Tigers get doubled up by Duke in opener

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Memphis, TN-Jai Steib rushed for an 11-yard touchdown with 11:38 remaining to tie the game at 14-14, but Duke (2-0) scored 14 unanswered points to defeat Memphis (0-1) 28-14 on Saturday in front of 44,237 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Duke recorded 45 rushes for 173 yards while gaining 297 yards through the air for 470 total yards. Memphis had 89 yards on the ground while freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch was 14-of-24 for 148 yards as the Tigers had 237 yards of offense.

The Blue Devils opened the game with two third-and-short conversions to finish off a six-play, 58-yard touchdown drive on their first possession. Duke quarterback Anthony Boone scampered for 23 yards on third-and-four to give the Blue Devils the 7-0 advantage.

The Tigers went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, but a 79-yard punt – the second-longest in school history – from Tom Hornsey shifted field position. Backed up in his own endzone, Boone completed a 15-yard pass to Blue Devils receiver Jamison Crowder to give the offense some room to work, but Memphis clamped down on defense and forced a punt by Duke.

But the Tiger offense could not get in sync, getting a big play, but then then failing to convert on either third or fourth downs. Freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch helped the Tigers move the ball 61-yards down to the Duke nine-yard line, but a turnover on downs ended the drive. On first down, Lynch completed a 32-yard pass to Mose Frazier to move the Tigers inside Duke territory. A 20-yard rush by Brandon Hayes put Memphis inside the redzone, and Lynch rushed for 10 yards on third down, but came up just short of the first down markers. The Tigers elected to go for it on fourth-and-one, but Duke stuffed the line of scrimmage and took over on downs.

Duke began their next drive on their own nine-yard line and marched down the field to the Memphis 22 by the end of the quarter. It was the Tiger defense that got the team’s first score of the season, as Bobby McCain started the second quarter started with a bang by stepping in front of a pass by Boone and returning it 75 yards for the score. The interception return for a touchdown was the second of McCain’s career, the first a 79-yard return against Tulane in 2011.

The punt team forced the Blue Devils’ second turnover of the afternoon as Hornsey booted a 50-yard punt. Leonard Pegues ripped the ball out of the grasp of Crowder and Dion Witty pounced on the ball to give Memphis the ball at the Duke 49-yard line. But the Tigers were unable to score off the turnover, and the two teams went to halftime locked at 7-7.

Duke was 6-for-10 on third downs in the first half and made it 7-for-11 with Brandon Connette’s completion to Braxton Deaver in the third quarter before Memphis had another chance off a Blue Devil turnover. Junior linebacker Ryan Coleman forced a fumble on the play and McCain fell on it to give Memphis the opportunity to score off the turnover. But back-to-back incompletions, followed by a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage, resulted in a Tigers’ punt.

The Blue Devils converted two more third down tries in a nine-play, 87-yard touchdown drive capped by Juwan Thompson’s eight-yard rush. Duke backup quarterback Brandon Connette entered the game late in the first half after Boone sustained an injury and completed both passes on the drive while rushing for 24 yards.

Gaining two first downs and 72 yards of offense in the first half, Memphis had a productive drive after the Duke touchdown. The Tigers covered 43 yards in 10 plays and had three first downs. But the drive stalled as Memphis was forced to try a fourth and one at the 32-yard line. Lynch attempted to pitch it to fellow freshman Marquis Warford, but the ball was fumbled and recovered by the Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils converted two more third downs, but Memphis stuffed out a third-and-two to force Duke into a decision at the Memphis 35-yard-line. On fourth and three, Cornette had space on the left side to scamper for the first down, but he lost his footing on the surface resulting in the turnover on downs.

In an attempt to knot the score at 14, Memphis started the drive at their own 41. After Lynch rushed for an 11-yard-gain, Duke was flagged for a personal foul, moving Memphis to the Blue Devils’ 33-yard line. Memphis faced third and four and Hayes rushed for a three-yard gain, giving the Tigers their third fourth and one of the game. Duke stopped the Tigers again, forcing the second fumble of the half by the U of M in a fourth down situation.

Again, the Tigers’ defense held and Duke punted from the endzone, giving Memphis possession at the 30-yard line. A 45-yard complete by Lynch to Tevin Jones sparked a three-play 70-yard drive. Sam Craft took the end around and rushed for 14 yards, setting up Jai Steib’s 11-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14.

Duke answered the Memphis drive with a seven-play, 80-yard drive. Connette completed a 22-yard strike to Issac Blakeney to give the Blue Devils the 21-14 lead. Connette was 3-of-5 for 64 yards on the drive. His air assault continued on their next drive as he tossed a 43-yard completion to Crowder on first down. Five plays later, Duke padded their margin to the final 28-14 decision with a Connette 12-yard touchdown strike to Brandon Braxton.

Anthony Brown led the Tigers defensively with 11 tackles, four unassisted and seven assisted. Brown had one sack while Martin Ifedi had six total tackles to go with two sacks. Hormsey punted seven times in the game and averaged 45.6 yards per punt and placed four of the seven inside the 20 yard line.

The Tigers hit the road and face Middle Tennessee on Saturday at 6 p.m.