Brandon Connette was faced with tough throws Saturday against Georgia Tech. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
DURHAM—If Georgia Tech’s offense works as designed, the Yellow Jackets keep the ball for long stretches of time, putting a premium on every offensive possession for the opposition. Duke was too inconsistent Saturday at Wallace Wade, and, outside of one drive in the first half, couldn’t generate any offensive momentum while the game's outcome was still in doubt. As a result, Georgia Tech ran away with a 38-14 win.
Duke (2-1, 0-1 in the ACC) had five three-and-outs and six punts on its eight first-half drives. Third downs were a particular struggle all game, as the Blue Devils went 3-of-14 in that critical aspect.
“A lot of that was just me being inaccurate on third downs, missing guys that were open or throwing a little bit behind or a little bit low,” quarterback Brandon Connette said. “I’ve got to be more accurate and more consistent on third downs in order to keep our offense on the field longer.”
Connette, filling in for the injured Anthony Boone, finished 15-of-28 for 122 yards, but his, at times, slow decision making prevented the Blue Devils from breaking any big plays. He didn’t roll out of the pocket often—through three quarters, he had eight rushing yards on nine attempts and took two sacks (he said he didn’t see any openings). Connette’s best play came on a designed run that he took seven yards into the end zone to open up the fourth quarter.
“It was just one of those really tough days. I felt for him.” head coach David Cutcliffe said of Connette. “I wanted to help him somehow, someway.”
A quarterback must digest a significant of information quickly, about three seconds, Cutcliffe said. He has to get his protection right. He has to understand the protection circumstance. He has to move in the pocket, he has to see, he has to be in great position to throw an accurate ball. And he has to make good reads early.
“Experience is a great teacher,” Cutcliffe said. “The more you do it, the better you get at it.”
Duke finished with 254 yards of total offense, 132 on the ground and 122 in the air. The Yellow Jackets aimed to simply their defense this year, and both Cutcliffe and Connette said they played in their base scheme for the majority of the game, hardly making any changes. They moved linebackers and safeties up to try to stop the run, forcing Connette to beat them in the air.
Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0) racked up 469 yards in total, with 344 rushing yards. Durham native Vad Lee, a Hillside High graduate, finished 8-of-16 for 125 yards and four touchdowns against one interception. Lee also ran for 76 yards and another score on 22 attempts.
The offensive line had an early edge on the Georgia Tech defensive front, and Duke ran the ball at will on their lone touchdown drive of the first half. Jela Duncan ran outside and through the tackles for 35 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run that capped a nine-play, 72-yard drive.
That was it, though, as far as offensive efficiency before Georgia Tech pulled away. Duke’s advantage along the line disappeared in the next drive, and Duncan was stopped short on fourth-and-1 from the Georgia Tech 20-yard line. Connette took the snap in the shotgun, and Duncan actually lost one yard in the process.
“You miss a few third downs, you miss that fourth down that’s critical,” Cutcliffe said. “It was one of those things, we weren’t as optimistic, we weren’t as energized.
“That’s a test we didn’t pass. That’s my responsibility to make sure a team is resilient and can overcome those circumstances.”
In total Duncan finished with 89 yards on 16 attempts. Juwan Thompson, Duke’s second leading rusher, had 19 yards on six carries.
Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets did their thing, methodically advancing the ball up the field. Georgia Tech came away with points on three of its first four drives, building a 17-7 lead. When the Yellow Jackets received the ball with 1:44 left in the first half, they sped up the pace, as Lee hit Robert Godhigh over the middle for two long pass plays of 16 and 18 yards. A facemask penalty on Duke defensive lineman Kenny Anunike also gave Georgia Tech a large chunk of yards quickly.
And when Georgia Tech received the ball to open the second half, the Yellow Jackets effectively put the game away with a 15-play, 73 yard drive that took 7 minutes, 37 seconds off the clock. Duke did respond with Connette’s touchdown run to open the fourth quarter and cut the deficit to 31-14, but the ensuing onside kick attempt did not travel the necessary 10 yards.
“It’s just frustrating because you know you’re more comfortable than what you showed out there and how we played,” Connette said. “I’ve told guys that I just need to be more consistent. Practice will definitely help that, watching film on this game will help that. They know I’m more capable of playing better than I did today.”