Blue Devils come up short at Louisville, 24-14

Louisville's James Quick (17) pushes off a tackle by Duke's Jordan Hayes (13) during the first half in Louisville, Ky.
Louisville's James Quick (17) pushes off a tackle by Duke's Jordan Hayes (13) during the first half in Louisville, Ky. AP

Louisville’s Evan O’Hara lined up for a 46-yard field-goal attempt with 2:05 left with the Cardinals holding onto a three-point lead.

Regardless of the result, Duke would get the ball back with a chance to finish off No. 7 Louisville, down by six points at the worst.

55,121 fans watched and groaned as O’Hara’s kick fluttered gently to the left with no intention of straightening out toward the goal post. Duke’s opportunity opened up even more. Then, with the throwing of a yellow cloth by the game’s head official, opportunity’s door slammed on the nose of the Blue Devils.

Breon Borders flew into O’Hara’s feet shortly after he contacted the football, and he was called for a personal foul for running into the kicker. The penalty gave Louisville an automatic first down, and a Lamar Jackson rushing touchdown two plays later sealed the Cardinals 24-14 victory over upset-minded Duke (3-4, 0-3 ACC) on Friday.

It took a handful of officiating decisions to jumpstart Louisville (5-1, 3-1 ACC) against a game Duke defense.

After a Duke three-and-out to begin the second half, Jaire Alexander broke the game open with a 90-yard punt return touchdown. That is, until the officials called a block-in-the-back penalty that wiped the return off the board.

On the next drive, Louisville tight end Cole Hikutini fumbled inside the Louisville 15, but officials blew the play dead, ruling that Hikutini’s progress had been stopped. That Duke recovered the fumble further frustrated the men in blue and white when Jeremy Smith broke through a string of arm tackles and raced down the Louisville sideline for a 80-yard touchdown and a 17-7 Cardinals lead.

Louisville began to move the ball on offense in the second half but failed to generate points besides Smith’s long run, including a fumble forced by Duke safety Deondre Singleton inside the Blue Devils’ 10 and a missed field goal. After the field-goal attempt, Duke set foot toward a 15-play, 75-yard drive that spanned 8:53 and finished with 20-yard touchdown pass from Daniel Jones to Johnathan Lloyd on a fake screen play. The score cut Louisville’s lead to 17-14, and the black-clad home crowd tensed in the stands.

Blue Devils quarterback Jones was handed the keys to an offense built for ball control, and he did what he could with a plethora of wide receiver screens in the first three quarters. Not until the fourth quarter did Duke coach David Cutcliffe open the playbook to feature the offense that resembled the attack that had moved the ball against Notre Dame and others.

Regardless of the method, Duke made sure its playmakers, Jones, wide receiver TJ Rahming (7 catches for 83 yards) and running backs Shaun Wilson (18 carries and 37 yards) and Jela Duncan (12 carries for 44 yards), earned a majority of touches.

Louisville quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Jackson struggled through the air but managed 186 yards on 13-of-26 passing to go along with a handful of highlight-reel scrambles against a Duke defense that blitzed at will. His 144 rushing yards was his lowest total against an ACC opponent this year, but the Cardinals still gained 288 yards with help from running backs Brandon Radcliffe and Smith.

That the Blue Devils were befallen by Louisville’s backup running back and some late scrambling in the second half showed how well Duke’s defense played against a Louisville offense that scored 59 or more points in its first four games and 36 points on the road at Clemson. But the night did not start off as nicely.

The Cardinals offense busted out of a 13-day rest with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that featured Jackson making plays with his arm while buying time with his legs. He found a wide-open Jamari Staples for 29 yards after some scrambling in the key play of the drive that concluded with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Jaylen Smith.

Duke threw a counterpunch immediately. Jones found Rahming on a tunnel screen, and Rahming raced into Louisville territory down the left sideline for 51 yards. Five plays later, Jones found tight end Erich Schneider in the flat for a 9-yard touchdown.

Expectations of a high-scoring game tempered a bit after Duke and Louisville traded punts twice, sandwiching a 22-yard Louisville field goal at the start of the second quarter. The Blue Devils missed a chance to take a halftime lead when a 12-play drive that spanned 7:44 ended in a missed 40-yard field goal by AJ Reed, and the Cardinals led 10-7 at halftime.