Duke vs UConn: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Our resident football guru picks up the pieces of Saturday's loss and looks ahead to this weekend's match up with the Virginia Tech Hokies.

What went right:

After a somewhat disappointing opener, the Duke defense came to play against UConn. The Devils held standout QB Dan Orlovsky without at touchdown pass just one week after he threw five in a single game. While the defense gave up more yardage than they would have liked, they were able to hold the high-powered Husky offense to only 15 points.

Duke also recorded its first defensive score of the season, when cornerback John Talley intercepted an Orlovsky pass and returned it 62 yards for the touchdown. The special teams coverage units also had a much better week in their second game. The kickoff did not allow UConn to start any drives outside their own 30-yard line. The punt team did a wonderful job as well, averaging 43 yards per punt and not allowing a return of longer than eight yards.

What went wrong:

The Duke offense once again was unable to generate points. Despite getting a defensive touchdown, the team was only able to muster a total of 20 points, which will not win you many football games. After running the football well in the opener, Duke mustered a meager 61 yards on the ground. The passing game fared a little better netting 184 yards, still not nearly enough to spell success for the Duke offense.

The Duke red-zone offense was once again ineffective. The Devils had four trips inside the UConn 20-yard line and had to settle for field goals on three of those occasions. Senior QB Chris Dapolito threw a huge 4th quarter interception that UConn returned for a touchdown to get back into the game.

Duke's biggest loss, however, occurred on the best play of the day. During John Talley's interception return, senior DE Phillip Alexander broke his leg and will most likely miss the rest of the season. This will be a difficult loss to overcome, as Alexander was the lynchpin of the Blue Devil defensive line.

TDD Player of the Game:

After being burned for a long TD pass in the opener, Duke sophomore cornerback John Talley came back and played a whale of a game this Saturday. His interception return for a touchdown, coupled with his solid coverage and 2.5 tackles really sparked the Duke defense. Despite playing without senior cornerback Kenny Stanford, the Duke defense held UConn without a touchdown pass. A good portion of this credit goes to Talley. For his efforts, John Talley is this week's TDD Player of the Game.

Final Analysis:

Duke was a two-touchdown underdog coming into Saturday's game, and was a missed field goal away from coming out with the upset. Success is, however, measured in wins and losses. Duke came up one play short and goes home to Durham with nothing to show for their effort. Defensively, Duke could not have asked for anything more. Despite not having their top cornerback Kenny Stanford and their top pass rusher Phillip Alexander, the defense was able to harass Orlovsky into many bad throws, and also came up with a score.

The onus of this loss falls on the offense. Duke scored only 13 offensive points, and gave up a defensive touchdown. Other than one long pass to Andy Roland, Duke once again seem either unwilling or unable to attack the Huskies downfield with the vertical passing game. The UConn defense was stacking the box with extra defenders to stop the run, and the passing game was not able to make them pay for doing so. To the offense's credit, when the chips were down and they needed to drive into field goal range at the end of the day, they did so, albeit with quarterback Mike Schneider at the helm.

One facet to this game that cannot be overstated is the loss of Phillip Alexander. Without him, the defensive end position is horribly undermanned with only two non-true freshmen on the depth chart. Expect the Devils to employ more of a 3-4 look for the rest of the season for two reasons. One, linebacker depth is good with 7-8 guys that can rotate in on a regular basis. Two, in a 3-4 scheme the defensive tackles can be used at end, since their primary job is to occupy blockers. Three of the top five tackles in Duke's rotation have played end in their careers, which makes playing this scheme more plausible.

Look Ahead:

Duke will make its third consecutive road trip to start the 2004 season as they will travel to Blacksburg, VA, to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies. This will be the first conference game of the season for Duke, and the first ACC game in Tech's history. The Hokies will want to make a good impression on their ACC brethren in their initial conference contest. If Duke can continue with their fine defensive effort and the offense brings some spark, the Devils can pull the upset.

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