Not much went right for Duke on Saturday. After having scored only 3 points in the first quarter all season, the Devils took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field for a touchdown. Kick return man Jabari Marshall once again had a solid day for the Devils, averaging over 25 yards per return. Wide receiver Eron Riley had a good outing, hauling in 4 catches for 88 yards. RB Justin Boyle recorded over 100 all-purpose yards out of the backfield.
What went wrong?
It is tough to figure out where to start. Duke's offense was only able to muster 13 points and less than 300 yards total offense against a poor D-1 defense. The Devils ran the ball OK, but were not able to attack Navy's Swiss cheese pass defense. Untimely penalties, sloppy execution and questionable play-calling were all contributors to the offensive ineffectiveness. After the first scoring drive, Duke was too busy shooting themselves in the foot to mount any more successful TD drives until the game was out of reach.
As bad as the offense was, the defense was even worse. Navy chewed up the Devils with their option attack, rushing the ball 70 times and only throwing 5 passes for a grand total of 467 yards of total offense. Giving up over 5 yards per rush is usually bad news for a defense. Navy averaged 6.7 yards per rush and predictably the results were disastrous. The Middies only completed two passes, but one of them was a TD toss to a wide open receiver. Duke got caught cheating up against the run and the receiver just slipped right behind the scorched safeties.
TDD player of the game:
Despite the defenses' poor overall performance, there were a few good individual efforts. One of those was the play of LB Jeramy Edwards. On the day, Edwards racked up 15 total tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. For his efforts, Edwards is this weeks' TDD player of the game.
There is no way to sugar-coat it. The Devils laid yet another egg against a very beatable opponent Saturday. There are so many errors to point out about the Blue Devils performance it would take a few days to list them all. To summarize it, Duke looked unprepared for Navy's offense. That lies at the feet of the defensive coaching staff. The Devils lined up in a scheme to seemingly try to give up yardage on the option dive and limit the amount of outside yardage on the pitch or QB keeper. That strategy is fine if you indeed can stop the outside run and the pitch. What ended up happening is the Devils ended up not stopping any of the runs. They were probably most successful against the dive. DT Eli Nichols faced double teams all day but still managed 7 tackles. Navy FB Adam Ballard ended the day with 27 carries for 103 yards. That is an acceptable number against an option team if you are limiting their effectiveness on the outside. Instead the Devils were slow in pursuit and not getting off blocks. This resulted in Navy averaging 7.7 yards per carry when not giving the ball to the dive back. In effect, the Duke defense was out-flanked by the Navy QB and pitchmen. The defensive staff did not make many adjustments to what Navy was doing to them and the result was a game dominated by the Middies' offense.
Just as befuddling as Duke's poor defense was the sub par performance off the offense. Navy came into the game 90th in the country in total defense, and were one of the worst against the pass. This seemed like a game where the Duke offense would be able to really put points on the board. It seemed like it was going to be that sort of day early on. Duke scored on its opening possession and was successfully driving on its second. Then the penalties, missed blocks and poor overall execution started. Duke would move the ball in Navy territory and then self-destruct, almost like they did not expect to score when they got close. Duke started the game running the ball successfully. Navy started moving extra men in the box leaving Eron Riley and Jomar Wright in single coverage against corners that looked like extras from the Wizard of Oz. Instead of constantly following the yellow brick road over the top against these short corners, the Devils rarely challenged them. Billy Barty would be proud. The Navy defense deserves credit for making big stops when they needed them, but most of Duke's offensive woes were self-inflicted.
After coming up empty in their four game homestand, the winless Devils will head on the road for two straight against pretty good football teams. First up are the Boston College Eagles. This game might have an element that the Duke players are not used to facing: cold weather. The 7 PM kickoff will undoubtedly make it a frosty kickoff and despite the early predictions of nice weather, snow remains a possibility. All weather considerations aside, the Devils must find a way to regroup and start playing good football. They will be decided underdogs the next two weeks against BC and Georgia Tech. Playing like they did against Navy will cause Duke to get beat badly. Of course, the Devils have made it a habit of playing better on the road then at home so far this season. For the sake of all Duke Fans, let's hope that trend continues.