DURHAM, N.C. -- An NCAA examination of freshman defensive tackle Darrian Dyson’s academic eligibility kept Dyson from making the trip to Durham.
The consensus of recruiting rankings put Dyson among FIU’s top five 2012 recruits. He would have been in FIU’s defensive-tackle rotation Saturday night.
FIU’s fastest player, sophomore cornerback Richard Leonard, opened the game with a 25-yard kickoff return. His night took a downward swing after that.
Leonard fumbled a punt, leading to a Duke touchdown. He muffed the ensuing kickoff, then got replaced on kickoff returns by Wayne Times.
On Duke’s first drive of the second half, the Blue Devils went for it on fourth-and-2 from the FIU 20. Leonard tried to go over senior wide receiver Conner Vernon to swat the ball away, failed, and Vernon spun away to run into the end zone for the touchdown that put Duke up 44-14.
What FIU lost with T.Y. Hilton on returns wasn’t only speed and field position, but savvy. Leonard’s muff came after he declined to let the ball go into the end zone for a touchback that, after this year’s rule change, would have come out to the 25-yard line. Leonard also later made a fair catch at the FIU 4.
Times hesitantly ran a kickoff out from 6 yards deep into the end zone near the end of the second quarter. He got tackled at the FIU 8. An unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on Duke ameliorated the damage from the error.
Speaking of Vernon — a Gulliver High graduate nobody in the state wanted — he caught a pass in his 36th consecutive game. That’s second in Duke history. First? Gulliver High graduate Donovan Varner, who caught a pass in 37 consecutive games. In the third quarter, Vernon passed Varner’s Duke career receptions record of 207.
FIU junior running back Kedrick Rhodes amassed 100 rushing yards in the third quarter, tying Rashod Smith’s school record of seven career 100-yard rushing games.
Spelling Rhodes, senior Darian Mallary had a good night, including a 10-yard touchdown run. That was Mallary’s first touchdown since Nov. 13, 2010.
The first quarter took 51 minutes to play. Part of the reason was what looked like opening-game jitters.
Duke had false-start penalties on its first two possessions. The second possession got extended when FIU defensive lineman Greg Hickman jumped offside on third-and-2 from the FIU 38. Duke returned the favor when redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Dezmond Johnson crossed the line prematurely on FIU’s third-and-2 play from the Duke 18.
Before FIU junior cornerback Sam Miller got picked on by Duke’s passing game, he picked off a first-quarter pass intended for Jamison Crowder. That extended FIU’s streak to nine consecutive games with an interception.
Turn of events
The blocked field goal Duke’s Ross Cockrell returned for a touchdown on the final play of the first half was the first blocked field goal taken back for a score against FIU since Nov. 8, 2003, when Louisiana-Lafayette’s Antwain Spann ran one back 45 yards.