The last time Duke lost a football game, Army was the team that delivered the defeat.
That was last Nov. 11, a bitter 21-16 decision that left Duke riding a six-game losing streak.
The Blue Devils gathered themselves the day after that road loss, putting together a sterling late-season run that included three consecutive wins to finish 7-6.
Duke capped it with an easy 36-14 win over Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl and headed into the offseason full of momentum.
That loss at Army, though, never really left the Blue Devils minds.
And that brings us to Friday night at Wallace Wade Stadium when Duke opened the new season against Army.
The Black Knights were a good team last season, finishing 10-3 for just the second season with double-digit wins in program history.
But the Blue Devils felt they owed something to Army and they played like it in whipping the Black Knights, 34-14.
“The first thing I told our team to start the ballgame that would make a difference is we had to be the most physical team on the field,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I thought, if you go back and you watch this game, we took that doubt out early.”
The Blue Devils certainly did. Army fumbled on its first two plays from scrimmage and Duke recovered the second of those two. That helped the Blue Devils take a 17-0 halftime lead in a game they controlled throughout.
“It was a statement win, a good win for us,” Duke safety Dylan Singleton said. “We obviously wanted to get a win after what happened to us last season. We got it.”
When told his players said they wanted to exact revenge on Army, Cutcliffe joked that he wished he’d known that before the game.
“You know that’s the last game that this group of guys, and really it’s almost the same team, has lost,” Cutcliffe said. “There is no question it was in their mind. It was kind of a chippy game a year ago. So I thought that was there. I hope that they play with that kind of edge every game. It always helps to have a little edge. There’s no question in my mind that exists.”
Here are three areas that made the difference for Duke (1-0) against Army. The Blue Devils will work to ensure all three carry over to their next game, Sept. 8 at Northwestern (1-0).
The Blue Devils forced three Army fumbles on the Black Knights’ first three possessions. Army fumbled the ball five times in the game with Duke recovering two of them. Four Duke players -- defensive tackle Trevon McSwain, defensive end Victor Dimukeje, safety Dylan Singleton and safety Damani Neal -- were credited with forced fumbles.
Safety Marquis Waters and cornerback Michael Carter II had Duke’s fumble recoveries.
That is a lot of different players involved in those big plays, which shows the depth Duke has on that side of the ball.
“It’s what we preach day in and day out,” Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “Create havoc. Create turnovers. Our guys buy into that. Extra pursuers. Our d-line, our backside safeties and linebackers did a great job of running to the ball. When you run to the ball and they don’t see you, you can put your hand on the ball, put a helmet on the ball and it’s going to come out. We did a great job of that.”
Even while finishing third in the ACC in points allowed per game (20.2) last season, Duke forced only seven fumbles in 13 games. With four, the Blue Devils have already surpassed half that total with one game played.
The efficient Daniel Jones
Redshirt junior quarterback Daniel Jones, in the first game of his third season as a starter for the Blue Devils, played like a confident veteran.
After completing 56 percent of his passes last season, Jones played efficiently by completing 13 of 17 passes for 197 yards. He kept the ball out of danger as none of his passes were even close to being intercepted.
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Cutcliffe said. “He didn’t surprise me. I thought he would play real well and he did.”
Jones showed touch on two passes in particular -- both to Aaron Young. Jones fired a 61-yard pass over the top to Young to set up Jones’ own 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
In the fourth quarter, after Army had sliced Duke’s lead to 10 points, Jones lofted a beautiful pass to Young in the right corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown play.
A redshirt junior, the 6-2, 205-pound Young emerged as Duke’s big-play receiver with four catches for 114 yards and the touchdown.
“He’s a big playmaker,” Jones said. “It doesn’t really surprise us and the guys who have been seeing it. Obviously it’s fun to watch out there. He certainly has that ability. We’ve seen it all summer and all camp. Happy for him to get out there and make some plays.”
Jones completed passes to five different players -- four wide receivers plus tight end Davis Koppenhaver.
Notice not one pass was caught by a running back on a dump off. Duke’s offensive line allowed him the time to look downfield.
“Efficiency came from physicality,” Cutcliffe said. “We averaged 10 yards a play in the first half offensively. It really was an outstanding performance mostly because we were so much more physical than we were a year ago.”
Clean kicking game
A big question mark entering the season, Duke’s kicking game proved flawless in game one.
Redshirt senior walk-on Collin Wareham had never kicked in a college game before. But he nailed field goals from 25 and 30 yards while making all four of his extra points.
Duke used sophomore John Taylor as long snapper with Jackson Hubbard holding for Wareham.
“Thrilled to death,” Cutcliffe said. “All three new guys. John Taylor snapping and Jackson Hubbard holding. You know, those guys spent the summer working. I mean, dedicated work. One game doesn’t make a player but your habits do. If they continue to be humble and to work hard and have great habits, they will be successful.”
Injury scares are just that -- scares
Duke saw Giles-Harris, it’s all-ACC linebacker, crumple to the field in pain before being helped off the field. Turns out he was just cramped up in the hot, humid weather.
Running back Brittain Brown, who looked good in rushing 11 times for 75 yards with a touchdown, appeared to injure his right knee. Brown was also helped from the field after his injury. He returned to make one more carry and appears to have dodged a serious injury.
“He’s good right now,” Cutcliffe said after the game. “He was stiff a little. I was scared to death but his knee is stable, I do know that. But it doesn’t mean he’s not going to be sore tomorrow (Saturday). He can be sore tomorrow as long as he’s not sore on Tuesday. Then he’ll be ready to go.”