In a crazy, rain-delayed, and questionably-officiated game, the Jackets suffered their first loss of the season 31-25, at the hands of Coastal division rival Duke (for the first time in 10 years!). The game was punctuated at half time by a 77-minute rain delay that consisted of a primarily light drizzle and regional lightning. The Jackets trailed 14-12 at the half after two field goals and a missed two-point conversion.
The Jackets got off to a slow start in the third quarter – a Zach Laskey fumble gave Duke the ball on the GT46 and set up a nine play drive that resulted in a touchdown to push the lead to 21-12. Jamal Golden ran the ensuing kickoff back 51 yards to the Duke 49, but was injured on the play and did not return. He finished the day with two kick returns for 119 yards.
The Jackets tried to take advantage of their good field position, and a completed pass to DeAndre Smelter at the 5 was called incomplete, reviewed, and confirmed to be incomplete. The Tech drive sputtered, and Butker barely missed a 52 yard field goal. Duke then drove the length of the field and tacked on a field goal to make it 24-12.
The Jackets took the next drive down to the 11, thanks in part to a great WR reverse play to Smelter, but an interception at the 5 yard line quickly ended their chances of scoring. The third quarter ended shortly afterward, with Duke driving at their own 45. On third and 1, the Jackets appeared to have stopped the Duke’s Sirk, but a questionable spot gave Duke the first down to extend the drive. Fortunately, the Devils went for it on 4th and short three plays later and the Tech defense held, giving the offense the ball at their own 25 with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
The Jackets looked to have a chance to cut into the lead, but Thomas threw his second pick of the day with 9 minutes left, giving the Blue Devils the ball at the 23 yard line. A quick touchdown pushed the lead to 31-12 and sent many Tech fans headed for the exits.
Byerly came in for the Jackets in the next series and moved the ball relatively well, completing long passes to Bostic and Waller of 13 and 16 yards respectively, catching a pass from Bostic for 15 yards, and rushing for 37 yards and a touchdown. The two point conversion was failed, and the Jackets trailed 31-18.
After a failed onside kick, Duke took over at their own 46 with five minutes left in the game. The Jackets got a stop with 3:30 left and took over at their own 11, but Byerly was sacked at the 3 for a loss of 8. However, he completed a third and 18 with a 30 yard pass to Waller, then completed 4 consecutive passes for 66 yards to Waller and Deon Hill. Byerly punched it in a play later to cut the lead to 31-25.
The following onside kick was close to being recovered by the Jackets, but not close enough, and Duke was able to run out the remaining 1:33 on the clock to secure the upset.
In a postgame press conference, head coach Paul Johnson had a lot to say about the team’s proclivity for penalties and turnovers, but ultimately gave credit to Duke for the win. On his decision to put Byerly in for the last few series: "I think [Justin Thomas] turned his ankle before halftime." But Justin wanted to play, so they left him in. "I could tell it was bothering him, that’s why I took him out in the fourth quarter." Johnson wasn’t surprised when Byerly came in and played like he did, though. "He didn’t surprise me, he practiced that way this summer and fall."
This game left a lot to be desired for most Tech fans. The officiating was one of the most summarily-questionable performances by the ACC referees that I have ever seen, but it is silly to blame them for the loss after turning the ball over three times, missing a field goal, and allowing Duke to convert 2nd and 28 and 3rd and 22 on two separate occasions. The season is not over, though. The Jackets’ 5-1 mark is still leagues ahead of where most people thought this team would be at the season’s midway mark, and the ACC Coastal is not yet out of reach.
Said Paul Johnson of the rest of the season: "If we can play clean games and don’t have turnovers, we have a chance to win every game we play."