After gaining only 150 yards rushing in their first four games, the Duke ground attack came to life. The Devils were able to shred the Alabama defense for 201 yards rushing. Leading the way was TB Re'Quan Boyette who carried the ball 9 times for 98 yards. Because of their rushing success, Duke was able to score their first points in almost a month. By halftime, the Devils had more than doubled their meager 2006 season point total. On the other side of the ball, Duke was able to get pressure on Alabama signal-caller John Parker Wilson. Despite recording only two sacks, the Devils constantly forced Wilson into quick decisions. The Devils stood toe-to-toe with the Tide for 3 _ quarters before finally wearing down late in the 4th.
What went wrong?
The Devils came out with a run-first strategy and that worked for a half. In the second half, however, Alabama put 8 men in the box to stop the run and invited Duke to beat them throwing the ball. With QB Thad Lewis still looking a little tentative after a few straight rough games, Duke was unable to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups on the outside. The signal-caller completed only 7 of 18 passes and was intercepted twice. The Devils continued to try and run the ball against the stacked front in the second half and the results were a total of 50 yards of offense after the break. The Tide controlled much of the action in the second half on offense, and wore the Blue Devil defense down. They had a chance to stop the Alabama offense and get the ball back with a chance to score late, but the Tide was able to run the ball right at the Devil defense when it counted and put the game out of reach with five minutes remaining. Alabama was also able to gain big chunks of yards through the air, which negated the outstanding Duke run defense in the first half. Duke also committed some silly penalties at critical times. Two of Alabama's touchdown drives were as a direct result of Duke personal foul penalties on 3rd down when the defense had made the stop. In games against superior opponents, the Devils cannot afford to make these sorts of mistakes and expect to come out victorious.
TDD Player of the game:
Welcome to the 2006 season Re'Quan Boyette. He struggled with his confidence after some early season fumbling problems. Against Alabama, however, Boyette ran with confidence and showed the Devils the same speed and skill as he displayed last season as a true freshman. Despite only receiving 9 carries, he racked up 97 yards. For his efforts, Boyette is this season's TDD player of the game.
Just like Tennessee in 2003, Duke traveled to a SEC powerhouse as a huge underdog and gave the home team a legitimate scare. This time, however, the Devils really had a genuine opportunity to pull this game out. The 30-14 final score was as misleading as a final score can be. The Devils were down 16-14 with 5 minutes remaining when the Tide scored the winning touchdown against an exhausted defense. Duke then threw an interception which was returned for a TD to account for the final score.
The question in many peoples' mind is, how did a team that has been shut out in 3 of its first 4 games score 14 first half points against a good Alabama defense? The answer lies in the much improved play of the offensive line. The hogs up front opened running lanes for the backs, and the ball carriers were able to use their blocking to rush for over 150 yards by halftime. Another byproduct of the improved line play was the time which they gave the QB to throw the ball. Granted, Lewis had to improvise and elude pressure at times. Still, Alabama only recorded one sack, which are almost 4 less than Duke usually allows per game. The Duke offense more than doubled their season point total and the main reason why was the offensive line. Of course, 14 points is not enough to win a game against an SEC power like Alabama. At some point, Duke will need to find a way to get more points on the board.
Duke will return to Durham to start a stretch of 4 consecutive home games. The first opponent in the homestand will be Florida State. The Seminoles are coming off a heartbreaking 3 point loss to NC State this past Thursday. Needless to say, the Noles will be looking to right their ship against the winless Blue Devils. Duke will need to play a perfect game to overcome the speed and skill of the team from Tallahassee. They cannot make the same mental mistakes and commit the silly penalties like this past week. FSU will undoubtedly look at the Alabama game film and see that the Blue Devils are struggling to throw the ball. The Noles are going to load up against the run and if Duke cannot fix their misfiring passing game, it could get ugly this Saturday.