The Devils were one play away from upsetting the Hurricanes. They got into that position by out-playing Miami in the second half on both sides of the ball. The Duke offense really got on track Saturday, recording 380 yards of offense against one of the ACC's premier defenses, most of which came after halftime. Justin Boyle led a rushing attack that played well enough to give the Devil offense balance. QB Thad Lewis threw for 284 yards and a touchdown. The story of the afternoon, however was the Duke defense. After giving up 51 points to FSU last week, the similarly talented Canes were held to just 20 points. What is even more impressive is that both Hurricane touchdowns were as a result of great field position gained after Blue Devil turnovers. When Miami was forced to drive the length of the field, the defense was able to hold them to just two field goals. The Canes we able to throw for almost 300 yards through the air, however, the stingy run defense gave up only 36 yards on 20 carries. Duke's special teams also had a solid game as the coverage units were able to hold the dangerous Miami returners in check.
What went wrong?
The Devils were quite careless with the ball. Four interceptions by Thad Lewis and a Jomar Wright fumble caused Duke to be –3 in turnover differential. In a game against a talented opponent like Miami, taking care of the ball is of utmost importance. The Devils were a decent 5 of 14 in 3rd down conversions, but failed on two critical 4th down chances, one of which cost them a chance to take the lead midway through the 4th quarter. The defense struggled to get heat on QB Kyle Wright, and that gave him time to spot his open receivers. CBs John Talley and Deonto McCormick made some good plays at times, but were burned badly at others.
TDD Players of the game:
Despite his early fumble costing the Devils a chance at points, WR Jomar Wright bounced back in a big way and had a stellar afternoon. His 10 receptions and 176 yards receiving are both career-highs. He also recorded a career-long 54-yard catch late in the 4th quarter, taking a short pass, eluding one defender and giving the Devil a chance at a win. For his efforts, Jomar Wright is this week's TDD player of the game.
What a heartbreaker for the Blue Devils Saturday. After falling behind 17-0 at halftime, the game seemed to be turning into another disappointing blowout loss. Instead of folding the tent and quitting, the Devils came out fighting on both sides of the ball and had a chance to win the game from the 6-yard line on the final play. But, alas, victory was not in the cards for Duke on Saturday. While they played well in the second half, the story of the game were the five turnovers. For Duke to win these sorts of games, they have to win the turnover battle. Still, it was heartening for the Blue Devil faithful to see their beloved team fight back from a big hole and play with heart and determination.
Offensively, Duke seems to be very close to exploding. After scoring a grand total of 13 points in their first 4 contests, the Devils managed to put up 53 points in 3 games against Alabama, FSU and Miami. While that surely does not signify an offensive explosion, it is a far cry from the team that was shut out by 1-AA Richmond in the season opener. Defensively, the Devils played winning football Saturday. They held Miami to 36 yards rushing and just under 300 yards passing. The pass defense was a bit suspect at times. Miami's Lance Leggett and Sam Shields were tough matchups for the Duke corners. But the Devils hung tough and allowed just one field goal to the Hurricanes in the second half. Linebackers Codey Lowe and Jeramy Edwards had exceptional games. Edwards paced the Devils with 10 total tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Lowe had 8 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss and the lone Duke sack. Lowe also made some key solo stops on 3rd down, which allowed the defense to get off the field.
I would also like to mention the contributions of redshirt freshman TE/DE Norm Gee. The reason I listed two positions is because he played both ways Saturday. Starting TE Nick Stefanow and FB/TE Brandon King were both hobbled by injury. Rather than burning the redshirt of a true freshman, the staff had Gee, a player who moved from TE to DE in the offseason, practice at TE this week. He ended up starting at TE on Saturday, catching two balls for 18 yards. It looked like he had been working at TE all season. He also saw about 20 snaps along the defensive line and recorded 2 tackles. My hat is off to you, Norm.
With the meat-grinder portion of the schedule behind them, the Devils will now get to see a few opponents that won't be able to beat the Blue Devils on talent alone. The first of these contests will be a non-conference tilt at home against Vanderbilt. The Commodores are coming off a 31-13 beating at the hands of South Carolina, and at 3-5 on the season will be looking at the Duke game as a must-win for their chances at a possible bowl berth. Vandy is capable of playing at a high level, as evidenced by their win at Georgia two weeks ago. But as far as talent goes, they are right in line with Duke. If the Devils play like they did against Miami, and can cut down the turnovers, their chances for victory Saturday will be quite good.