The Blue Devils had a 10-point lead when they kicked off to Troy to open the third quarter. The first quarter had been pretty much a disaster for Duke – the second one registered on the opposite end of the success spectrum. But after one half, the outcome of the game was still undecided.
A screen pass that went for 15 yards started the third quarter looking like the first. Another screen pass yielded four more. But then, on second-and-6 from the Duke 39-yard line, Trojans quarterback Brandon Silvers dropped back to pass.
Across the line, Duke defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo wasn’t set up to blitz the quarterback, but ran a stunt that took him toward the center of the line of scrimmage. There, he met the Troy center.
“Honestly, it’s a lot easier to pass rush a center than it is a tackle,” DeWalt-Ondijo said. “Fortunately, I got through him, and the quarterback was there, and I made the play.”
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Silvers went down for an eight-yard loss, setting up third-and-14. He dropped back again, and, this time, DeWalt-Ondijo started his pursuit from a traditional linebacker spot. This was a blitzing play for him, and he again pursued to his right and into the Troy backfield, taking down Silvers again. Troy lost 11 yards on that play, but, more importantly for Duke, the Trojans lost all their momentum.
The Trojans would just manage three points in the second half, as Duke went on to the 34-17 victory.
DeWalt-Ondijo, a redshirt senior, said he felt an adrenaline rush on that initial drive of the third quarter, and that helped propel him toward the quarterback. That was in stark contrast to how the game began, when the Blue Devils’ defense was caught off-guard and on its heels.
Troy scored on its first two drives with relative ease, moving 83 yards down the field, twice, to take an early 14-3 lead. There was no pressure from Duke’s defensive line – the Trojans were running up the middle and stretching the field with screen passes at will. Part of that was due to the syrupy Alabama air, hot and heavy with humidity. And part of it had to do with the Trojans pushing the tempo of its offense, running the no-huddle to perfection.
“To be honest, it just took a quarter,” linebacker David Helton said when asked about the defensive turnaround. “We made a few different calls with our sets, a little bit, but really it was just us adjusting and getting that first stop.”
On the Duke sideline, the frustration was palpable, and fellow senior defensive end Dezmond Johnson tried to encourage the beleaguered line unit. The message: Don’t give up. This isn’t us.
“I don’t know about everyone else, but, for me, it was good to hear one of our seniors talk and not give in,” DeWalt-Ondijo said.
After he was done doing his own talking with the media after the game, DeWalt-Ondijo bounded back up the stairs toward the team bus. Head coach David Cutcliffe was coming down at the same time and took note of the energy the senior still had left.
That was a welcome sight for Cutcliffe – for much of his career, DeWalt-Ondijo has been plagued by injuries, specifically to his ankles. During the preseason, Cutcliffe raved about the ratio of big plays DeWalt-Ondijo had recorded during his somewhat limited number of snaps – plays that could be crucial to a defensive line that has struggled, at times, making life difficult on opposing offenses.
But Saturday night, as DeVon Edwards stepped up and made plays in the secondary and David Helton stepped up and made plays in the linebacking corps, DeWalt-Ondijo was there to raise the level of play on the front line of Duke’s 4-2-5 defense. It’s a good start – like all the positives that occurred on for Duke Saturday night, it represents something to build on for the weeks to come.