By now, it should come as no surprise when Duke plays a solid defensive game against Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets run a triple-option offense and led the nation in rushing yards per game at 373 yards per game entering Saturday’s ACC game with Duke at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The Blue Devils, using a defensive game plan born 11 years ago and honed while coach David Cutcliffe has turned the Duke program into a winner, stuffed Georgia Tech like no one else has this season.
In beating Georgia Tech 28-14, Duke held the Yellow Jackets to their fewest points of the season. Georgia Tech’s 229 rushing yards marked its second-lowest output of the season. Only unbeaten Clemson, which held Georgia Tech to 146 rushing yards while winning 49-21 on Sept. 22, has been more effective.
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The Blue Devils recorded nine tackles for loss in the first half alone. For the game, they allowed Georgia Tech to gain 3.75 yards per carry, far below the 6.64 per carry average the Yellow Jackets have in the rest of their games.
“We are a good defensive football team and I think people know that,” Cutcliffe said. “We have a systematic approach to playing an option offense.”
Duke works on defending the option each spring because Georgia Tech is an annual ACC opponent.
The Blue Devils have also played another option team, Army, six times in the last 10 seasons, including the last four years in a row.
Duke has played and defeated yet another option team, Navy, three times during Cutcliffe’s tenure.
“We basically have a playbook,” Cutcliffe said. “We try to make our players familiar where they understand what the expectations are.”
It worked well on Saturday as the Blue Devils (5-1, 1-1 in ACC) beat Georgia Tech for the fourth time in the last five years.
Redshirt junior linebacker Joe Giles-Harris had 15 tackles. Senior linebacker Ben Humphreys finished with 11.
Georgia Tech fumbled six times -- with Duke forcing four of them -- and lost three of them.
Yellow Jackets senior quarterback Ta’Quon Marshall entered Saturday with 557 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
On Oct. 5 at Louisville, Marshall rushed for 175 yards with two touchdowns as the Yellow Jackets rocked the Cardinals, 66-31.
Against Duke, Marshall finished with 41 yards on 16 attempts and didn’t score.
“We had guys on defense step up and make plays,” Giles-Harris said. “Chris Rumph. Dylan Singleton. Ben Humphreys played a helluva game. Our D line just dominated. That’s all you can ask for as an inside linebacker when you are playing the option.”
So now Duke is one win away from bowl eligibility. One more win will mean a fifth bowl trip in the last six seasons for the Blue Devils.
Before looking ahead to Saturday’s ACC game with Virginia at 12:30 p.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium, here’s a look at what stood out from the win at Georgia Tech:
A star is born
Redshirt freshman Chris Rumph II showed promise in limited play prior to Saturday. A 6-3, 225-pound defensive end, Rumph already had 3.5 tackles for losses in a reserve role.
Duke needed him to play linebacker as part of its plan against the triple-option. Rumph moved into the starting lineup when Koby Quansah broke a bone in his foot during practice last Wednesday.
Against Georgia Tech, Rumph had seven tackles, including four of Duke’s nine tackles for loss.
“The coaches did a great job preparing me, so I learned what their O-line did with the snap count,” Rumph said. “I did a good job timing them up and making plays in the backfield.”
Duke uses a 4-2-5, with two starting linebackers, normally but inserts a third linebacker to stop the triple-option. So Rumph will likely return to a reserve role the rest of the season.
But he showed he has a big future.
“He’s a football player,” Cutcliffe said. “There he is, a defensive end playing linebacker. He didn’t know he was going to start until midweek. He just continues to do things like that.”
The offense got enough done
Duke looked great on its first possession, driving 52 yards on four plays to score on a 12-yard Deon Jackson run to take a 7-0 lead.
But the Blue Devils went scoreless on their next seven possessions, losing a fumble, throwing an interception and surrendering the ball on downs by failing on two plays after having third-and-1.
“We stopped ourselves,” Cutcliffe said.
After halftime, though, the Blue Devils came out determined to run the ball. That’s despite Jackson playing while injured starter Brittain Brown missed the game.
“We listed the runs we wanted to run in the second half and I thought we did a good job of doing that,” Cutcliffe said.
Jackson finished with 98 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown. He lost a fumble in the fourth quarter.
When Georgia Tech lost three fumbles in the final 2:47 of the third quarter, Duke took advantage with Daniel Jones tossing touchdown passes to T.J. Rahming, Davis Koppenhaver and Johnathan Lloyd to give Duke a 28-7 lead.
The Blue Devils ran only 10 plays and gained 117 yards on those three scoring drives. But that sequence won the game for Duke.
Good and bad injury news
Starting defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord started and played after sitting out Duke’s last two games. But he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in the second half and will miss the rest of the season.
Two other defensive starters, defensive end Drew Jordan and cornerback Michael Carter, started against Georgia Tech after being out with injuries.
Wide receiver Aaron Young, who had been slowed by a hamstring injury, played for the first time since catching four passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in Duke’s 34-14 win over Army on Aug. 31.
Young caught three passes for 25 yards against Georgia Tech.
Senior center Zach Harmon started and played for the first time since Duke’s 21-7 win at Northwestern on Sept. 8. But sophomore Jack Wohlabaugh replaced him midway through the game against Georgia Tech.
Brown was limited in practice last week. He was in uniform at Georgia Tech but was held out.
“He’s better,” Cutcliffe said. “In an emergency, you might would have seen him on the field today. I had great confidence in Deon. He’s a little shook about the (fourth-quarter) fumble. But what a warrior he was today.”