- Associated Press - Friday, September 4, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - If quarterback Thomas Sirk improves upon his first career start, Duke could be in for quite a season.

Sirk produced 357 yards from scrimmage to go with two touchdown passes and Duke beat Tulane 37-7 in the opener for both teams on Thursday night.

“I’ll start with the obvious: I thought Tom played tremendous,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Thomas Sirk is a winner in every aspect. He studies, he prepares. … The game didn’t speed up for him. It was like he was at practice and that’s tribute to his coaches and the way we go about practicing football. And he’s talented. He’s accurate.”

Directing a read-option offense, Sirk hit 27 of 40 passes for 289 yards, rushed 15 times for 68 yards, was not sacked and did not throw an interception. Sirk’s command and composure was apparent on third downs; he converted nine of 17 he faced.

“It’s definitely a confidence builder, coming out in the first game and executing at a high level,” Sirk said. “I think the offense is going to continue to grow.”

Sirk, whose experience from last season consisted largely of spot substitutions in short-yardage situations, arrived in New Orleans with one road completion in his college career. His 27 connections against the Green Wave tied for third among Blue Devils making their maiden start since at least 1951, when the school began recording such statistics.

Duke racked up 530 yards to Tulane’s 271. The Blue Devils possessed the ball for 36:01 and could have won by more if Tulane’s defense hadn’t recovered two fumbles, made a fourth-down stop and forced three field goals.

Duke led 23-0 in the fourth quarter before Tulane finally scored on Devon Breaux’s 76-yard reception from Tanner Lee. But Duke’s DeVon Edwards returned the next kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.

Blue Devils receiver Johnell Barnes, who had 11 catches for 109 yards, scored a 29-yard touchdown on a screen. Shaquille Powell scored on a 3-yard shovel pass from Sirk. Zach Boden added Duke’s final TD on a 1-yard run.

Lee finished 24 of 42 for 246 yards, one touchdown and one interception for Tulane. He was sacked three times and often threw under duress. Breaux finished with four catches for 92 yards.

“They were just a good defense, and good defenses don’t let you get into rhythms and don’t let you do a lot of the things you want to do,” Lee said. “They have an experienced secondary and are a sound team.”

Tulane rushed for 231 yards at Duke last season, but with virtually the same backfield was unable to manage more than 25 net yards rushing in the rematch at home.

“We worked really hard against some of the things they had hurt us with (last year),” Cutcliffe said. “Our defense basically pitched a shutout. … It starts with our front. We won the battle of the line of scrimmage. We did a good job hitting that quarterback.”

The resilience of Tulane’s defense kept the Green Wave within two possessions for three quarters, but even when Lee and the offense showed signs of developing a rhythm, Duke came up with a big defensive play to derail the threat.

Duke was threatening to make it a three-possession game in the third quarter, but safety Darion Monroe’s fumble recovery on a sloppy pitch by Sirk deep in Tulane territory temporarily prevented the Blue Devils from expanding their 16-0 lead.

Tulane quickly drove across midfield, but Blue Devils linebacker Zavier Carmichael made a diving interception of Lee’s tipped pass at the Duke 22.

With Duke stacking defenders close to the line of scrimmage and daring Tulane to throw, the Green Wave struggled to sustain drives early. When Tulane finally drove inside Duke’s 30 in the second quarter, Lee’s quick pass on fourth-and-2 was tipped near the line of scrimmage and fell incomplete.

Tulane was primed to get the ball back in good field position and down only 10-0 late in the first half, but an offside penalty on a punt gave Duke a first down. The Blue Devils converted the Green Wave blunder into a sustained drive and a short field goal to up 13-0 at halftime.

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