The Duke defense played a successful "bend don't break scheme", limiting UNC's points. The Devils sacked QB Matt Baker 5 times, and hurried him into some very poor throws. Overall, the Heels only completed 15 passes in 34 attempts. For the first time in 2005, the Duke defense was able to get themselves off the field, holding the Heels to 4 for 14 in 3rd down situations. On the other side of the ball, Duke had much more success on 3rd down, converting 7 out of 18 chances. The Duke special teams also had a stellar day, holding the Tarheel return teams in check. Punter Chris Sprague averaged 43 yards per punt on 7 attempts and saved some of his best kicks for when Duke was pinned deep in their own territory.
What went wrong:
The Devils killed their chances with turnovers and penalties. The Heels picked off 3 passes, including two at the goal line when Duke was threatening to score. Duke also committed some killer penalties, including 2 15-yarders on UNC's winning scoring drive. Overall, Duke was flagged for 11 infractions totaling 90 yards. The offense was also out of sync for most of the day. QB Zack Asack completed just 10 of 26 passes for 155 yards. The Devils ground game was also unable to get untracked, totaling just 83 yards on 31 carries.
TDD player of the game:
A week before the NCAA football national signing day in February 2005, Head Coach Ted Roof decided to take a chance on an undersized middle linebacker with only one other Division 1 offer. He looked pretty good on film, but the coaches were not sure if he could stand up to the size of Division 1 football. Eight months later, this question mark has turned into a rock in the middle of the defense. LB Mike Brown finished his freshman campaign in stellar fashion leading the Duke defense with 14 tackles with 3 tackles for loss and a sack. For all of the heralded players in the 2005 Duke recruiting class, one of the least recognized has made the biggest impact. For his efforts, Mike Brown is this week's TDD player of the game.
Saturday's game was a microcosm of the 2005 season. Duke has many chances to win this contest, but mistakes abound cost the Devils a chance at victory. UNC gained over 100 yards more in total offense and was +3 in turnover differential. Still, the Devils had the game in hand at the 5 minute mark in the fourth quarter. Then, the Heels made a few plays, Duke committed a few penalties, and the result was a game-clinching touchdown for the men in baby blue.
There were many bright spots on Saturday. The offense sputtered mightily for much of the game, but was able to drive for scores when it had to. Duke could have given up after the Heels made a 4th quarter goal line stand. But the Duke defense forced a 3-and-out, and the Duke subsequently drove for the go-ahead score. On defense, Duke blitzed on nearly every down, and UNC's Baker was rarely comfortable in the pocket which significantly affected his accuracy. Still, Baker was able to make enough plays down the stretch to drive the Heels for the winning score. Duke still had time to respond after UNC's go-ahead score, but threw an interception to seal yet another loss.
The 2005 season is in the books and it turned out to be one that Duke players, coaches and fans would like to forget. In early September, there was a sense of optimism that this season could start a turn-around for the Duke. Roof had just scored the best recruiting haul that the football program had seen in a long time, and the mix of youth and veterans might just be the recipe for a surprising season. In retrospect, it seems that Duke never really recovered from the opening game loss to ECU. The staff now must focus on their recruiting efforts to ensure Duke has the players to compete in the new ACC. In the coming weeks, the 2006 Duke football class will take shape. TDD will offer the best recruiting coverage you can find, and will provide the latest information about potential Blue Devils at it unfolds.