The Duke ground game showed some life. The Devils carried the ball 39 times for 253 yards. Leading the way was Junior Justin Boyle, who recorded the teams' first 100-yard game of the season. Ronnie Drummer and Re'Quan Boyette contributed 52 and 47 yards respectively. Kickoff return man Jabari Marshall averaged 28 yards per return which gave the Duke offense good starting field position.
What went wrong?
The Devils came out of the tunnel flat and it was apparent shortly after the opening kickoff. Coming into the game, Duke was 29th in the country in rushing defense. Vanderbilt put a big dent in that ranking, gashing the Devils for 235 yards on the ground. To add insult to injury, The Commodores were also able to burn the Blue Devil pass coverage for 277 yards through the air. Missed tackles, blown coverage and just poor execution doomed the defense. The Devils had many chances to make big plays on QB Chris Nickson in the backfield. Unfortunately, poor tackling fundamentals and great athletic ability by Nickson turned the broken plays into big gainers.
Despite Duke's rushing success, they were not able to compliment it with a sound passing game. QB Thaddeus struggled mightily with his defensive reads and his throwing accuracy. As a result, the Devils were only able to muster a paltry 106 yards through the air. The Duke wide receivers were getting open, but Lewis was not finding them. On the rare occasion when Lewis did find them, his passes were not on target.
TDD Player of the game:
Justin Boyle scored 9 touchdowns in 2005, the best figure at Duke since 1996. He had been relatively quiet so far this season, having only scored one touchdown so far. On Saturday, Boyle was able to hit paydirt 4 times, tying an all-time Duke record. With his 113 yards on 14 carries and four scores, Boyle is this weeks' TDD player of the game.
The coaching staff, especially head coach Ted Roof, needs to take a long look in the mirror before starting game preparation this week. The Devils did not look prepared on Saturday. On offense, Duke showed no semblance of a cohesive game plan. The play-calling had no flow. The Devils appeared to be running the ball quite well in the first half, but the staff seemed to panic after Duke fell behind by 2 scores early. Rather than trying to stick to the running game, Duke pressed and went a little pass-happy. The result was a misfiring offense that didn't get on track until Vanderbilt got up 31 points and sent in their second string. To the players' credit, they did not give up and cut the lead to 10 with 7 minutes remaining. Still, poor execution and bad coaching decision put Duke in the 31 point hole.
Credit is due to Vanderbilt, especially the play of their offensive line. The Commodores were adept at picking up the blitz and gave Nickson time to find his receivers. Standout Sophomore Earl Bennett wore the secondary out, catching 9 balls for 184 yards including a 77 yarder early in the game, which really took the wind out of Duke's sails. On that play, the Devils were in man coverage with no safety over top. Bennett ran a simple slant route and CB John Talley missed a tackle. After Talley's miss, there was only green grass between Bennett and the end-zone.
Duke must regroup quickly because the Navy Midshipmen will be in town this Saturday. The Devils will have to adjust their defensive strategy this weekend to combat the flexbone option attack they will see. For Ted Roof, this is an absolute must win game, both for team morale and his job security. Duke now owns the nation's longest losing streak and has not defeated a 1-A opponent since 2004. If Roof wishes to continue as Duke's head coach, he must find a way to get the team ready to play. At times, the Devils will rise to the occasion and play teams like Miami and Alabama tough. When lesser teams that Duke can defeat such as Vanderbilt and Navy come to town, the Devils almost always fall flat on their face. If this continues to happen, Roof could find his job in jeopardy. AD Joe Alleva has shown a lot of patience as Roof tries to resurrect the program from over a decade of despair. Patience, however, has it limits.