Duke football recorded just five wins overall in 2020 and 2021 combined. This season, it already has six.
Following the 2021 season, Duke named Mike Elko its 22nd head coach. Elko had 13 years of coaching at the FBS level, serving as defensive coordinator for Bowling Green, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M in that span. Elko had coached teams to seven bowl games prior to his position in Durham.
Duke quarterback Riley Leonard also arrived on the scene this year, and he’s been everything the first-year coach could have wished for in a quarterback. Leonard’s 577 rushing yards lead all quarterbacks in the nation, and he has nine rushing touchdowns. Leonard also has 1,851 passing yards.
On Friday night, Elko and Leonard’s high-powered offense swept through Boston College like a hurricane, and the Blue Devils achieved bowl eligibility for the first time since 2018. The last time Duke was bowl eligible, current New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones led the offense.
Here are three observations from BC’s loss:
Sleepy First Drives
For the second straight game, BC allowed an explosive play on the first defensive drive of the game. And for the second straight week, BC head coach Jeff Hafley expressed that it isn’t in his defense’s nature to let up big plays so early on.
BC ranked 125th in total defense in 2019, and in two years under Jeff Hafley’s staff, it improved 97 spots to 28th in 2021—the second biggest jump in the country by a defense.
BC’s recent success on defense is largely a credit to its secondary—Hafley was previously a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Ohio State before coming to BC.
In six of their eight games this year, the Eagles have shown a nickel package to start games with three members of the secondary—Elijah Jones, Jason Maitre, and Jaiden Woodbey—starting all eight of those games.
Veteran Josh DeBerry has totaled seven starts at corner, and youngsters CJ Burton, Amari Jackson, and Cole Batson have also heard their numbers called.
Overall, it’s a deep group, but the same cannot be said of what the interior has done in 2022.
Last week, it was UConn’s tight end Justin Joly who turned a casual reception into a 62-yard touchdown through the air against BC’s defense. This week, it was a quarterback that swallowed up BC’s interior D-line and spat it right out.
On the third play of the game, Duke’s running back Jordan Waters took a rush up the middle for a gain of 13 yards. Jackson and Maitre made the stop. Waters went for a nine-yard run on the next play. Two plays later, Leonard characteristically took it himself.
This time, Jackson and Maitre couldn’t bail out the Eagles’ front four again. The sophomore quarterback took it all the way down the right sideline, silencing BC’s student section with the score.
Heading into the week, Hafley was honest about the power of Duke’s offensive line in his midweek press conference.
“I think they have 169 total starts on their offensive line, which is huge—the experience playing together,” Hafley said. “They’re big. They’re nasty.”
Unlike BC, the Blue Devils have a second- or third-year starter at every position on the offensive line, and it showed all night Friday.
Leonard only registered 158 yards in the air but amassed 96 yards on the ground. Duke rushed for 232 yards and took the ball into the endzone four times on the ground.
Though 2022 is largely a bust for Hafley and co., BC football fans are already getting a taste of what the Eagles’ next offensive trio can accomplish, thanks in large part to the past few games.
It wasn’t until Friday night, however, that the trio’s dominance was fully on display.
Taking over for quarterback Phil Jurkovec—out with a knee injury—Zay Flowers, and Pat Garwo III were redshirt freshman Emmett Morehead, true freshman Joseph Griffin Jr., and true freshman Alex Broome. The three of them were responsible for 379 of BC’s 405 total yards on offense.
Griffin, who has been gaining momentum at the x-receiver hole left by Jaden Williams—out for unknown reasons—had his best game to date. Griffin accumulated 103 receiving yards—38 more than Flowers—and grabbed two of Morehead’s touchdown passes on five total receptions.
And while BC’s run game has struggled this season—the Eagles average 2.3 yards per carry and have lost 397 yards on runs this season—Broome rushed for 49 yards on 10 rushing attempts.
Morehead stole the stage, however, and was the biggest storyline of the night. The 6-foot-5 signal caller out of Woodside, Calif. threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns on a completion rate of 60 percent. Morehead didn’t throw an interception.
Jurkovec, meanwhile, has thrown eight interceptions and 11 touchdowns on the year—the most interceptions thrown in a single season of his career.
Poor Play on Third Down
Boston College was 4-of-14 on third downs against Duke and didn’t convert on a third down until there was 1:14 left in the second quarter.
A lot of the blame goes to the offensive line, which has been decimated this year due to injury.
Hafley was forced to work with his ninth different starting offensive line combination of the year, and while the O-line showed slight improvement in the ground arena, it didn’t make much of a difference on some essential third downs that could’ve given BC’s defense a moment to rest.
Duke took advantage of Morehead’s first start since his junior year of high school, accumulating six tackles for loss and five sacks.
Morehead finally settled into a groove in the second half but was flustered on a number of short third downs in the first half.