Duke v Tennessee: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Blue Devils put together the best performance of the year Saturday in Knoxville, giving the Tennessee Volunteers a big scare before bowing out 23-6. TDD's resident football guru takes a look at every bit of the game and offers analysis on the things that went good and bad before offering a prediction going from here.

What went right?

Duke was able to run the ball successfully on Tennessee, amassing 180 yards on the ground. The Devil defense also had a solid day, holding the 18th ranked Volunteers to 355 total yards, and 23 points. Considering the skill athletes that Tennessee has, this was no small feat. For nearly three and a half quarters, Duke held the Vols without a touchdown. The Duke defenders were tackling well, and the coverage by the defensive backs was very good for most of the day. The Devils played with intensity and fire throughout and stood toe-to-toe with a 27-point favorite until the bitter end.

What went wrong?

The passing game really let the Devils down today. Duke needed a solid effort through the air, and only came up with 120 yards. The completion percentage wasn't too bad (12-21), but Duke needed better to defeat the Vols. Also, for the first time this season, Duke was clearly outplayed on special teams. The Devils fumbled during a punt return inside Tennessee territory, which resulted in the first of two 4th quarter touchdowns for Tennessee. Duke also committed a costly penalty on a punt, which was downed inside the 1-yard line. On the resulting re-kick, Tennessee was able to advance the ball to around the 40-yard line. Duke also missed two field goals from less than 40 yards away. Finally, the red-zone offense let the Blue Devils down once again. Early in the 4th quarter with Tennessee leading 9-6, Duke had the ball first and goal on the two yard line. After being stuffed on the first down try, the Devils proceeded to commit two penalties, give up a sack and miss a 35-yard field goal. If the Devils are to win again this season, they have to start scoring touchdowns in these situations.

Player of the game:

Once again, the bright spot on the Duke offense was senior running back Chris Douglas. His 135 yards rushing came against a Tennessee defense that was stacking the line specifically stop him. With great blocking by the offensive line, Douglas played, according to one fan, the "gutsiest" game by a Duke player in 40 years. Despite being pounded on nearly every play, Douglas amassed 135 yards. For his efforts, Douglas is TDD's player of the week for the 4th time this season.

Final Analysis:

Despite the final score, Duke had every chance in the world to win this game. They had a chance to take the lead or at least tie the game in the 4th quarter. The offense and special teams, however, blew it big time. It is tough to pin the blame of a loss on part of a team and not the whole. Saturday's loss, however, can be directly blamed on special teams failures and the passing game. The offensive line and running backs definitely did their share, but the defense, was able to put 8-9 men on the line of scrimmage every play, daring Duke to beat them throwing the ball. The Devils were unable to do so. The Duke defense held out against the Vols for three and a half quarters, allowing only 3 field goals. Unfortunately, if you give Tennessee enough chances on offense, they will eventually score. The team should demand more points out of the offense, and its way past time the offense starts producing them.

Now for a bit more on the accomplishments of Chris Douglas. Douglas now has 739 yards rushing on the season, leaving him 261 short of becoming Duke's first 1000-yard rusher since 1994. He is also creeping up on another milestone, the Duke career rushing mark. Through Saturday, Douglas has 2,730 career rushing yards. He needs 42 to pass Randy Cuthbert for second place, and 222 yards to eclipse the all-time mark set by Steve Jones. With 3 games remaining, Douglas is within easy reach of this mark. This week's opponent, Georgia Tech, is pretty stout against the run. Douglas will probably have a tough go of it this week. It gets easier, however, in the last two games. Clemson is fairly soft against the run and has problems against bigger offensive lines. UNC has the worst defense in the ACC, and one of the worst in the country. It will be fun to watch Chris close out his career chasing this milestone. He has persevered through the darkest days in Duke football history, and now hopefully will be able to end his career on a high note.

Looking Ahead:

Duke has an interesting contest this Saturday, as they play host to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Jackets are somewhat a similar team to the Blue Devil squad we have seen the past couple weeks. Tech has a stout defense, especially against the run. Their achillies heel, however, is their inconsistent offense. Like Duke, Tech is having trouble scoring points. Luckily, their defense has been playing well enough to win. This is a must-win for the Jackets as they look to move into a second place tie in the ACC standings. This game will also have special meaning for Duke. This is the last home game of the 2003 season, and the Devils will be saying goodbye to the seniors. Several of these players have made an impact on Duke football that will be felt for years to come. This is probably the best senior class Duke has had since 1999, and these guys want to give the home crowd something to remember them by.

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