Where To Go From Here?

Since there is no point in reviewing a shutout loss to a division 1-AA team (albeit a good one), this column will be dedicated to ideas on how to salvage the season. Sure, it is difficult to talk about salvaging the season after only one game. But with only tougher opponents on the horizon, Duke must take drastic action to right the ship and avoid yet another winless season.

Pick a Quarterback
The quarterback rotation probably seemed like a good idea on paper. The results however were disastrous. Duke only was able to muster 210 yards of offense and looked out of rhythm until late in the second half when they were 13 points down. Sure Thaddeus Lewis out-performed Marcus Jones on Saturday, but as the old saying goes, the backup QB is everyone's favorite player. All of the performance pressure was on Jones and Lewis played the role of the knight in shining armor coming in to save the day. Sure Jones struggled early on, but he also was not given a chance to redeem himself later in the game. The Duke offensive staff must pick a QB and stick with him when he's struggling. If that QB is Lewis, fine. If it is Jones, fine as well. Whoever is chosen, they need to be allowed to sink or swim without looking to the sidelines wondering whether or not they will be replaced at the first sign of trouble. The QB rotation is telling the rest of the team that neither player has gained the confidence of the staff. If the staff does not have confidence in the QB, how can the players?

Take some chances on offense.
Only when Duke was down 13 points did the offense even try to go down the field. Sure neither pass was complete, but it gave the Richmond defense something else to contend with. Eron Riley had two deep passes thrown his way, and neither one was on target. How about trying a reverse? Or a halfback pass? Take some chances on offense. At the very least, it puts pressure on the defense and gives them something else to worry about other than comeback patterns and runs up the middle. Fake a field goal or fake a punt. Do something!

Find a way to stop the outside run
One of Duke's few bright spots on Saturday was the play of the defensive line. Richmond was unable to run the ball up the middle, so they just started running wide with much more success. The linebackers and defensive backs were not doing a good job supporting the run. Part of that problem was the defense was positioned to take away the power run, which they did successfully. That left the flanks vulnerable. Sure you want to stop the run between the tackles, but not at the expense of leaving the outside open.

Use the tight ends
Duke has had the good fortune to field some quality tight ends over the last decade. We do not know if junior Nick Stefanow will join that group, but he was unable to get a chance to do so in game one. Duke threw a grand total of one pass in the direction of the tight end, and that was incomplete. Duke did not throw a single pass over the short middle of the defense, and only completed one pass between the hashes (curl route to Chestnut).

Stick to the game plan
In the preseason and at the beginning of the game Saturday, Duke ran some spread option. It yielded moderate success, however, it was abandoned for some reason. If you are going to run option, you have to give it time to work. The defense might stop it a few times, but then will miss a tackle or blow an assignment and then the backs are off to the races. It puts pressure on the defense, especially guys on the outside to make tackles. We still do not know if the Richmond defensive backs can support the run, because they were not put in position to do so. Once Duke got down 10 points, the offense played on its heels and did not attack with the run.

Toughness comes from the top
Despite being down 13 points in the 4th quarter, Duke had a 2nd and goal situation on the Richmond two-yard line. Even though it is late in the game, Duke has a chance to really ram it down the Spiders' throat. Instead a naked bootleg is called and Thad Lewis is sacked for an 8-yard loss. If you cannot run for two yards in three tries against a 1-AA team, there is a big problem. Duke might indeed have that problem, but we do not know that now because we failed to try. Sure Justin Boyle is out with injury, but Duke has two big, bruising fullbacks and a few running backs that could have finished the job. Toughness is the order of the day around the goal line. Trying to finesse the ball into the end zone in that situation send a message to the team that the staff doesn't have confidence in your ability to get the tough yards.


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