Duke turning a corner entering October?


Throughout the season’s first three games, Duke’s coaches and players maintained belief that better was not only possible, but due soon.

Soon it arrived on a sun-splashed Saturday at famed Notre Dame Stadium.

Among the nation’s leaders in turnovers through three games, Duke played a turnover-free, penalty-free first half at Notre Dame, scoring four touchdowns along the way.

That’s as many touchdowns as Duke had scored over the previous two games, combined, in losses to Wake Forest and Northwestern.

Though Notre Dame scored the first two touchdowns of the second half to lead by a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils rallied behind redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones.

A 64-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Anthony Nash tied the score at 35. Following a strong defensive stand that included a Deondre Singleton interception, Jones led Duke to the Notre Dame 1-yard line and erased four important minutes off the clock.

That’s when freshman kicker A.J. Reed, who had missed the first three field goals of his career plus an extra point, drilled a 19-yard field goal with 1:27 to play. That lifted Duke to an unexpected 38-35 win over the Irish.

For the first time since 1961, Duke owned a win over Notre Dame.

“We found a little bit more out about ourselves today and what our personality has to be to win,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “So not all that complicated. We did the things that we had to do to give ourselves a chance to win on the road and then found a way to win it in the fourth quarter.

As I said, extremely proud of all of our people and the job that they have continued to do.”

Jones completed nine consecutive first-half passes while helping Duke erase an early 14-0 deficit. He finished 24-of-32 passing for 290 yards with his three touchdowns. After three fumbles and two interceptions over the previous two games, his lone turnover at Notre Dame was a third-quarter interception.

Duke lost senior All-American DeVon Edwards to torn knee ligaments in the first quarter. Junior running back Shaun Wilson took over and returned a kickoff 96 yards for Duke’s first touchdown.

Without Edwards, Duke’s defense took advantage of three Notre Dame turnovers.

“They wanted it more than us,” Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “From warmups to the fourth quarter, they came out to play and we didn’t.”

After struggling to move the ball in the running game this season, Duke gained 208 yards against the Irish. Running back Jela Duncan churned out 121 yards.

“They’re physical; I mean they are really physical,” Cutcliffe said of Notre Dame’s defense. “We just found a way to pick at them enough and make 24 first downs. That was probably as important as anything that we did to keep that offense of theirs off the field. That was obviously a big part of the plan as well.”

Now Duke (2-2) is back in the running for a fifth consecutive bowl trip. The Blue Devils face Virginia (1-3) on Oct. 1 at Wallace Wade Stadium.