UPDATE at 10:21 p.m. on Dec. 27
SHREVEPORT, La. – Duke University football coach David Cutcliffe’s favorite thing to do in games is scoring at the end of the first half.
On its final two first-half possessions in Thursday’s Independence Bowl against Temple University, Duke marched the length of the field and scored a touchdown. At the end of the half, however, Temple held a six-point lead.
But Duke (8-5) erased the Owls’ lead by scoring 35 second-half points to secure a 56-27 victory against Temple (8-5) at Independence Stadium. Starting in the first half, the Blue Devils scored 42 consecutive points to erase a 27-14 deficit.
Temple’s 29-point loss is its largest margin of defeat since its 45-19 loss to Central Florida on Nov. 18, 2017, at Lincoln Financial Field. Interim coach Ed Foley is now 0-2 in bowl games, and the Owls fell short of winning back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history.
The Owls played without a key player on each side of the ball. Senior running back Ryquell Armstead and senior cornerback Rock Ya-Sin didn’t play because of injuries or health reasons. After the game, Ya-Sin tweeted that he had a sinus infection.
Both will play in the Senior Bowl, a game where the top seniors in college football can showcase their skills to NFL scouts, next month.
After scoring the final touchdown in the first half, the Blue Devils received the second-half kickoff and went on a nine-play, 59-yard drive to take the lead for good. If he wins the coin toss, Cutcliffe usually defers to have a chance at a 14-point swing to begin the second half, he said.
“That’s how teams win games,” Cutcliffe added. “Special teams, offense, defense. Once we’re able to do that, momentum was so powerful that you sensed Temple knew the momentum had shifted away.”
Duke’s two scores to end the first half started a streak of seven consecutive Duke touchdown drives, five of which came in the second half.
Temple punted the ball on its first possession of the second half. Two plays later, Duke redshirt-junior quarterback Daniel Jones hit senior wide receiver T.J. Rahming on a slant route for an 85-yard touchdown to give the Blue Devils an eight-point lead.
Rahming set an Independence Bowl record with 286 all-purpose yards. He hauled in 12 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. Rahming added 17 yards rushing and 29 punt return yards.
Duke added another touchdown to extend its lead to 42-27. On the following possession, the Blue Devils recovered a fumble on the Owls’ 10-yard line from a fake punt attempt by Temple, leading to another touchdown.
Jones, who is the No. 3 NFL quarterback prospect according to CBS Sports, accounted for six touchdowns. He finished the game with 423 yards passing, five passing touchdowns and a rushing score. His passing touchdown and total touchdown mark set new Independence Bowl records.
Duke’s 56 points are also the most scored in an Independence Bowl since the game’s inception in 1976.
The Owls started the game how they wanted, but they couldn’t repeat their first-half performance in the final 30 minutes, Foley said.
“I told the kids at halftime,…’We have to come out and make more plays than they do. Let’s go play like it is zero-zero,’” Foley added. “[Duke] came out in the second half the way I was wanting to come out.”
Temple scored all 27 of its points and recorded 227 of its 281 total yards in the first half.
“We just didn’t find our groove in the second half,” said redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo, who finished with 228 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception.
After Duke opened the scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run by Duke backup quarterback Quentin Harris, junior wide receiver Isaiah Wright returning the ensuing kickoff 74 yards to give Temple great field position.
To end the drive, Russo kept the ball on a read option to give the Owls their first touchdown of the game.
On Duke’s next offensive possession, senior safety Delvon Randall returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown to give Temple its first lead of the game.
With 13:38 remaining in the first half, junior cornerback Linwood Crump hauled in the Owls’ second interception of the game. Ten plays later, redshirt-senior fullback Rob Ritrovato punched in a 1-yard touchdown to give Temple a 20-7 lead.
In the second half, the Owls’ offense couldn’t trade scores with Duke. Without its leading rusher, Temple only totaled 53 yards on the ground.
With Duke extending its lead in the second half, the Owls were forced to pass but were unable to get the passing game going either. Duke brought more pressure in the final 30 minutes, Russo said. Coupled with the Owls’ wide receivers’ drops, Temple’s offense was shutout in a half for the first time all season.
“This one definitely hurts,” Russo said. “It hurts having these guys finish their college careers like that.”