Defending Duke

Arizona State will look to close out the 2014 season on a high note against Duke in the Sun Bowl after a disappointing finish to the regular season, losing two of its last three games against Pac-12 foes. What will Todd Graham and the Sun Devil defense do to slow down the Blue Devils? Ross Dunham discusses the Blue Devils' offense.

With three games left in the regular season, Arizona State sat at No. 6 in the College Football playoff rankings and atop the Pac-12 South. All of the preseason goals that coach Todd Graham meticulously prepared for and harped on with his players were well within reach. Win out, and the Sun Devils were in the Pac-12 Championship game with a shot to go to the first ever College Football Playoff.

Yet, a heartbreaking loss on the road in Corvallis against Oregon State halted the progress, and forced the Devils to rely on help to have a shot to head to the conference title game. Even so, that help came as Stanford trounced UCLA in the final week of the season as ASU was squaring off with rival Arizona -- the Devils just needed to find a way to escape Tucson with a win and they were in.

It didn’t happen, and ASU now finds itself in the Sun Bowl, matched up against the Duke Blue Devils (9-3).

“Honestly, yeah that’s something you think about,” junior cornerback Lloyd Carrington said on if it’s hard to get up for a game such as this after a disappointing finish. “You’re human and you know the opportunity that you had during the season, something we came up short on. But there are also some good things that we can take from the season as well to help build for next year. As we go into this next game, we are starting to learn a lot about it and it’s history with ASU. So you take both the good and the bad, but the main thing is to try and stay positive and learn from your mistakes.”

The Sun Devils will take on the Blue Devils, who’s season looks eerily similar to that of ASU’s. In the driver’s seat with three games left, Duke lost two games and the bid to play against Florida State in the ACC title game.

The Blue Devils roll into this game eighth in the ACC in total offense with just 398.2 yards per game, yet are fifth in the conference in scoring offense, averaging 32.5 points per contest.

Duke’s stats certainly don’t jump off the page like other programs that ASU has faced this season, but according to defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, the Blue Devils get by on excellent coaching.

“They are very creative, they’re smart and they don’t make many mistakes,” Patterson said. “It seems like they are always ahead of the chains. When you can do that, obviously you are going to move the chains and then will eventually score points. We have a tremendous respect for them, and they have probably one of the most well coached offensive lines that we’ve ever seen. And the respect that we have for coach Cutcliffe is very high.”

Since taking over at Duke in 2008, David Cutcliffe has progressively changed the culture and has developed the Blue Devils into a winning program.

The recruiting outlook for Duke has been trending in the right direction and that has transferred over onto the field with good play.

Fifth year senior starting quarterback Anthony Boone has a firm grasp of the Blue Devils’ offense and is the catalyst for the team as a whole. In Duke’s three losses, Boone averaged just 207 yards passing and threw two touchdowns to five interceptions in those games. In their nine wins, Boone has taken great care of the ball and executes within the limits of the offense.

On the year, Boone is third to last in the ACC in yards per passing attempt with just 5.9. With that said, Duke’s offensive approach is similar to that of Arizona’s with a strong running game and a short, quick passing game.

“They pick and choose when they want to go vertical but they do get the ball out quick a lot of the time with the slants and the quick passing game with the unders and things like that,” Patterson said. “But when you watch their big play tape (the quarterback) does an excellent job of throwing the ball with accuracy over the top. So they just sit there and run the ball, throwing it short so you lose your eye control and then they pick and choose at the right time when to throw it over the top of you.”

Added safety Jordan Simone: “They’re good. They do a lot of the similar stuff that we do and have a lot of the same principles as far as character and toughness. Those guys are smart obviously going to Duke, but we just always have to worry about what we do more so.

“Their quarterback is really good and they have a great receiver who can press you vertically. Us DBs are just worrying about our coverages and doing what we are coached to do – if we do that we will be good.”

For the sake of talking X’s and O’s, we’ll take a look at a variation of a play call that Duke will go to often.

We see Boone in the shotgun flanked by speedy freshman running back Shaun Wilson. Before the snap, Boone sends Wilson in motion to his right and the field side.

Wilson takes off at full speed and has already created an imbalance on the defense, as the man responsible for him is slow to react.

Boone hits Wilson in stride behind the line of scrimmage and lets the running back work in space.

It’s the extended toss or screen plays such as this one that get Boone and the rest of the offense going and also are the reason for the low yards per pass attempt.

Duke will also try to get the ball to senior Jamison Crowder, a quick and shifty wide out who’s played phenomenal all year long. Crowder is third in the conference with 942 yards receiving on the year to go along with his six touchdowns.

“The good thing is that this league and conference prepares you for the talent,” Patterson said of the Pac-12. “We have seen a lot of that type and caliber of receiver (as Crowder). There’s no doubt that he’s the guy who gets them going and the guy the quarterback wants to get the ball to.”

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