DURHAM, N.C. – Baylor hoped a road trip into ACC country would translate into a reinvigorated season.

The Bears played much more inspired football against Duke than they did in their two home losses to Liberty and UTSA. But one big fourth-quarter mistake proved deadly.

Clinging to a four-point lead, Duke middle linebacker Ben Humphreys intercepted Zach Smith’s pass and returned it for a 22-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to lift the Blue Devils to a 34-20 win before 26,714 fans Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium.

The Bears dropped to 0-3 for the first time since starting the 1999 season with four straight losses.

“I’m really disappointed for our kids, but I enjoyed seeing them get significantly better than they were last week and the week before,” said Baylor coach Matt Rhule. “You could see our kids growing up. We just got to continue to develop those kids and sometime the light is going to click for everybody like it’s starting to click for our defense.”

With the Bears trailing 24-20 early in the fourth quarter, Humphreys perfectly read Smith’s pass over the middle and returned it for a touchdown to push Duke’s lead to 31-20 with 11:31 remaining.

“He just made a fantastic play,” Smith said. “We weren’t expecting him to do that. He undercut the route. I think I played not to the best of my ability. I kind of forced some balls. I hit some balls here and there but I’ve just got to get more consistent.”

Minutes later, Michael Carter knocked the ball loose from Smith on a sack and Drew Jordan recovered at Baylor’s 26. Baylor’s fourth turnover set up Austin Parker’s 26-yard field goal for a 34-20 lead with 4:57 remaining to seal Duke’s 3-0 season opening start.

Making his first start of the season after replacing injured Anu Solomon, Smith hit 12 of 34 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions. All three touchdown passes were big plays as Denzel Mims caught a 44-yard score in the first quarter and Chris Platt caught touchdown passes of 73 and 79 yards in the third quarter.

The fourth-quarter interception was easily the most costly turnover of the day since the Bears had the momentum after Smith hit Platt for his second touchdown with five seconds left in the third quarter.

“The pick-six is obviously huge,” Rhule said. “We have a chance to go move the football and the kid steps in front and makes a good play and takes it back for a touchdown. That was disheartening. I think at that time, our defense started thinking we can go win this football game and unfortunately the kid made a good play for them.”

Since the Bears rushed for just 57 yards on 27 carries, the Blue Devils were free to tee off on Smith and sacked him three times. Rhule said he’ll be excited to get running back Terence Williams back from a shoulder injury next week against No. 2 Oklahoma at McLane Stadium in the Big 12 opener.

“I don’t know if any quarterback can function in the world Zach’s living in now,” Rhule said. “We’re kind of a big-play offense, we’re scoring in an explosive manner, but there’s nothing efficient and that really starts up front with our ability to run the football and protect the quarterback. We can’t run the football right now.”

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones hit 20 of 35 passes for 193 yards while Shaun Wilson led Duke’s ground game with 176 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries. Baylor’s defense forced its first two turnovers of the season as Deonte Williams recovered a fumble and Henry Black made an interception for a touchback.

The Bears also put considerable pressure on Jones and they collected five sacks, including a pair by senior defensive end Brian Nance. The Bears amassed 12 tackles for losses of 48 yards.

“Our quarterback has to play better than their quarterback, so we’ve got to be really disruptive,” Nance said. “We preach it every day. We hold each other to a high standard, and it’s just something we’re trying to bring every week better. We can definitely build on this.”

Baylor forced the first turnover on Duke’s opening drive as Williams recovered Wilson’s fumble at the Blue Devils’ 39.

The Bears picked up just 130 first-half yards, and 44 of them came on one play when Smith found Mims cruising over the middle for a touchdown just 32 seconds into the game.

But the Blue Devils quickly struck back as Wilson made a sharp cut past Baylor safety Davion Hall and broke into the clear for a 50-yard touchdown to tie the game with 13:36 left in the first quarter.

The Bears had another chance to score in the first quarter when Smith hit Mims for 23 yards to Duke’s 39. But on fourth-and-seven from the 36, Humphreys put severe pressure on Smith as he rolled out of the pocket, forcing an incomplete pass.

Baylor’s defense continued to put pressure on Jones as linebackers Clay Johnston and Eric Ogor came up with sacks. Johnston led the Bears with 13 tackles including three for loss.

Nance hit Jones and forced a fumble but Duke recovered. On the first play of the second quarter, Duke converted third-and-6 when Jones hit David Koppenhaver for 23 yards to Baylor’s 34.

On the next play, Britain Brown broke Hall’s tackle and then eluded a diving Williams to complete a 34-yard touchdown that gave Duke a 14-7 lead with 14:21 left in the second quarter.

The Blue Devils had another chance to score when the ball slipped out of Baylor receiver Gavin Holmes’ hands after a hard hit. Smith’s pass fell into the hands of Joe Giles-Harris who returned the interception 10 yards to Baylor’s 17.

Baylor’s defense came up with a big stand as Johnston nailed Wilson for a 2-yard loss after a short pass from Jones on third down. Parker missed a 33-yard field goal with 5:41 left in the first half.

“Our defense did an amazing job,” Platt said. “It clicked for them but it’s got to click for us. They built us up for a lot of things but we’ve got to back them up.”

After stopping the Bears, the Blue Devils drove 76 yards to Baylor’s 2. But Duke was called for a personal foul that moved the ball back to the 17. On third-and-goal, Black intercepted Jones’ pass in the end zone with 21 seconds left in the first half.

Wilson continued to burn the Bears to open the second half as he popped around the left side for a 65-yard touchdown run to extend Duke’s lead to 21-7.

But Smith threw a bullet between two Duke defenders to Platt who broke away for a 73-yard touchdown to cut Duke’s lead to 21-14 with 11:30 left in the third quarter.

“It takes a little pressure off me for sure having a guy like him outside with world class speed,” Smith said. “We’ve just got to get him the ball as much as we can. I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job of getting him the ball, but we’ve got to get better at other aspects of the game.”

Jones found Brown behind Johnston for 40 yards to Baylor’s 31. The Blue Devils picked up another first down at the 20 before Ira Lewis nailed Jones on a third-down sack. Parker drilled a 45-yard field goal to push Duke’s lead to 24-14 with 5:09 left in the third quarter.

Once again, Smith went to Platt who caught a short pass and ran across the grain before breaking into the clear for a 79-yard touchdown. Connor Martin missed the extra point but Baylor cut Duke’s lead to 24-20 with five seconds left in the third quarter.

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