DURHAM, N.C. -- On a day when much of the ACC looked ordinary, Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0 ACC) looked anything but in a 38-14 win over Duke (2-1, 0-1 ACC).
The Blue Devils prepared and did all what they needed to do to get ready for the option offense -- but ultimately, the Yellow Jackets are who we thought they were. And that's a pretty dangerous team.
This says more about where Georgia Tech is right now than it does about Duke, a team missing its starting quarterback but much-improved in some key areas.
1. Duke just couldnt take advantage of early opportunities.
Facing a team like Georgia Tech gives you almost no margin for error. Well, Duke punter Will Monday -- normally one of the best in the league-- shanked his first punt for just 22 yards, giving Georgia Tech the ball at midfield (they would hit a field goal). And Duke would commit two more penalties (one on a punt, one on a kickoff) that killed them from a field-position standpoint. Again, small things - but important.
And then Duke had a fourth and one at the Georgia Tech 20-yard line on its third drive of the game with the score still just 10-7, Georgia Tech. Instead of kick a field goal -- chip-shot range for Ross Martin -- they elected to go for it. It made since -- after all, the Blue Devils offensive line was dominating up front -- but Duke didnt get it.
2. Brandon Connette wasnt bad. At times, he was pretty good. But he wasnt Anthony Boone.
On the second drive of the game, Duke went down the field easily in nine plays to score a touchdown. Duke wouldnt score again until early in the fourth quarter. On that first drive, Duke ran the ball seven times for 45 yards as Dukes line blew the Georgia Tech front off the ball.
The rest of the game, Duke had 87 yards on 25 rushes. Georgia Tech started committing more defenders to stopping the run, daring Duke to beat them with the pass. That didnt happen.
Connette was 2-of-2 for 27 yards on that drive and began 3-of-4 for 27 yards. He completed 12 of his final 24 attempts (50) for 95 yards. He didnt turn it over, but he was sacked twice and often seemed a step slow.
Its a transition for Connette, certainly, to be the main guy as opposed to taking on spot duty. And this is an improved Georgia Tech defense. But Duke is simply a different team without Anthony Boone (out indefinitely with a broken collarbone), at least until Connette can get more comfortable running the offense.
Its still going to be a little bit of a process. I felt into the game. I felt like I knew what was going on, Connette said. I knew situations that were happening, so I felt good throughout the game with that. Its just the more and more repetitions that Im able to get even just in practice, making those repetitions more game-like during practice will help me.
3. This wasnt about stopping the option. This was about Georgia Techs offense being really good.
Dukes defense wasnt bad, really. Well, it wasnt great on third downs (Georgia Tech was 11-of-17). But Georgia Tech finished with 469 yards against a Duke defense that is much-improved, and has plenty of experience against the option.
They came out in a few different formations that we hadnt seen on tape, so they kind of got us early on, Duke senior defensive end Kenny Anunike said. But after the half, we started figuring it out, coming back schematically and doing some different things to try to stop it and I think we had some success, but it was a little too late.
Georgia Tech had 264 yards of offense in the first half to 205 in the second, but the Yellow Jackets still managed to control the clock, and the game. Also? Maybe, just maybe, the Georgia Tech offense is going to be pretty special this year.
And head coach Paul Johnson will never be satisfied. Last year after Georgia Tech put up 68 points on North Carolina in Chapel Hill, he was upset that they didnt make the two-point conversion. So it was no surprise that he found a lot of things to pick on offensively.
I was frustrated at halftime offensively, and then I looked at the stats and we only punted one time, Johnson said. It still didnt seem to me like we were in sync like we need to be. If you can play like that and win 38-14, its a good thing.
A lot of that is because of Durham native Vad Lee, who finished 8-of-16 passing for 125 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 76 yards rushing and another touchdown. Lees accuracy combined with his playmaking ability arguably gives Georgia Tech its best quarterback in this offense under Johnson.
Hes a great football player. His throws were right on point, Duke linebacker Kelby Brown, who had a game-high 17 tackles, said. He ran a couple wheel routes on us and even when we were in great position, they were able to make great catches. Props to him. He played his butt off out there.
Its worth noting that Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell had a fantastic game - when he was targeted. He intercepted a Lee pass in the first half and broke up another. After that, Lee basically avoided his side of the field. Its an important reminder of how valuable Cockrell is to this defense.
4. Dukes missing defensive pieces from last year -- linebacker Kelby Brown and safety Jeremy Cash -- were fantastic.
Linebacker Kelby Brown led the team in tackles with 17 (1.5 for loss) and was all over the place against a tough team to defend. Brown missed last season with an injury, and the linebacking corps was solid, but not great. Brown is developing into a playmaker at that position, which is a good sign.
As for Cash, its not necessarily a good thing for a safety to have a lot of tackles - okay, its bad - but the Ohio State transfer has shown this season that he can be a game-changer for the Blue Devils. He didnt get a transfer waiver last year from the NCAA after the staff thought he might, but regardless, hes here now and he is as advertised.
He gave terse answers after the game, clearly not happy with the loss. Which was understandable. And he wasnt big on moral victories - his own playmaking didnt matter much to him. He ended with 14 tackles, 1.5 for loss and a forced fumble. His forced fumble should have been recovered, too, but Duke had some bad luck on the play and couldnt get it.