Connette leads Duke past Memphis, 28-14
The enthusiasm was there. The crowd showed up. And Memphis stayed with Duke for three quarters.
They just couldn't hang on.
Two fourth-quarter touchdowns from Duke reserve quarterback Brandon Connette gave the Blue Devils a 28-14 victory over Memphis in the Tigers season opener Saturday afternoon.
"We played a good football team that we had an opportunity to beat," Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. ".We just weren't there yet, regardless of the calls and anything like that. We just weren't there yet."
Memphis (0-1) was tied with the Blue Devils after an 11-yard run by Jai Steib early in the fourth quarter, but Connette connected on a pair of touchdown passes to send Memphis to its ninth-straight season-opening loss.
Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, a redshirt freshman starting his first game, finished the day completing 14 of 24 passes for 148 yards.
"I thought Paxton played OK," Fuente said. "I think he did some good things; he threw the ball down the field well."
Lynch acknowledged he was nervous, but said it has been a constant throughout his career, all the way back to "Pop Warner."
"We just knew we could take some deep shots on them," Lynch said. "Whenever we had the chance to do that, I definitely wanted to throw deep."
Connette entered the game in the second quarter after starter Anthony Boone suffered a broken collarbone.
"When things don't go exceptionally well, often teams can crumble on the road, particularly, their first games on the road," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said before later adding: "Brandon is a pretty special young man, and he went in there and did a tremendous job of running our offense."
The victory marked the first time since 1998 that the Blue Devils have opened the season 2-0, and just as in their opener against North Carolina Central, the defense showed good signs at times in the victory over the Tigers.
"We just are trying to build this attitude on defense," cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "We want to be a dominant, elite defense not only in the ACC, but in the country."
Connette broke open a 14-14 tie with touchdown passes of 22 yards to Issac Blakeney and 12 yards to Brandon Braxton in the final frame.
"I felt comfortable my first series in there," Connette said. "Memphis definitely made some plays, but I felt comfortable right away. We just had to grind it out and try to tire them out."
Memphis had stayed closed with Duke early, going into halftime tied 7-7. The Tigers scored their touchdowns on a 75-yard interception return by Bobby McCain.
And Memphis was still tied after Steib's touchdown. But Connette threw a 22-yard scoring pass to Issac Blakeney, and later a 12-yarder to Brandon Braxton to send the Tiger faithful home.
"Late in the third quarter and certainly the fourth quarter, he had really gotten comfortable and had a feel for what we were doing," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of Connette. "I think offensively, he's a tough physical guy, and I think our offensive personality got physical at that point, late in the third quarter and in the fourth."