Duke eventually got off the bus, but it wasn’t until the Blue Devils found themselves down 14-3 against a lesser talented opponent. Credit should be given to a very game Troy squad, but the Duke was certainly helping. On the first drive alone the Blue Devils committed a pair of penalties - one false start and one delay of game - after going nearly the entire game in the opener without earning any flags. After gaining 17 yards, Duke punted and gave the defense a chance to start strong.
They didn’t either.
The front six generated little pressure on the Troy passing game during an 11 play, 83 yard drive that resulted in the game’s first touchdown. The Trojans used a number of screen passes and short yardage throws before going deep for 31 yards in the game’s first big play.
The Blue Devils did respond with a 12 play, 82 yard drive, but it stalled out inside the 10 yard line (Duke moved three yards in three plays before settling for a field goal) before Troy went 83 yards on 13 plays to take a 14-3 lead. This second scoring drive for the hosts saw Troy face a third down situation just once.
Following the second Trojan score, Duke would come to life, eventually out-scoring Troy 31-3 over the final 44:54 of the contest. For their part, the players seemed to grasp the importance of taking control early against opponents.
“It’s a tough adjustment having an hour drive from Montgomery to here,” said Anthony Boone. “It took us a while to settle in, but that slow start is something we can’t do throughout the season.”
“In the beginning they outplayed us, plain and simple,” added Shaquille Powell. “We had penalties, which are a lack of discipline that can’t happen. For us to bounce back like that is really a good sign. We have to work on having better starts.”
As for the head coach?
“I’m proud we won,” said Cutcliffe, “but we won in a few specific areas. We lost on first down on both sides of the ball, and that concerns me.”
FOUR DOWN TERRITORY
On the Blue Devils’ opening drive the team faced a 4th and 10 situation at the Troy 35 yard line. Rather than chance a 52 yard field goal attempt, the Blue Devils went for it and found Jamison Crowder for a 26 yard gain.
In the third quarter, with a 10 point lead, Duke faced a 4th and two on the Troy 40 yard line. This time the line and the backs converted via Josh Snead’s two yard run.
Duke wouldn’t convert on the third and final fourth down attempt, but it was a moot point as the Blue Devils were simply working to run the clock down. Taking away that meaningless attempt, the Blue Devils are 7-of-8 when going for it on fourth down through two games. That’s certainly positive, but there is cause for concern as Duke stands just 11 of 29 on third down conversions.
QUESTIONS STILL BEING ANSWERED
With so many changes in the offseason, there are bound to be questions asked of this Duke team in varying situations throughout the year. Offensively, the loss of Braxton Deaver opened a huge hole in the passing game - one that Issac Blakeney seems ready to fill.
Against Troy Blakeney hauled in five catches for 90 yards including one of the two passing touchdowns. While David Reeves provides a short yardage target for Boone, Blakeney has emerged as the team’s secondary receiving weapon opposite Jamison Crowder. Throw in the steady performance of Max McCaffrey, and it’s no wonder Boone is completing just under 67 percent of his passes.
“Issac’s confidence level has really boosted,” said Boone of his teammate. “He’s hard to cover. He’s a big guy, he’s fast, he’s strong. He could be the next Kevin Benjamin, if not better. When you need tough catches, to have a quick guy like Jamison (Crowder) on one side and bug guy like Issac on the other side, is a great advantage.”
Through three games that trio of receivers has accounted for 32 catches totaling 397 yards and five touchdowns. Each player has caught a long pass of at least 26 yards as well.
On the other side of the ball, Duke is dealing with the loss of their starting middle linebacker - though they have replaced Kelby Brown with another all-ACC performer in David Helton. Helton seems to be getting more comfortable with his position change and was extremely productive on Saturday, finishing with 15 tackles including seven solo stops.
Alongside Helton were a number of young players filling in as the weak side linebacker. True freshman Zavier Carmicahel finished with six tackles, while redshirt freshman Chris Holmes added another three. Both players figure to factor heavily into the depth chart and rotation going forward.
At safety, Duke knows what to expect from all-conference performer Jeremy Cash, but on Saturday the most productive safety was Devon Edwards who recorded a ridiculous 10 solo tackles (14 total and one TFL) along with a pass breakup. Throw in Cash’s nine stops, and it’s clear that while Duke is working to acclimate the newcomers at linebacker, there will be high level support from the safeties.
Up in the booth the Blue Devils’ new offensive coordinator, Scottie Montgomery, called another balanced game. Duke ran the ball 41 times (4.4 yards/attempt) and passed 42 (6.4 yards/attempt). As was the case in the first game, Duke struggled at times on third down (8-of-17), but even that 47 percent success rate was far superior to the opener’s dreadful 3-of-12 line. For the season Duke converts only 38 percent of the time on third down.
One interesting wrinkle has been the evolution of the “Connette package” with Thomas Sirk replacing the departed Brandon Connette. Sirk seems to have much more of the playbook available to him - especially when it comes to passing. Against Troy, Sirk entered the game on the two yard line. Most expected a run, but Sirk received the snap rolled and found David Reeves in the end zone for a score. It was just a two yard pass, but a season ago most everyone would have expected the second QB to run for the end zone. For the season Sirk has completed 6-of-8 passes for 42 yards and a score.
- Duke has played 120 minutes of turnover free football to start the 2014 season. No interceptions, and no fumbles. On the flip side, Duke has played 120 minutes of forced-turnover free football as well. The Blue Devils have caused two fumbles in two games, but recovered neither.
- For all the story lines of Duke’s poor start against Troy - something the coaches even echoed in the post game press conference - the Blue Devils followed up the opening drive’s punt with four straight scoring possessions, kicking a field goal and then scoring three straight touchdowns.
- Meanwhile, Troy’s fast start included two straight touchdowns to open the game. From that point the Trojans went TO on downs, punt, turnover on downs, punt, field goal, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs. Also, following the 166 yards Troy rolled up on the first two drives, the Trojans were limited to 228 yards on 54 plays (4.2 yard per).
- Special teams was very good for Duke as well. The Blue Devils converted their field goals and averaged a starting point of the Duke 37 yard line for the game. Meanwhile the Trojans average starting position for the game was at their own 21 yard line.
- True freshmen who played in the season-opening win over Elon: LB Zavier Carmichael, TE Davis Koppenhaver, CB Zach Muñiz, CB Alonzo Saxton II, RB Shaun Wilson. Against Troy all played again aside from Koppenhaver.
Duke will host Kansas in Wallace Wade Stadium on September 13th. Kickoff will be at 3:30 PM EST.
The Jayhawks opened their season on Saturday by taking a 24-0 lead on Southeast Missouri State before watching their directional opponents rally to make a game of it, holding on for a 34-28 victory.
“Sometimes when you have success, you get shocked, too,” KU coach Charlie Weis said, trying to explain his team’s performance.