Duke vs Northwestern: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

In what many fans consider one of the most disappointing games in recent memory the favored Blue Devils were stomped by Northwestern 28-10. Our resident football guru recaps the performance and offers analysis and predictions moving forward.

What went right?

In one of the most disappointing efforts of the Carl Franks era, the Duke special teams were the lone bright spot on Saturday. Punters Trey McDonald and Matt Brooks averaged 38.4 yards per punt (several were of the pooch variety). The coverage was outstanding as Northwestern only gained four yards on three punt returns. Duke also blocked a punt in the 3rd quarter. The kick coverage was also solid, giving up only 14 yards on one return. K Brent Garber seems to have shaken his early season injury problems. He connected on his only field goal attempt and put two of three kickoffs deep into the end zone.

What went wrong?

Just about everything else. On defense, Duke allowed not one but two 100-yard rushers. This all from basically the same unit that led the ACC in rush defense just a season ago. The Devils were not at 100% along the defensive line, but that is no excuse for all of the missed tackles. Every big play by the Northwestern offense was as a direct result of a missed tackle by the defense. Duke also was unable to generate much of a pass rush, which allowed QB Brett Basanez to convert several 3rd and long situations. The only Duke defender to play a decent game was DE Philip Alexander.

The defensive ineptitude was overshadowed by the offenses' complete inability to move the ball. This against a defense who had surrendered 44 points to Miami of Ohio a week ago. QB Mike Schnieder had the worst game of his young career, throwing for only 130 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The Northwestern defense was confusing the young signal caller by disguising coverage and pre-snap shifting. The defense was also stacking the line against Duke to try and stop the run. They were successful, as Duke ran for a measly 90 yards on 32 carries.

Player of the game:

DE Philip Alexander paced the Blue Devil defense, recording 11 tackles, one sack, and two pass deflections. He was one of the lone bright spots for the Blue Devil defense, consistently penetrating into the backfield and causing plays to break down. For his efforts, he is this weeks' TDD Player of the Week.

Final Analysis:

This could be the most disappointing loss in the Carl Franks era. Duke went into the game looking for its first three game winning streak since 1994. Instead, the Devils came out completely flat, and were dominated on both sides of the ball. Duke also looked completely disorganized and unprepared on offense. On many occasions, QB Mike Schneider was changing the plays at the line of scrimmage while the play clock was running out. This resulted in several delay of game penalties, and many more hurried decisions that negatively impacted the effectiveness of the offense. The coaches also abandoned the running game a bit too early. Duke only ran the ball 32 times, and Schneider had 10 those attempts. Duke's best offensive weapons are RBs Alex Wade and Chris Douglas. Each got nine carries. Both should get a minimum of 15 per game.

Defensively, Duke simply must tackle better. The defenders were, for the most part, in position to make the stop. They just didn't finish the play. Hitting the ball carrier is only half of the tackle. The other half is wrapping him up. Luckily for Duke, the bye week is coming soon. That way the staff can get back to basics and reinforce proper tackling techniques. On silver lining to the defense is that the Devils definitely have improved in pass coverage. Almost all Northwestern's pass yardage was as a result of the lack of a pass rush. The coverage was good, but even the best defensive backs can't cover a receiver forever. The defensive package that involves dropping eight into coverage and rushing only three needs to be scrapped. Every time Duke did this (mostly on 3rd and long), the Wildcats were able to convert. Despite the defenses' horrific day stopping the run, NU scored only 28 points. If the Duke offense can start scoring more points, Duke might have a chance in future games.

Looking Ahead:

After three straight winnable games at home, a daunting challenge awaits the Blue Devils this week as the undefeated Florida State Seminoles come to town. Duke will have to play a near perfect game to stay with FSU. The only chance that Duke has rests with the offense. They have to be able to control the clock by running the ball and keep the explosive FSU offense off the field. In addition to controlling the clock the offense must also score points. FSU has never scored less than 38 points against Duke in recent memory, so that must be the target for the offense. Of course, that is a lot easier said than done. FSU has one of the best defensive fronts in college football. They were vulnerable against the pass last season, but have shown no signs of being so this season. Defensively, the Devils will be facing probably the best running back in the country in Greg Jones. QB Chris Rix is a phenomenal athlete, who can be extremely lethal when he's on. When he's off, the FSU offense sputters. Unfortunately, QBs tend to find their stride against Duke. Hopefully the staff will devise a way to keep the FSU offense out of rhythm and give the Blue Devils a chance.

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