Matched up against an inferior opponent, Duke was appropriately dominant in its season opener.
It’s hard to draw grand conclusions from the 52-13 beating of Elon, an FCS school coming off a 2-10 season and breaking in a new coach. The Blue Devils (1-0) came ready to play, as head coach David Cutcliffe thought they would. And several individuals started off their season with strong performances, keeping the preseason optimism alive.
“At times, we made it look really easy. That was our goal,” redshirt senior Issac Blakeney said. “They’re a (Division) I-AA team, and we’re a D-I team, and we wanted everyone to see the difference and the gap there.”
Blakeney, the receiver the Blue Devils are hoping can fill the No. 2 role behind Jamison Crowder, caught four passes for 45 yards and two touchdowns. His first touchdown catch, which came on Duke’s first drive, required a nice adjustment on a fade route to the back left corner of the end zone. At 6-foot-6, Blakeney gives Duke quarterback Anthony Boone a large red zone target – at least that’s the plan, and it worked Saturday.
“That’s what I’m used to doing in high school and all fall camp, using my size,” Blakeney said.
Blakeney’s second touchdown reception, which put Duke ahead 28-6 just before halftime, required him shedding a tackle in the open field. He was able to shake off Elon cornerback Adrian McClendon and finish off the 19-yard reception in the end zone.
At linebacker, where Duke is attempting to replace the injured Kelby Brown, senior C.J. France recorded the start, but two young players received significant playing time. After France missed a tackle on Elon’s second drive, which resulted in a 36-yard field goal, redshirt freshman Chris Holmes made his debut. Holmes, a converted safety who missed time in preseason camp, finished with four tackles.
True freshman Zavier Carmichael also worked at the will linebacker position in the second half. At one point early in the third quarter, Carmichael was one of three true freshmen in the game on defense, with Zach Muñiz and Alonzo Saxton II working at cornerback. Saxton II was the only true freshman to play in the first half – he finished with four tackles, three solo, and a pass break-up and quarterback hurry.
Freshman Shaun Wilson was the third running back in the game – making an appearance before redshirt freshman Joe Ajeigbe – and took his first career carry 18 yards for a first down. Wilson finished with six carries for 71 yards—an average of 11.8 yards per carry.
“We haven’t had one like Shaun Wilson,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “He’s just a different back than what we’ve played with.”
And freshman tight end Davis Koppenhaver – who had been a candidate for a redshirt before starter Braxton Deaver went down with an ACL tear – made his debut in the fourth quarter.
After kicker Ross Martin booted a 49-yard field goal to put the Blue Devils ahead 38-6 late in the third quarter, redshirt sophomore quarterback Thomas Sirk relieved Boone. Sirk had made his first appearance in the Brandon Connette short-yardage running role in the second quarter, rushing for four yards on fourth-and-1 from the Duke 40-yard line. Once he relieved Boone, Sirk flashed more of the running toughness the Blue Devils want from him on a 15-yard touchdown run right through the heart of the Elon defense. At one point, Sirk lowered his shoulder on a would-be tackler, knocking him out of the way on his route to the end zone.
Sirk finished 5-for-7 for 40 yards and also ran eight times for 54 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Parker Boehme relieved him with Duke up 52-13 with about six minutes left in the game.
Next week, Duke will travel to face an FBS opponent – albeit one (Troy) that lost its debut 48-10 to the University of Alabama-Birmingham.