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COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Birmingham Bowl: Duke 17, Troy 10

College Football

By Maxwell Donaldson

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - After a slow start Duke football was able to pull away and hold off Troy in the 2023 Birmingham Bowl to earn a 17-10 win at Protective Stadium.

With under three minutes left in the first quarter, the Blue Devils (8-5) scored the first touchdown of the game and then made the two-point conversion after spreading the line across the field and flipping it to a tight end. Duke would tack on two field goals to extend its lead before halftime. The Trojans (11-3) broke the shutout with a field goal late in the third quarter. They then added a touchdown on a reverse-field backward pass to offensive lineman Derrick Graham, who got the 2-yard rushing score with 5:54 remaining in the game.

Troy had a chance to tie the game when it started a drive at their own 11 with 1:46 left in the game. But after a first down, Duke's Jeremiah Lewis came down with a game-sealing interception.

Like the last few games of the year, the Blue Devils turned to the future in freshman Grayson Loftis. He didn't show many signs that he was a true freshman playing in his first bowl game, but the extensive playing time late in the year helped. Loftis was making big throws and hitting his targets throughout the first half. He was 13 of 21 for 128 yards before halftime, the most yards he had thrown for in a first half this year.

Vidal was a 1,500-yard rusher this year for the Trojans but the Duke defensive line was able to keep him in check, especially during the first half. Vidal had only 27 yards and seven carries, good for 3.9 yards a carry. For Troy, this game was going to go about how Vidal went, with the run game only generating 15 yards on 10 attempts in the first half, thanks to Gunnar Watson losing 15 yards on two attempts.

The Blue Devils defense shined when it mattered most, holding Troy to no third-down conversions in the first half and into the middle of the third quarter. Three times the Trojans attempted to go for it one fourth down, but the Blue Devils defense held strong again. While Duke's defense was strong in all areas on Saturday, it excelled when it wanted to get off the field.

That wasn't something that was a strength of the Blue Devils heading into the game, rating 69th in the country in third-down defense, but they found success against an offense that was inside the top 50 in converting third downs.

December 23, 2023






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