Duke gained despite losing 24-14 at Louisville.
Here’s why I say that:
— 1) Duke was a 35-point underdog that kept the outcome in doubt, tying the score 7-7 and trailing only 10-7 at halftime. The Blue Devils gained credibility on national TV.
— 2) The over-under was 110 points, a total that suggested an embarrassing flag-football score. But the Blue Devils kept fans and Heisman Trophy voters alike engaged until No. 7-ranked Louisville (5-1, 3-1 ACC Atlantic) eventually closed out Duke (3-4, 0-3 ACC Atlantic) in the final seconds.
There may not be no such thing as a moral victory at Alabama, but Duke’s image can still grow from such results.
The sub-point to the above was that Louisville sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson rallied his team without hurting his Heisman Trophy chances. He finished with 225 total yards. He ran for 141 with a touchdown and passed for 181 with a TD.
Duke’s strong play broke Louisville trends starting with the Blue Devils’ first series, an eight-play, 79-yard scoring drive to tie the score 7-7 midway through the first quarter. It marked the first time in six games Louisville allowed an opponent to scoring on the opening drive of either half.
The Cardinals had held opponents to a third-down conversion rate of only 24.7 percent entering the contest. Duke converted both of its two third-down plays on the scoring possession.
T.J. Rhaming caught a third-down screen pass for 51 yards to the 28. Rhaming’s catch and run was the longest play of the year against the Cardinals. Five plays later tight end Erich Schneider caught a third-and-6 pass for 9-yard touchdown.
Duke sent the tone early, conveying the message that it wasn’t going to roll over. Louisville took a 7-0 lead on its first possession, but the Cardinals needed a 10-play, 80-yard drive to find the end zone.
The rest of the half the Louisville was forced to punt three of its next four possessions. Evan O’Hara’s 22-yard field goal on Louisville’s third possession was good for a 10-7 lead that was still the score at halftime.
The Cardinals finished the first half with 212 total yards (129 passing, 83 rushing), but they entered the game averaging 387.8 yards and 34.2 points in the first half of their first five contests.
Louisville averaged 58 points and 659.2 yards a game in the first five games. Duke “held” the Cardinals to 469 total yards.
Duke lost, but the Blue Devils regained credibility after a 34-20 loss to Virginia two weeks ago.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe’s efforts to establish a respected ACC program are still on the upswing.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055