Duke dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Devils ran the ball a ridiculous 62 times for 254 yards. Chris Douglas closed out his stellar career with a 119-yard, one touchdown effort. Backup running back Cedric Dargan gave fans a preview of next year's rushing attack, gaining 52 yards and scoring 2 touchdowns. This all coming with UNC continually stacking the line with 8 and even 9 defenders to stop the run. The passing game was not explosive, but it definitely was used effectively to keep the Heels off balance. Duke only completed 10 passes, but gained 171 yards with them. That is a nice 17.1 yard per completion average, made possible by the effectiveness of the running game. On the other side of the ball, the Duke defense was very stingy against the run, giving up a grand total of 86 yards rushing. UNC's leading rusher was the punter, who gained 22 yards on a fake punt in the 4th quarter. The defensive front was also able to produce 3 quarterback sacks. When they weren't sacking the quarterback, they were doing an excellent job with a controlled rush. This limited the scrambling options for Tarheel quarterback Darian Durant. Despite the second-half letdown, the Duke defense had one if it's best defensive games of the year. The total offense numbers tell the story of the game. Duke finished with 80 plays for 425 yards. UNC ran 57 plays for 289 yards. That about says it all. This was a total team effort.
What went wrong?
After gaining a 23-0 leading at halftime, the Devil defense seemed to relax a bit and came out passive in the second half. This allowed UNC to throw their way back into the game. The Heels scored two second half touchdowns to close the gap the 23-15. The Duke defense finally bowed up and stopped the Heels from getting any closer. Duke also missed an opportunity for a defensive touchdown in the first half, dropping an interception with a clear path to the end-zone. The special teams were not so special this afternoon. UNC standout return man Michael Waddell had a great day, partly because the coverage teams were not staying in their lanes. This loss of discipline almost cost the Devils 2 scores. Luckily, Duke caught him before he got to the end-zone. The offense suffered from a lack of red-zone efficiency in the first half. Twice the Devils had first and goals inside the 5-yard line, but only came away with 2 field goals. Had touchdowns been scored on these possessions, the game would have been a rout. The offense also was a bit more lax in the 3rd quarter, not moving the ball much at all. They did redeem themselves in the 4th quarter, however, by scoring the game deciding touchdown.
Players of the game:
As he has been for most of the year, Chris Douglas was once again outstanding. In his final game as a Duke Blue Devil, he gained 119 yards on 27 carries. He also caught 2 passes for 23 yards. Douglas fell short in his quest for the ACC all-purpose yardage record, but he does end his career as Duke's all-time leading rusher. On the defensive side, senior DT Matt Zielenski closed out his career in grand fashion. In his final game, Zielenski dominated the line of scrimmage, and came up with a sack late in the 4 quarter that sealed the victory. He has been a consistent force all season for the Devils up front, and will be difficult to replace in 2004. For their efforts, Douglas and Zielenski are the TDD players of the game.
How about those Devils? Duke dominated both sides of the ball for the first, second and fourth quarters. Only a subpar third quarter, and failed red-zone execution in the first half kept this game from being a total rout for the Devils. Duke played probably its best half of football in 5 years in the first half Saturday. UNC had one first down and 15 yards of total offense in the initial half. They couldn't do anything on offense. The Blue Devil run defense wasn't giving an inch, and the secondary was not allowing Durant to find any open receivers. It was total domination by the Duke defense in the first half, the only blunder coming on a dropped interception that would have been an easy TD. The offense was nearly as effective, running and passing their way right down the field for many scoring chances. Douglas and the offensive line were in sync once again. Duke ran a somewhat vanilla scheme, primarily attacking the interior of the UNC defense. The Heels, however, could do little to stop them. This game was a great way for Duke to end the season. The victory bell will reside in Durham for the first time since Duke gave it up in 1990. The 700-pound gorilla is off Duke's back; they have finally broken their losing streak against UNC.
As Duke enters the offseason, there is one giant question to be answered, "Who is Duke's next coach?" Interim coach Ted Roof is one of the candidates, and has emphatically stated his case during the 5 games at the helm. Other than the Clemson game, Duke has played extremely well against some stiff competition. With Clemson's 63-17 thrashing of South Carolina, that loss doesn't look so bad. Roof has done an outstanding job at keeping the team motivated and inspired despite the mid-season coaching change. By all accounts, the players and players' parents all really like Roof. He is, however, not the only candidate for the position. Names like Dick Biddle (Colgate), Paul Johnson (Navy), and Bobby Ross (GT and San Diego – NFL) are surfacing. Roof will have some stiff competition for the position. It seems that the Duke administration is finally ready to start supporting football at the level it needs to be competitive in the new-look ACC. Roof does have one advantage in the process, he's already at Duke. I don't know how much that will factor into the decision, but I think he's done all he can to make the best case possible for himself. The decision should happen sometime in the next two weeks. If Roof is not the man, count me as one person who will always be a fan of his. He has made me proud of my school and my team. For that, he has my thanks.