Duke fans of a certain age are used to seeing the four corners offense when ACC play rolls around. They were probably a bit surprised to see the Blue Devils use it themselves in a football game against Louisville on Friday night though.
David Cutcliffe’s squad held the ball a remarkable 37 minutes and tried their best to play keep away from the potent Cardinals offense but it wasn’t enough as Lamar Jackson was able to squeak out a 24-14 win that was much closer than the final score indicated.
The Heisman Trophy favorite did not have the sharpest of nights in the passing game after spending nearly two weeks off since the team’s last outing in a close loss at Clemson. Jackson finished with just 181 yards and a touchdown pass through the air but came up big on the ground with 144 yards rushing and another score. In a rare fourth quarter appearance on the year, the young signal-caller made several big plays in leading the Cardinals to a scoring drive just after the Blue Devils cut the lead to three points late in the game.
Jeremy Smith also chipped in with 97 yards rushing, including an 80-yarder in the third quarter that was Louisville’s longest offensive play of the year.
The story of the game was the impressive defensive effort by the visitors however. Facing the top scoring offense in the country, Duke slowed Louisville down considerably by limiting them to “only” 469 yards and a measly 24 points thanks to some big stops in the red zone. Joe Giles-Harris was all over the field on his way to a nine tackle, one sack effort and he got plenty of help from an offense that allowed for plenty of rest on the sidelines.
The Blue Devils thought they had a chance late when they held the Cardinals to a field goal attempt on 4th and 22 to keep it within a touchdown during the final few minutes. They suffered a heart-breaking penalty on the play when they were called for roughing the kicker though, which extended the drive and allowed Jackson to later punch it in for the final points of the night to salt away a win.
Either way it was an impressive effort from Duke in perhaps their most complete game of the season –against a top 10 team no less. Louisville still held on for the win to keep their slim College Football Playoff hopes alive however and will hope Friday night’s close game was simply the result of rust from a bye week instead of any lingering effects from their first loss of the season.