The three leading tacklers for Duke were Jeramy Edwards (10), Pat Bailey (9), and Codey Lowe (8). One name conspicuously absent from that list is MLB Mike Tauiliili. As a matter of fact, looking over the last 3 games, Tauiliili only has 4 solo tackles during that time. Prior to that, he was one of the leading tacklers in the ACC. One possible explanation is the injury to starting DT Eli Nichols. As Al Groh will tell you, Nichols is a menace down low, drawing double teams on almost every play. While Nichols' backups have been filling in admirably in his absence, they do not command the same attention. Because of that, Tauiliili is encountering more traffic and having to take on offensive linemen at the second level more often. No one is more anxious for Nichols return than Mike T.
Duke's placekicking has been downright terrible so far in 2006. Most people are down on Joe Surgan, and it is apparent he's suffering from a lack of confidence. One area where Surgan is performing very effectively, however, is on kickoffs. The first few games, he had trouble keeping the ball in bounds. It now seems that he has corrected that flaw and is getting them to the end zone with regularity. The thing about Surgan's kickoffs that people might not be noticing, however, is the height. This past weekend, Duke finally allowed a kickoff return outside the 20-yard line in 7 games (after an offsides penalty pushed the kickoff back to the 30). The reason for the superb kick coverage is twofold. One, the kickoff coverage team has been very disciplined at staying in their lanes and have been tackling well. Two, the hangtime Surgan has been getting on his kickoff allows the coverage to get down the field father before the receiver catches the ball. On one kickoff Saturday, the kick coverage was already at the 25-yard line when the Miami returner caught the ball. Blame Surgan for missing field goals if you want, but give him some credit for his kickoffs.
Going into the meat-grinder portion of the schedule, people were talking about Duke and the realistic chance of getting shut out in all three games. Now that the meat grinder is over, we can reflect on how the offense performed. The numbers aren't great, but when you consider the defenses they were facing, Duke got some points on the board. The Devils have scored 17.7 PPG and gained 321 yards of total offense per game during that stretch. To put these numbers in perspective, the Alabama, FSU and Miami defenses have averaged 277 yards per game and 16.4 PPG. It appears the offense has gotten much better since the 38-0 whitewashing against UVA. Now if the Devils can solve the turnover problems, they should be able to put some wins on the board.
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