Vandys fast start dooms Duke
Duke went into Saturday's game against Vanderbilt knowing it had to stop wide receiver Earl Bennett from making big plays and quarterback Chris Nickson from escaping the pocket.
The Blue Devils failed miserably at both tasks, and despite four touchdown runs by Duke's Justin Boyle, the Commodores rolled to a 45-28 win at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Vanderbilt opened up a 28-0 first half lead behind the playmaking of Bennett and Nickson.
Nickson threw two touchdown passes, including a 77-yarder to Bennett, and ran for another two scores to put Duke in an insurmountable hole.
For the game, Nickson totaled 401 yards of offense despite being removed from the game in the second half when it appeared Vanderbilt would cruise to victory.
That wasn't quite the way it worked out though, as Duke staged an aggressive rally to make things interesting in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 38-7, Boyle scored his second touchdown of the day on a 13-yard run with 10:26 remaining.
On Vanderbilt's ensuing possession, backup quarterback Mackenzi Adams took off on a scramble that looked like it would yield another Commodore first down.
But Duke linebacker Jeramy Edwards forced a fumble at the tail end of the play and freshman linebacker Vincent Rey recovered for Duke.
Five plays later, Boyle crashed into the end zone again, and following a Duke timeout to set up a two point conversion, Requan Boyette carried the ball off right tackle to bring Duke within two scores at 38-22.
What followed then was surely one of the best onside kicks in Duke history.
Joe Surgan's kick bounded toward the sideline, took a hop over Vanderbilt's receivers, and was knocked back in play and further down the field by Duke's Glenn Williams.
When the dust settled, Alex Williams had possession of the football for Duke all the way down at the Vanderbilt 32-yard line.
Boyle needed just one play to go the distance, ripping through a couple of arm tackles and then carrying a pair of Commodores the final five yards for his fourth touchdown of the game.
With still seven minutes remaining, Duke had an opportunity to draw within a single possession but Boyette came up just a couple of inches short on the two point try.
Down by 10, Duke elected to try another onside kick, but Vanderbilt secured this one, and with the game suddenly competitive again, Commodore coach Bobby Johnson turned the reigns of the offense back over to Nickson.
The dual threat quarterback put the final nail in Duke's coffin by breaking out of the pocket on third-and-three and sprinting 39 yards down to the Duke one yard line.
Two plays later, Nickson sneaked the football in for the game's final touchdown and the Commodores had sealed their 45-28 win.
Boyle was certainly the biggest bright spot for Duke, which fell to 0-8 on the season.
His four touchdowns put him in select company, as he now co-owns the single game rushing touchdowns record with five other Blue Devils.
Defensively, there was very little to be pleased about.
Duke's tackling was the worst it has been all year and Nickson dominated the Blue Devils like no player has done all year.
The Commodores averaged nearly eight yards per play, thanks in large part also to Bennett, who caught nine passes for 184 yards for a 20.4 yards per catch average.
Edwards had 10 tackles while Lowe had 11 stops including 2.5 for loss.
The Blue Devils close a four game homestand next week against Navy.