From the stands: Duke v. Kansas

Duke moved to 3-0 on the season behind a much improved defense and an electric performance by a freshman running back. Here’s our notebook from the stands.

DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE

Duke has now allowed six points over the last six quarters of play. For a team that faced preseason questions on how they’d stop opponents without their senior leader and best playmaker at linebacker, things seem to be trending up.

Of course it’s true that Kansas isn’t a power program on the gridiron, but they have a coach known for his offensive prowess and they have a roster sprinkled with high major athletes and producers.

And Duke stopped them.

Kansas accumulated just 297 yards on the afternoon - and if you take off the final two drives of the game when Duke was up by 38, the JayHawks were held to just 193 yards on the afternoon. The Blue Devils also forced their visitors into three-and out situations five times, and 10 times Kansas either punted or gave up the ball on downs.

“They realized they had the chance to put a special day together,” said Cutcliffe of his defense. “In this era, when you hold people to three or seven or 10 or zero, it’s pretty spectacular. It’s hard to stop. This is a Big 12 football team that put up 24 points in the first quarter last week.”

The Blue Devils also became a bit more opportunistic this week by recording the first two forced turnovers of the season - a pair of interceptions.


THE RUNNING GAME IS, WELL, RUNNING WELL

Duke rolled up 331 yards on the ground - a vast majority of those accumulated by a dynamic true freshman, Shaun Wilson. Wilson ran for a school record 245 yards on 12 carries (20.4 yards per touch) which included three touchdown runs of 69, 68, and 45 yards.

Not bad for the program’s fourth string back.

Of course, Duke’s depth chart is more of a unit than an actual pecking order. The top two backs, Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell, have taken turns leading the team in carries and yards in the first two weeks. Third on the chart, Joseph Ajeigbe, is a developing power running who finished behind Wilson with seven carries on Saturday. But Wilson brings a different dynamic to the Duke backfield - a shifty smallish back who hits the holes fast and seems to switch into high gear much faster than anyone else on the field.

“That’s what Coach presses us on, get in the hole, fill it up, and then you have to switch gears, get into open space and score,” said Wilson. “That’s an exciting experience, hearing the crowd go crazy as you get closer and closer to the goal line.”

“When I saw him play in person in high school, and I came back, I think everybody here thought I was overreacting a little bit to his talent level,” said Cutcliffe.

Nobody is questioning the freshman or the coach now. And, returning to the position not the player mentality…

“The best part of our running back position is I don’t think anyone was happier than Josh Snead, Shaquille Powell and Joe Ajeigbe. It’s a group of people who are the most unselfish young men I’ve been around in that regard, and that’s a great tribute to them and their families.”


ON DISCIPLINE AND DEPTH

The narrative for so long was that Duke didn’t have the talent from the top of the roster to the bottom. Then, Duke started winning a little bit and the narrative was that the talent was improving. Now, after winning the division a year ago, it’s switched to “they have good talent (not elite), but they make up for it with elite coaching.”

Is this latest shift accurate? It’s an interesting debate on the talent level relative to other programs in the conference, and you can look back at the class rankings from Scout.com and see that Duke still isn’t factoring into the highest levels (though there’s also an interesting narrative regarding on field production relative to ratings…after all, Wilson was considered just the 105th best RB in his class), but you can’t deny that Duke is a well-coached football team.

The Blue Devils have played three games and have committed zero turnovers. They’ve fumbled only once, but recovered that. And they’ve committed just over one penalty per quarter for only 7.6 yards per. It’s the little things that count and that can make the difference.

A second thought on the talent level in Durham…

Nobody questions Duke’s top end players. Guys like Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder have produced against pretty much everyone. But against Kansas, Boone was a bit off and Crowder recorded just two catches.

And Duke still won by 38.

Clearly the recruiting has solidified and the improvements are manifesting themselves clearly.


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