Duke football rolls along. Three takeaways from the Blue Devils’ blowout win over UConn

No. 18 Duke had no problem rolling past UConn, blasting the winless Huskies, 41-7 in non conference football Saturday at Pratt & Whitney Stadium.

The Blue Devils (4-0) have won their first four games in a season for the first time since 2018. The win sets up a showdown of ranked teams this Saturday when Duke plays No. 9 Notre Dame at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Duke’s defense overpowered UConn (0-4) keeping the Huskies off the scoreboard until they finally scored against Duke’s reserves with 12 seconds left in the game.

Here are three takeaways from Duke’s latest win, which gives it a 13-4 record under head coach Mike Elko over past two seasons:

Stifling defense

Duke’s defense was so dominant against UConn’s feeble offense the Huskies didn’t surpass 100 total yards of offense until the fourth quarter.

The Huskies gained a mere 1.1 yards per play in the first half, when Duke pushed its way to a 27-0 lead.

Senior defensive tackle Aeneas Peebles recorded both of Duke’s sacks. DeWayne Carter, Duke’s all-ACC defensive tackle, scored a touchdown on a 26-yard fumble return in the third quarter.

Blue Devils defenders recorded eight tackles for losses on Saturday.

For the season, Duke has allowed just five touchdowns in four games. In three of Duke’s wins, the opposition scored seven points or less. That includes the Blue Devils 28-7 season-opening win over Clemson.

Leonard shows passing prowess

Duke entered Saturday’s game tied for the lead nationally with 12 rushing touchdowns before adding three more against UConn.

While that’s all fine and good, the Blue Devils need to develop an effective passing game because the better teams on their schedule — starting with Notre Dame — are better able to stop the run.

With that in mind, even when Duke pushed its lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter, Riley Leonard continued to work on his short-to-medium passing game.

The junior finished 23 of 34 passing (68%) for 248 yards. Those are single-game highs in completions, attempts and yards for Leonard this season.

Of Duke’s 20 first downs, 15 came via the pass on Saturday.

Leonard’s favorite target against UConn was junior wide receiver Jordan Moore, who had 14 passes thrown his way. Moore caught eight passes for 86 yards with one touchdown. Wide receiver Jalon Calhoun caught six passes (on seven targets) for 76 yards.

Six Duke players in total caught passes from Leonard. That included the first career catch for Jeremiah Hasley, a redshirt freshman who moved from linebacker to tight end last spring. Starting tight end Nicky Dalmolin caught three passes.

Mild offensive line concerns

Duke’s ability to impose its physical will on opponents by running the ball so well is certainly a positive this season.

However as a host of games with ranked teams start coming with Notre Dame on Saturday, the Blue Devils will need even better play from their offensive line.

On Saturday, the linemen were called for three holding penalties and a pair of false starts. Jacob Monk, Duke’s most experienced lineman, committed two holding penalties from his right guard position. Maurice McIntyre, another player with years of experience, was also called for holding.

The false starts were by right tackle Jake Hornibrook, a graduate transfer from Stanford, and another graduate transfer tackle, Jake Long.

The Blue Devils played without key reserve interior lineman Justin Pickett, who has been hampered by a variety of injuries dating back to the offseason. A redshirt sophomore, Pickett has played in two games, on the field for just 47 snaps, thus far this season.

His health issues allowed Scott Elliott, a graduate transfer from Harvard, to take over the starting center job with Monk starting at right guard. Last season, Duke often used Monk at center with Pickett at right guard.

The following were live updates during the game:

Moore TD catch: Duke 41, UConn 0

Jordan Moore caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Riley Leonard with 3:01 to play in the third quarter, giving Duke a 41-0 lead.

Scoop and score: Duke 34, UConn 0

Preseason all-ACC defensive tackle picked up a UConn fumble and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown adding to Duke’s already-lopsided lead with 7:13 to play in the third quarter.

Duke defensive end Ryan Smith forced the fumble with his hit on UConn running back Jalen Mitchell.

Halftime update

Duke’s defense allowed UConn to gain just 32 total yards of offense in the first half helping the Blue Devils to a commanding 27-0 lead over the Huskies.

Winless this season, UConn averaged just 1.1 yards per play on its seven possessions. It’s longest drive, on its first possession, covered just 16 yards.

Meanwhile, quarterback Riley Leonard completed 16 of 23 passes for 150 yards. The Blue Devils rushed for three touchdowns, two by Jordan Waters and another by Leonard. Duke entered the game tied for the lead nationally (with Texas State) with 12 rushing touchdowns.

Pelino FG: Duke 27, UConn 0

Todd Pelino’s second field goal of the game, this one from 40 yards out on the final play of the first half, gave Duke a 27-0 lead over UConn.

Leonard TD: Duke 24, UConn 0

Riley Leonard’s 3-yard touchdown run gave Duke a 24-0 lead over UConn with 4:55 to play in the first half.

Waters TD: Duke 17, UConn 0

For the third consecutive game, Duke running back Jordan Waters has a pair of touchdown runs. His second of Saturday’s game, on a 10-yard run, pushed Duke’s lead to 17-0 over the Huskies with 12:25 left until halftime.

Waters’ scoring run came on the first play after Duke linebacker Nick Morris recovered a UConn fumble.

Pelino FG: Duke 10, UConn 0

Sophomore Todd Pelino kicked a 50-yard field goal extending Duke’s lead to 10-0 over UConn with 12:42 to play in the first half.

The kick was a career-long field goal for the walk-on kicker.

Duke’s scoring drive began at its own 4 and the Blue Devils overcame right guard Jacob Monk’s two holding penalties. Duke quarterback Riley Leonard completed seven of nine passes on the drive, including a 7-yard pass to Jalon Calhoun on fourth-and-four from the UConn 36.

Waters TD: Duke 7, UConn 0

Jordan Waters scored a rushing touchdown for the fourth consecutive game giving Duke a 7-0 lead over UConn with 6:16 left in the first quarter.

Duke’s 44-yard touchdown drive was aided by a UConn penalty when linebacker Jackson Mitchell was called for targeting for his hit on Duke quarterback Riley Leonard. After the initial replay review, the officials announced Mitchell had not committed targeting. But they took another look and decided targeting did occur, which meant Mitchell was ejected from the game.

Pregame update

The Blue Devils will be without a starting cornerback who has been productive so far this season.

Graduate student Myles Jones (lower body injury), who has intercepted passes in each of Duke’s last two games, will be available against UConn. Jones was injured during practice this week. Chandler Rivers will start his fourth consecutive game at that position but Jones absence cuts into Duke’s depth. Rivers has played 148 snaps this season with Jones playing 143.

Duke will also play without reserve offensive guard Justin Pickett, who has been hampered by a variety of injuries this season. After playing in 12 games with three starts last season, Pickett has played in two games with no starts (47 snaps) this season.

Duke’s starting offensive line will consist of Graham Barton at left tackle, Maurice McIntyre at left guard, Scott Elliott at center, Jacob Monk at right guard and Jake Hornibrook at right tackle.

Freshman linebacker Kendall Johnson, after recording his first career sack in a reserve role last week against Northwestern, did not make the trip with the Blue Devils due to an upper body injury.

Duke has good injury report news regarding graduate student running back Jaylen Coleman, who has yet to play this season. Coleman is cleared to play against the Huskies and could see action on special teams. Jordan Waters and Jaquez Moore are once again expected to see the majority of the repetitions at running back.

Coleman rushed for 480 yards and four touchdowns last season.