Duke vs. Clemson: The Good, Bad, The Ugly

The Blue Devils took a big step forward on Saturday offensively. Unfortunately the defensive unit took just as, if not a bigger step back in Duke's 49-20 loss to Clemson in Death Valley. TDD examines the result and offers analysis on what went right and wrong while looking ahead to the season ending game against North Carolina

What What went right:

For the first time this season, the Duke offense eclipsed the 400-yard barrier. Quarterback Zack Asack nearly tripled his career-high with 328 yards passing. The Devils had not one but two 100-yard receivers in Eron Riley and Ben Patrick. With his 10 catches, Patrick set his career high for receptions in a single game, and recorded the most receptions in a game for a Duke player since 2001. Riley caught a 66-yard scoring strike from Asack in the 3rd quarter, which is the longest Duke pass play since 2001. TB Justin Boyle recorded his 8 rushing touchdown of 2005, the most ground scores by a Blue Devil in 10 years. The Duke kickers also enjoyed success on Saturday. Punter Chris Sprague averaged over 43 yards per punt with a net of slightly under 40. Freshman PK Joe Surgan booted two field goals, including a career-best 49 yarder that would have easily been good from 60 yards.

What went wrong:

For all of Duke's offensive success, the defense really had a poor game. Clemson ran 65 plays and gained 450 yards of total offense, which means Clemson gained nearly 7 yards every time they snapped the ball. The Tigers ran a balanced attack, rushing for 234 yards and throwing for 216 more. The Devils were unable to stop either. Duke also was uncharacteristically undisciplined today, committing 11 penalties for 105 yards. A few of those miscues came at very unfortunate times, stalling a few drives and giving Clemson great field position. Starting field position also did not help the Devils. On average, Clemson started their drives on the Duke 36 yard line. Duke, however, started their drives on the 24 yard line. This amounted to a hidden 160 yards of field position for Clemson throughout the course of the game.

TDD players of the game:

The Duke passing attack got itself on track Saturday. With Asack throwing for over 300 yards, and Eron Riley and Ben Patrick exceeding the 100-yard mark, Duke enjoyed their best yardage output of the season. Asack threw an interception on the last play of the game, but otherwise managed the game very well. Riley's 36 yard per catch average shows he is emerging as one of the conference's best young deep threats. Patrick provided Asack with a reliable check-off target and was able to gain some yards after the catch. For their efforts, Asack, Riley and Patrick are this week's TDD players of the game.

Final Analysis:

One thing is certain, Zack Asack took a big step forward in his development on Saturday. Coming into the weekend, his career passing best for a single game was just over 110 yards. With his 328 yards, he now ranks second on Duke's all-time list for passing yardage in a single game by a freshman. The touch on his deep passes improved dramatically, and he was able to use his athleticism to buy himself time to find secondary receivers. He also received help from the wide receivers as they caught almost all the balls they got their hands on.

Despite all of the positive news about the offense, the negatives on defense carried the day. There were some great individual plays on that side of the ball, like John Talley's two straight pass breakups and subsequent field goal block. Those were, however, overshadowed by missed tackles and blown coverages. A perfect example happened on Clemson's first big pass play; a 37-yard post pattern to Chansi Stuckey. Duke rushed only 3 linemen, and dropped the rest of the defense into zone pass coverage. In that situation, a safety is always assigned to take the long pass over the deep middle of the field. Duke has been burned in this exact coverage on many occasions this year, and it happened once again Saturday.

Duke also had a killer special teams miscue. Down 21-3 near the end of the half, the Devils allowed Clemson to block a Joe Surgan FG attempt. The Tigers recovered the block at midfield and Surgan added to the woes by committing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Rather than a manageable 21-6 halftime score, Duke found itself down 28-3, and the game's outcome has pretty much been decided.

Looking Ahead:

The Devils will now have a chance to lick their wounds and get healthy as they have an open date this weekend. According to Coach Roof, the players will be given a few days off to rest up and devote more time to their studies. The players will then return to the field on Wednesday for some fundamentals work for the rest of the week. The coaches will also start implementing the game plan for Duke final 2005 contest against arch-rival North Carolina. The Tarheels sit at 4-4 right now, and regardless of next week's outcome will still be in the hunt for a bowl bid. Despite the season-long team struggles, the season will not be a total loss if the Devils can put together 4 quarters of good football and upset the Heels. That would give the seniors a fond memory of their final collegiate football game.

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