Coaches tend to nitpick wins, but Duke’s David Cutcliffe didn’t do it Saturday.
The Blue Devils’ 49-6 victory over N.C. Central was over at halftime, when Duke led 49-0, and the second half was a bit sloppy. Duke had five lost fumbles and 10 penalties in the game.
But the Blue Devils won big at renovated Wallace Wade Stadium, played a lot of people and had no serious injuries. Quarterback Daniel Jones, starting his first college game, kept his cool and was effective while the Duke defense limited the Eagles to four first downs and 112 total yards.
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“They certainly played well enough to have a shutout,” Cutcliffe said of the defense. “Offensively I thought we were amazingly efficient. Daniel Jones showed poise, put us in good plays. Jela Duncan did what we thought he would do, along with the other backs.”
Duncan scored on a 50-yard burst on the Blue Devils’ second offensive snap. Boom, touchdown, Duke. The redshirt senior from Charlotte would finish with 115 of Duke’s 308 rushing yards, adding a second TD in the first quarter on a short run.
“We came out in the first half with a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Duncan said. “We were clicking on all cylinders.”
Cutcliffe joked on his radio show this past week that he would tell Jones to have fun and “Do what you do, brother … and don’t turn the ball over.” Jones, 19, last played a football game for Charlotte Latin High in 2014, redshirting at Duke last season, but moved into a starting role when Thomas Sirk, a redshirt senior and returning starter, went down with another Achilles tendon injury in fall camp.
On Saturday, Jones come running out of the tunnel through the pregame smoke knowing it was his team to lead, that a lot of eyes would be focused on him.
“I was really excited coming out,” Jones said. “Obviously there were a little bit of nerves, being the first game at this level, but once we got a few snaps in, it was back to playing football, doing what we love. It was a good time.”
Jones showed off his running ability before he threw his first pass, zipping 21 yards on an option keep. He later scored on a 7-yard run that had his teammates giving him a mass hug in the end zone.
Jones had a 10-for-15 passing worksheet, with a couple of throws dropped, for 189 yards and two touchdowns. He found receiver Johnathan Lloyd open for a 55-yard score and tight end Erich Schneider for a 20-yard TD, making his pass progressions well and showing mobility in the pocket.
“He was cool,” Lloyd said. “He stays the same. He’s always laid-back, quiet, but we got out there, and he did what we need him to do.
“He’s a cool dude. He just stayed calm, and he was ready for it. Good debut.”
It helped that Duke had favorable field position much of the first half, starting its first four possessions at the NCCU 49, Duke 49, NCCU 34 and the Duke 45 in the first quarter. Duke scored three times for a 21-0 lead and had 416 yards of total offense by halftime.
N.C. Central, 8-3 last season and the MEAC champion, never had better field position that its 24 on its first five possessions. The Eagles were a bit cautious with the ball and the Blue Devils aggressive as defensive tackle A.J. Wolf had three sacks, one shy of the school record, and linebackers Joe Giles-Harris — who had a sack and two tackles for losses — and Ben Humphreys were active.
Cornerback Breon Borders picked off a first-half pass that led to a score, and N.C. Central’s only points came in the second half on a pair of Brandon McLaren field goals, the first a 48-yarder. Duke had 25 defensive players credited with a tackle or an assist.
“Good things happen when you play hard, and I think that’s what happened tonight,” Wolf said.
The twist is that N.C. Central is a Football Championship Subdivision team, albeit a good one. The Blue Devils will get a different test on Saturday, when they host Wake Forest in an early ACC opener.
“We’ll know a lot more about our team,” Cutcliffe said.