DURHAM, N.C. —Memphis seemingly couldn't do anything right unless Duke first did something wrong. And, once those mistakes stopped coming, the Tigers were in big trouble.
Memphis managed just 54 total yards and no points in the second half of a 38-14 loss at Duke on Saturday night.
The Tigers (0-4) led 14-7 in the second quarter with their touchdowns coming immediately after miscues by Duke. Wynton McManus took an interception 4 yards for a score and Tevin Jones added a 2-yard TD run after a breakdown in kickoff coverage by the Blue Devils allowed a 95-yard return by Bobby McCain.
And, though the defense kept them in the game for a while, ultimately it wasn't enough. Duke scored the final 31 points.
"The bottom line is that it's not going to say that the offense lost and the defense won," Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. "The Memphis Tigers didn't get it done. If holding them to zero points is what we've got to do to win, then that's what we've got to do. If it's running the ball 50 times in a row and holding the ball and scoring three points to win, that's what we've got to do. We fell short again."
The Tigers have lost 35 of 40 games since 2009. After Jones' TD with 9:17 left before the half, Memphis didn't run another play in Duke territory until there were 5½ minutes left in the game.
"Duke thoroughly dominated us, their defense vs. our offense," Fuente said. "It was pretty evident. It's hard to win when you get handled like that on one side of the ball."
Sean Renfree was 26 of 37 for 314 yards with four touchdowns — covering 37 and 31 yards to Conner Vernon, 16 yards to Desmond Scott and 8 yards to Brandon Connette. The Blue Devils (3-1) outgained the Tigers 500-152 and are off to their best start since 2008.
"It just goes to show the depth and talent we have on this team, and the will to fight. Nobody was ready to back down, lay down," Vernon said. "We knew we weren't playing Duke football like we usually do, and we just had to come out and execute."
Connette also had a 4-yard touchdown run for Duke, which had four turnovers — two in the red zone, a third returned for a touchdown. The Tigers didn't crack the 100-yard mark until late in the third quarter.
"I don't even know how many sacks we had (four), but it looks like we were just going down the line, just all taking our shots," Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike said. "Now we know that we can do this. We can generate sacks and get in the backfield and wreak havoc. So we need to carry this to (next week at) Wake Forest and now conference play, all the way through, and make sure that we show everybody that this is a new Duke team and that we are contenders in the ACC."
Duke scored the final 31 points to turn it into a blowout, and Renfree helped the Blue Devils pull away by leading consecutive touchdown drives in the second half.
His strike to Scott over the middle late in the third quarter made it 24-14 and gave the Blue Devils some breathing room. The TD toss to Connette with 10:27 left essentially sealed it, and Vernon's 31-yard catch-and-run turned it into a full-fledged rout.
Duke will open Atlantic Coast Conference play next week halfway toward the six wins needed for bowl eligibility. The Blue Devils haven't reached the postseason since 1994, and this marks just the second time since then that they've won three of their first four. Each win has come by at least 20 points, and the only loss came against a Stanford team that has since vaulted into the top 10.
"You should have seen it (in the locker room) — it was all full of excitement, everyone smiling," Vernon said. "A 3-1 start is not something that's used to being done here, so it was just real excitement. A lot of guys are excited, but ... it's not the end."
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