The Duke defense might have played their best half of football this season in the opening stanza. Despite having bad field position for most of the half, the Devils only surrendered 10 points and kept the team in the game. Duke punter Chris Sprague had an outstanding game, averaging 43 yards per punt on 7 attempts, with a net of 41 yards per try. The Devils were once again solid against the run, giving up only 3.1 yards per rush. Virginia is one of the best rushing offenses Duke will face this season, so the defense should be commended for at least slowing down this part of the Virginia offense.
What went wrong:
For the second time in three weeks the Duke offense was completely ineffective at moving the ball, especially for the first three quarters. Starting quarterback Mike Schneider was pulled early on and replaced by Curt Dukes. Dukes also proved ineffective, so the Devils turned to true freshman Zack Asack. Despite throwing 2 interceptions, Asack showed that he could move the Devils and was under center for the lone Blue Devil score.
While the Devils did a good job against the run, they had much less success against the pass. Cavalier QB Marques Hagans threw for 174 yards and 4 touchdowns. His second of the day came in the 3rd quarter on a 3rd and 24 play. That made the score 17-0 and the game was pretty much over at that point.
For an underdog to have a chance, they need to play flawlessly on special teams. The Devils made several miscues on special teams which hurt their chances for victory. Indecision on the opening kickoff forced the offense to start the game on their own 2-yard line. The kick coverage also gave up a long return that set up another easy score for the Cavaliers.
TDD player of the game:
One of the bright spots for the Blue Devils was their run defense. The corners did a great job supporting against runs to the outside. John Talley is usually more known for his interceptions than his tackling skills. Still, the South Carolina native led the Blue Devil defense with 10 total tackles including one tackle for loss. For his efforts, John Talley is this weeks TDD player of the game.
Duke needed to play a nearly perfect game to come away with a victory on Saturday. They got a great effort from the defense for a half. The Cavaliers, however, got too many golden opportunities handed to them by the Blue Devil offense and special teams, and the defense eventually wilted. Once Virginia converted the long TD pass on 3rd and 24, the defense lost its inspired play.
Winning and losing is usually a team effort. In this case, however, the offense is mostly to blame for the final score. First off, they were only able to put 7 points on the board. Secondly, they had three killer turnovers that put the defense in a real bind. The Cavaliers' last 3 scoring drives of the game were 12, 23, and 17 yards. In total, Virginia had 5 drives that started inside Duke territory. They also had a 6th drive that started on the Duke 48 yard line. No matter how good the defense is playing they will give up some points when the opponent only has to drive half of the field to score.
Last week, I mentioned a possible quarterback controversy for Duke. I think the controversy might already be over. Zack Asack struggled early on in relief of Schneider and Dukes, but was able to move the ball against Virginia, and led the Devils on a 78-yard drive for their only score. It seems that Asack has earned the right to start against Navy. This will be an interesting development to watch as the week unfolds.
Duke will return home for their "Homecoming" game against the United States Naval Academy. Last season, Duke suffered an opening game loss against Navy in a hard fought, physical contest. The Devils will be looking for a measure of revenge this season. Navy is 0-2 on the season, and will be coming off a very short week as they will take on the Rice Owls in Texas Monday night. Still, expect Navy to be ready to go Saturday. Head coach Paul Johnson is a great offensive mind and the Middies always play hard. Duke will surely have its hands full this weekend. Still, this is a game Duke can win. Of course, you do not win if you do not score. The Devils must find a way to score more than 7 points to win on Saturday.