense, causing some post-game celebrating.

“There were some smiles shining,” Cutcliffe said. “I mean, that's huge. It's hard this day and time to do that, with the things (teams) do offensively.

“It was good to see them happy. Or as they say these days, happy, happy, happy.”

Crowder's return was a combination of speed and precision. The junior bolted up the middle, veered to the right sideline and was on his way to the seventh-longest punt return in school history and his first career TD on a punt return.

“I saw a good little crease and just wanted to hit it full speed,” Crowder said. “Everything worked out.”

That summed up much of the game for Duke, which has a road game at Memphis next week. While the defense did its part against N.C. Central, the fast-paced offense ran off 77 plays and had 488 yards in total offense.

Talk about offensive balance. The Blue Devils, who had 77 plays, passed for 231 yards and ran for 257 yards, the highest rushing total since Cutcliffe came to Duke.

Boone, making his second career start, was 16-of-20 passing for 176 yards while adding 24 yards running on six carries. Boone teamed well at quarterback with Brandon Connette, who passed for two TDs and ran for a third,

“Anthony had the kind of start you wanted him to have,” Cutcliffe said. “He ran a very disciplined offense. He was very sharp with his throwing and decision-making, and just managing and running the offense.”

N.C. Central, beginning its third year in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), had one touchdown overturned on a review – a fumble return by linebacker Tazmon Foster. The Eagles couldn't sustain anything and didn't have the depth to deal with Duke on a hot, muggy day.

But to be fair, the Eagles went through a disjointed, distracting preseason as head coach Henry Frazier III was fired Aug. 22 after being charged with violating a domestic violence protective order, a misdemeanor.

Dwayne Foster was named NCCU's interim head coach and has tried to help his team refocus. It's been difficult.

“I think the biggest thing for us was we kept fighting,” Foster said of the opener. “We didn't hang our heads and quit. We can certainly build off that.”

The Blue Devils believe they can build off the big win, regardless of the ease of victory. A number of players saw their first collegiate action, and safety Jeremy Cash, a transfer from Ohio State, played his first game for Duke after sitting out a year and had an impact.

“This was huge for us,” said Duke linebacker Kelby Brown, who topped the defense with seven tackles. “There's a lot of stuff to clean up (but) a chance to make some big strides.”

Saturday's win was a first for Duke since beating UNC last fall. It's been a while.

“It was just good to come out and get a win,” Boone said. “It's week one. You don't expect perfection but you expect near close to it.”

This day, the Blue Devils were near close.

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

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