Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
Following Duquesne’s 34-20 win over the Dayton Flyers, it’s evident that someone in the Dukes’ locker room has a future as a motivational speaker after a subpar first half ended in a shutout second half performance.
The difference between the first half of play and the second half, especially on the defensive side of the ball, was monumental. The scoreboard was evidence as the Dukes trailed the Flyers 20-15 at the break but rebounded to win the game by 14 points.
One distinct difference between the first 30 minutes and the latter 30 minutes was simply discipline. In the first half the Dukes committed 11 penalties, which gifted 92 yards to the Flyers. Duquesne and Dayton have played each other every season dating back to 2008, so there is no doubt there was some tension out there on Arthur J. Rooney Field. However that’s no excuse for being as undisciplined as the Dukes were in that opening half.
In contrast, the referees called just one foul for five yards against the Red & Blue in the second half. Staying disciplined also put the Duquesne defense in a position to succeed.
The Dukes forced four turnovers in the second half — two interceptions and two fumble recoveries — which gave their offense strong field position to work with. One of those interceptions was run back for a touchdown, and when a team puts points on the board via their defense, that makes them tough to stop.
Getting off the field on third down is a critical area to judge a defense by, and the Dukes aced that test. Dayton only kept their drives alive on three of their 13 third down situations.
This meant that 77 percent of the time head coach Jerry Schmitt’s defense was able to get off the field — a truly impressive statistic. Discipline and defense are two vital keys to defending a conference championship.
In the first half the defense didn’t look prepared. They had virtually no answer for the Dayton rushing attack. The opposing Flyers, led by Alex Jeske, rushed for 102 yards in the first half at an average of 4.9 yards per carry.
After the opening half, it seemed like the Flyers would just stick to what was working and run through the Dukes 0n their way to a victory. Duquesne closed the gaps in the second half — the defense repeatedly induced pressure in the backfield and wrapped up their opponents while pushing them back to minus 11 yards on the ground and a negative yards per carry average of minus .o8.
That is a top tier defense that will give the Dukes a chance to repeat as Northeast Conference Champions in 2016. It’s also a defense that will make it tough for opponents to game plan. The Dukes proved against a respectable opponent that they have a stout run defense when they are playing disciplined, focused football.
Additionally, Duquesne limited Dayton through the air for most of the game. They held Dayton to under 65 yards passing in each half and only gave up 110 yards through the air in all four quarters combined.
After stopping the run in the second half, the Dukes limited the Flyers to just 201 yards of total offense as compared to the 478 yards of offense that the Duquesne offense created.
If this team can stay as balanced offensively and defensively as they were against Dayton then the Dukes will find great success in 2016.
The key to that success is maintaining a high level of play over the course of an entire game rather than just two quarters. Schmitt will surely be harping on his team to play a full 60 minutes of football for the remainder of the season.