GREAT START…BUTThe Duke offense was clicking on all cylinders early on. The Blue Devils jumped out to a 10-0 lead by racking up 107 yards on the first two possessions. And they made it look easy.
It started up front where the offensive line continually opened holes in the Virginia Tech defensive line, allowing the backfield runners - either running backs or QB Anthony Boone - plenty of space to dart forward.
Not only were the Blue Devils motoring up and down the field, the defense was holding Virginia Tech to absolutely nothing. On the Hokies’ first two drives the Duke defense limited their guests to eight plays and two yards.
All told the Blue Devils recorded 10 first downs and enjoyed a total yards advantage of 176-40. There couldn’t have been a better script for the team to move into total control of the game while inching closer to a ninth win on the season and a second consecutive ACC Coastal Division crown.
With the Hokies seemingly on the ropes, the Blue Devils called for a long pass play to Shaun Wilson. Quarterback Anthony Boone was under no pressure, but his pass was thrown behind and inside of Wilson, making for and easy interception at the Virginia Tech 2-yard line by Deon Clarke.
From there the Hokies would march 98 yards down the field and cut the lead to 10-7 on a 10 yard pass from Michael Brewer to Isaiah Ford. From there it seems as though any Duke momentum was gone as the team struggled to execute for the the rest of the half.
Following Boone’s interception, Duke’s offense went three and out on consecutive possessions, accounting for a total of three yards on those six plays. After seeming to right the ship with a nine play, 24 yard drive…Ross Martin missed his first field goal attempt of the season and Duke went into the half wondering what might have been.
Back to back scoring drives seemed to steady Duke as the Blue Devils went up 16-7, and then the wheels continued to come off. And during winning time.
WINNING TIME THAT WASN’TAfter sustained drives that resulted in back to back field goals by Martin, Duke’s lack of execution, penalties, and some questionable decisions mixed into a perfect cocktail of defeat.
Coming into the game, and throughout the rise of the Duke Football program under Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils have prided themselves on executing better and being fresher than the opponents - especially in the final quarter. On Saturday, however, things went south. Fast.
The first four drives of the fourth quarter resulted in an interception followed by a Devon Edwards fumble, and then consecutive punts. Those four drives consumed 13 plays and accounted for just 20 yards. And yet…there was still a chance.
Duke drove down the field, trailing by one and set up Martin for a 40 yard field goal between the hashmarks. The kicker, who had been perfect on the season until that point, pulled the ball well left of the uprights.
And yet…there was still a chance to win after the defense held and gave Duke the ball back with 2:08 remaining.
Not only did the Hokies give the ball back, they provided Duke a chance to win the football game after a personal foul penalty moved Duke to Tech the 41 yard line. From there Duke performed in precisely the opposite manner Cutcliffe would expect. Needing just another three or four yards, Boone was hit with an intentional grounding flag, and then a false start penalty moved Duke back even further. Boone was sacked on the next play, and then on fourth down, under pressure, Boone threw it away.
In summation, needing just a few more yards to attempt a game winning field goal, the Blue Devils proceeded to move backwards 20 yards thanks to poor protection, a bad decision throwing the ball, and a penalty.
“The things we pride ourselves in – taking care of the ball, no loss yardage plays, no sacks didn’t happen,” said Cutcliffe. “We left some points out on the field. We had some people who had some opportunities there and we just didn’t execute as well in the passing game. That’s kind of been our m.o. If we hadn’t played well offensively it’s not necessarily not being able to run the ball it’s suddenly not being able to execute in the passing game. It was a challenge and we didn’t manage it – a one-point loss.”
NO TIME TO REFLECTThe loss will sting - especially the manner in which it developed. However, there’s no time for Duke to lick their collective wounds. Not with a nationally televised game on Thursday against North Carolina.
“I think what we have to do is realize tomorrow is Tuesday. You can’t carry a loss. Sundays are sometimes hard after a loss collegiately or otherwise the next day. Tomorrow is not the next day. Tomorrow is Tuesday. Tomorrow is a preparation day. Our total focus has to be on moving forward and we can’t just give that lip service.”
UNC defeated Pittsburgh 40-35 on Saturday to move to 5-5 on the season and 3-3 in the ACC.
For their part, the Blue Devil players seem to be accepting of their coach’s direction.
“I think it starts tonight, just getting rest, not doing too much, replenishing the body and going forward for the rest of the week, getting mentally and physically prepared to play a Thursday night game. We have to put this game behind us. We can’t let it drag on into the practice week. We need to come out ready to play.”
GOING FORWARDThe Blue Devils, assuming Florida State takes care of Miami tonight, still control their own fate as far as a return trip to the ACC Championship game goes.
A Seminole win would drop Miami to three conference losses, leaving only Duke and Georgia Tech with two conference losses. The Yellow Jackets have already completed their ACC season with a 6-2 mark. Duke currently sits at 4-2 with the tie breaker over the Yellow Jackets and two games remaining against the Tar Heels and Wake Forest.