It would have been easy to approach the game with a sense of dread, given the wind and rain, knowing the effects of Hurricane Matthew could create havoc.
“But I loved it,” Duke safety Corbin McCarthy said Saturday. “It was an absolutely awesome day of football. We kept saying it’s backyard football. Everybody here was a kid who once used to play in the rain and the mud. I’m like a 12-year-old who can’t stop smiling.”
Such was the attitude many of the Blue Devils had as they faced Army at Wallace Wade Stadium. Embracing the challenge of playing in harsh, almost surreal conditions, the Blue Devils won, 13-6.
As Duke coach David Cutcliffe quipped, “Matthew was the baddest dude on the field, for both teams.” The wind howled and the rain was blowing sideways, and some would say that might favor a running team like Army, which was the national leader in rushing with 374 yards a game.
But the Blue Devils (3-3), who are making a habit of beating triple-option teams, used their defensive speed and discipline to dictate play most of the afternoon. Army finished with eight first downs and 165 yards rushing, and while sophomore fullback Andy Davidson broke loose for a 45-yard touchdown burst and had 120 yards for the game, the Blue Devils were the clear winners in the defense-vs.-offense matchup.
The Blue Devils stopped the Black Knights (3-2) on all four fourth-down conversion attempts, and Army converted just 2 of 13 third-down plays.
“Everybody had energy and everybody was prepared,” said safety Deondre Singleton, whose interception and fumble recovery were two of the biggest plays by Duke’s defense.
The recovery came after Davidson fumbled on Army’s second possession of the game, setting up Duke’s first score. His pickoff, with 2:17 left in the game, ended Army’s final threat.
The Blue Devils, rebounding from a 34-20 loss to Virginia, took an early lead as backup quarterback Parker Boehme came in on third-and-goal, hitting tight end Erich Schneider for a 3-yard score with a jump-pass that fooled the Black Knights.
Quarterback Daniel Jones also had a TD throw, hitting wide receiver Aaron Young open in the right corner of the end zone on third-and-12 at the Army 22. The Blue Devils botched the point-after kick but had a 13-0 lead.
“That put (Army) behind the eight-ball,” Singleton said. “They had to start doing things they’re not used to doing.”
Jones had a trying day against Virginia, with five interceptions and a fumble, and was blasted in the end zone late in the game on a blitz. The redshirt freshman was 7-of-15 passing against Army for 41 yards while running 21 times.
“You’re just trying to limit exchanges and ballhandling, and it’s adjusting to the conditions,” Jones said.
There were some tense moments for Duke’s offense. The Blue Devils lost center Austin Davis to an injury and later running back Jela Duncan went out with a leg injury.
Cutcliffe said he did not think either player would need surgery but was unsure how long they might be out.
Duncan, who had 40 yards on 10 carries, missed the Virginia game with an ankle injury suffered against Notre Dame.
The Blue Devils’ Austin Parker had a punt blocked, but the defense made up for that mistake. Parker also had a 68-yard punt later in the game to alter field position.
“You have to be pleased when your team was as focused as our team was in those conditions,” Cutcliffe said.
Duke has a short week before going back on the road for an ACC game on Friday — at Louisville. “A big task,” Cutcliffe said.
How does a victory change things?
“Confidence,” McCarthy said. “Confidence as a defense, confidence as an offense. We just need to ride the wave.”