Riley Leonard, Duke beat Miami in ACC college football game

Duke defensive tackle Aeneas Peebles celebrates after Duke beat Miami 45-21, in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Duke defensive tackle Aeneas Peebles celebrates after Duke beat Miami 45-21, in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)


That Duke’s football team showed fight and resilience is no longer a surprise at this point of the season.

The Blue Devils have repeatedly done so this season, their first under head coach Mike Elko and his coaching staff.

Still, it’s noteworthy how that trait manifested itself in Duke’s 45-21 win at Miami on Saturday.

These were circumstances under which Duke teams of recent vintage faltered. Going a step further, Duke teams the past two seasons faltered when facing lesser obstacles.

These Blue Devils, though, overcame recent heartbreak, an in-game momentum swing against them and human nature to leave South Florida a win from bowl eligibility.

“A great opportunity for us to go out and really show people what this program is starting to become,” Elko said. “I told the guys in the locker room, just incredibly proud of their fighting spirit, and how they represent this program and this university.”

Duke (5-3, 2-2 ACC) entered Saturday’s game having lost 23-20 in overtime at Georgia Tech and 38-35 to North Carolina the previous two games.

Athletes from high school to the pros talk about moving on and worrying about the next play when difficult losses happen. That’s easier said than done.

Seeing rival UNC score with 16 seconds to play to beat Duke last Saturday night took more than a day or two for the Blue Devils to get over.

Further complicating the situation is a schedule that had Duke playing its first eight games in eight weeks before taking an open week. The Miami game was game No. 8. Win or lose, a few days off and a short week of practice awaited the Blue Devils when they returned home.

So when Miami scored twice in the first three minutes of the third quarter to erase Duke’s 17-7 halftime lead and grab a 21-17 advantage, human nature could have creeped in and allowed the Blue Devils to figure it wasn’t their day.

Quarterback Riley Leonard taking a sack on Duke’s first play from scrimmage after that, followed by an incomplete pass to leave the Blue Devils facing third-and-13 from their 18, only made the situation more dire.

Instead, the Blue Devils put together an 18-play, 79-yard touchdown drive to take the lead for good.

“Our character showed in that moment,” Leonard said.

Yes it did. Duke’s display of true mettle unleashed a drive that shows exactly what this team is this season.

The Blue Devils are far from perfect, as shown by the holding and offensive pass interference penalties they committed during the drive.

They are multidimensional on offense, as shown by the drive’s 12 passing and six running plays.

They are bold, as shown by them eschewing the kicking game to get a first down on a fourth-and-9 play and a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2.

Leonard threw a 21-yard pass to Eli Pancol to convert the first play and a 2-yard pass to Nicky Dalmolin for the touchdown.

Duke never trailed again.

“We obviously didn’t start the third quarter the way we wanted to,” Elko said. “We probably couldn’t have started it any worse if we tried. But, you know, we had to go out there and respond. And that’s what really good football teams do. And so, you know, we put that drive together.”

Duke having the toughness to put together that drive is but one takeaway from Saturday’s win.

Here are two others:

Duke’s DBs can make plays

For the past two seasons, while Duke lost 17 of 18 ACC games and went 5-18, the Blue Devils’ defensive secondary failed to put up much of a fight.

One example? Duke allowed 311.8 passing yards per game last season, No. 129 of 130 Division I teams (beating only Michigan State).

At Miami, the much-maligned group stood out.

Safety Jaylen Stinson picked off two passes. Safety Brandon Johnson had two sacks and a fumble recovery in addition to returning an interception for a touchdown. He also recorded eight solo tackles.

While North Carolina completed seven passes of 15 yards or more against Duke last week, Miami managed just three in Saturday’s game.

Duke’s running game is legit

The Blue Devils ran for 200 yards against Miami, scoring four touchdowns via the run.

That’s the second game in a row Duke surpassed 200 yards rushing after the Blue Devils had 297 in the loss to UNC. Duke’s done so three times in its four ACC games.

That it came against Miami is notable because the Hurricanes entered the game third in the ACC in rushing defense, allowing 96.5 yards per game.

Duke’s rushing offense entered Saturday’s game second in the ACC in rushing offense, cranking out 205.9 yards per game.

The Blue Devils continue to run the ball well despite playing without two important players who are injured.

Starting left guard Maurice McIntyre missed his second game since a dislocated knee ended his season. Junior running back Jaylen Coleman, the team’s leading rusher over the first five games this season, missed his third consecutive game with a lower-body injury.

The Blue Devils displayed balance in their rushing attack at Miami, with sophomore Jaquez Moore leading them with 63 rushing yards on six attempts (10.5 yards per carry).

Leonard finished with 61 yards, including three touchdowns. Junior Jordan Waters had 47 yards and Terry Moore added 30.

All that was enough for Duke to average 4.8 yards per carry, a rushing attack potent enough to get the Blue Devils another win or two this season to put them in a bowl game.

Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. He placed second in both beat writing and breaking news in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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