From the stands: Duke v. Tulane

The Blue Devils blew out another non-conference opponent, but things get tougher from here

It was another beautiful day in Wallace Wade Stadium as the Blue Devils hosted Tulane in the final non-conference game of the season. After another 60 minutes of football more questions and answers were provided as Duke gets ready for the ACC gauntlet. Here’s our take from the stands…

BOONE STILL STRUGGLING AT TIMES

The senior quarterback focused heavily on limiting mistakes this offseason, and for the first three games he did that. Still, there was a couple of poor throws, missed reads, and head scratching decisions that seemed to worry Blue Devil faithful. It continued on Saturday as Boone threw his fist interception of the season, a pass that sailed a good eight feet over his intended receiver, and probably should have been hit with a few other INTs. On in particular coming when the Duke signal called threw the ball directly to the chest of the Tulane linebacker when Duke was inside the Tulane 10 yard line.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. Far from it. Boone finished the day by completing 15-of-27 passes for 181 yards, and those completion numbers probably should have been a tad better had his receivers not dropped three different passes that were put in the correct spot. Still, as the schedule tightens up and the competition gets better, Boone is going to have to continually improve and up his level.

“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board tomorrow and see what we can do to execute,” said Boone. “[We have a] tough road game coming up in Miami, ACC play, so we’re excited about that, but it’s definitely good to get this game behind us and move forward from that.”

It will be tough, and Duke will need their man under center to avoid turnovers and poor decisions as he’s shown the ability to do over the last 12 regular season games - all wins.


DEFENSE FLIPPED THE SWITCH

Tulane opened the game by marching down the field with little resistance from the Duke front six. The Green Wave ate up large chunks of yards by running the ball and then finding space over the middle. It looked like a shootout was about to commence after the Green Wave tied the game at seven early in the first quarter.

From there, Duke’s defensive unit began to make plays, take away the gaps, and generally began dictate the pace and storyline of the game. For his part, Coach Cutcliffe was happy with the result.

“When you realize they ran 95 snaps…It was hot. It was one of those hot hot ball games and we’re a little thinner there than we’d like to be. We played a lot of people. But still, 95 snaps, 375 yards and 13 points, you call that day a success. And we scored on defense.”

Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson agreed with his opponent’s take on how well the Blue Devil D handled his attack.

“I thought Duke did a good job of switching its schemes up. I thought when we were in makeable yards that he had opportunities to make those third downs. When they had a sack or we had negative yardage play, you ask a young kid – a freshman against a great defense like Duke – you ask him to go third-and-15, he’s probably not going to do well in doing those things.”

Still, heading into the Miami game against an all-ACC caliber running back, Duke is going to have to answer a number of questions on stopping the run. Especially after Tulane’s third string running back ran for 124 yards on 19 carries.

Overall it was a game of extremes for the defense when measuring Tulane’s success. The Green Wave accumulated 15 drives on the afternoon. Six of those drives went for eight plays or more. The other nine were all five plays or less including five three and outs, one safety, and five turnovers (four interceptions and one fumble).

If stopping the run is going to be a bend and not break proposition, then taking the ball away will be paramount and Duke showed the ability to ball-hawk in a big way on Saturday.

“The first four games we’ve had a lot of success on defense,” said Deondre Singleton. “I think Coach is very proud of us and how we’re playing. We’re not a team that quits and we’re always going to be good in the fourth quarter. As we say on defense, the fourth quarter is our quarter.”


SPECIAL TEAMS WAS VERY GOOD

Good teams win the battle of special teams. Period.

Duke did that in a big way on Saturday thanks to Will Monday, Ross Martin, and the entire coverage and return teams.

Martin became the program’s all-time leading scorer with a 31 yard field goal (he remains perfect on the season in both field goals and extra points), while Monday was need four times and responded by averaging 49.5 yards per punt.

“The kicking game was huge,” Cutcliffe said in the post-game. “We punted the ball well. We kicked it off well and covered it well. On punt return we returned it when we had a shot. They didn’t punt it very high. We also created a touchdown with our punt return unit. We returned kickoffs when we got the chance well enough.”

The two biggest plays on special teams were very different, though both effective. The first came when Will Monday drew an audible reaction from the crowd with a 65 yard bomb that drove the Tulane returner back 15 yards, the backpedaling left him off balanced and he muffed the fair catch, which lead to Duke improving their field position by around 60 yards.

The second play was, well, odd…

After forcing a safety earlier in the game on a punt, Duke broke into the backfield late and put the Tulane kicker under pressure. A fumble ensued and was picked up by the final blocker who inexplicably picked up the ball and attempted some kind of desperation pass forward. It was picked off by Joseph Ajeigbe who returned the ball 12 yards for the touchdown.


FROM THE NOTEBOOK

- Shaun Wilson may not be the biggest or strongest back on the roster, but he is definitely the most explosive and the most impactful. Wilson didn’t play in long spurts, but when he got on the field after Shaquille Powell and Josh Snead there were immediate results. There’s a different level of burst and adjustment at the line of scrimmage when Wilson is on the field.

On the day Wilson finished with seven carries for 70 yards and a touchdown. The other three backs who played combined for 18 carries and 54 yards. On a day where both of Duke’s quarterbacks were logging big runs, Wilson was the only back to record a long run of more than nine yards. It will be interesting to see how Wilson’s use rate increases as the schedule gets tougher and big plays become far more valuable.

- Thomas Sirk’s version of the “Connette package” is just as good, if not better than we saw a season ago when the package’s namesakes was running over defenses. Sirk is bigger and faster, and showed as much by gaining 95 yards on just five carries.

- It was good to see Jamison Crowder back to his old form. The Blue Devils’ top weapon recorded six catches for 119 yards. However, after Max McCaffrey’s four catches, Duke had no other receiver record more than one catch for 13 yards. Chalk it up to the running game working or was this an indicator of Boone’s inconsistent afternoon? Perhaps a bit of both?

- For all of Duke’s success on the ground and on the offensive side of the ball, the best football player on the field was Jeremy Cash who recorded 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and one interception. Cash made a couple of plays on third and fourth down that were game changers.

- Coach Cutcliffe spoke about depth on the defensive side of the ball in the post game press conference. When looking at the front four, Duke could use some depth in the middle of the line. It’s still a surprise that Edgar Cerenord didn’t avoid a redshirt (and probably best long term).

- 12 games. That’s a full season of football. Too often over the last decade it would have been 12 likely losses with a hope of one or two wins. Now, however, Cutcliffe has Duke on a 12 game win streak. The stadium needs to fill up accordingly.


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