May 21, 2024

CHAPEL HILL—In front of a crowd exceeding 50,000 with the Victory Bell at stake, the initial half of play between Duke and No. 24 North Carolina at Kenan Memorial Stadium displayed a noticeable one-sided affair. However, a late surge from the Blue Devils has them narrowly trailing the Tar Heels 16-14 at halftime.

Here are five key observations:

1. **Maye’s Brilliance**: North Carolina’s redshirt sophomore quarterback, Drake Maye, showcased his skills, particularly in two quick third-down conversions that led to a 43-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Devontez Walker. Maye finished the half with 180 total passing yards.

2. **Barton’s Return**: Senior left tackle Graham Barton returned to the lineup after missing two games, fortifying Duke’s offensive line and preventing the Tar Heel defense from reaching quarterback Grayson Loftis.

3. **Loftis’ Second Start**: With the starting quarterback out and the backup nursing an injury, freshman Grayson Loftis made his second start. Despite a shaky start, Loftis improved, connecting on three consecutive passes, including a touchdown to junior wideout Jordan Moore.

4. **Secondary Struggles**: Duke’s defense, once among the top in the nation, faced difficulties containing North Carolina’s talented receiver corps, surrendering 180 yards. The absence of graduate corner Myles Jones was notable in this struggle.

5. **Quarterly Dynamics**: Duke faced a scoreless first quarter for the third consecutive game, trailing 10-0 early. However, they responded with scores, turning the game into a competitive matchup, similar to their previous win against Wake Forest.

Statistical Highlights:

– North Carolina excelled in third-down conversions, moving the chains six times compared to Duke’s 3-for-5 rate.
– Loftis struggled in the air, completing four of seven attempts, hampered by incomplete passes from his receivers.
– Duke’s offense leaned on the running-back duo of Jordan Waters and Jaylen Coleman, tallying 78 rushing yards.

Key Play:

After Moore’s opening score, Jaylen Stinson intercepted an overshot pass from Maye, setting up a critical third-down touchdown run by Loftis, giving Duke a surprising 14-13 lead at halftime despite the Tar Heels’ overall dominance.

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