The Duke ground game was once again clicking on Saturday, averaging 5.5 yards per rush on their way to 170 yards total. Leading the way was reserve RB Clifford Harris with 62 yards and a touchdown on 6 carries. Flanker Jabari Marshall added 42 yards on 2 carries and supplied yet another yeoman's effort returning kicks and in punt coverage.
What went wrong?
The Duke passing game was misfiring all game. Despite completing 20 passed on the game, QB Thad Lewis was only able to gain 130 yards through the air. Duke had a few chances to do damage deep, but were unable to convert. WR Eron Riley dropped a sure-fire TD pass that would have pulled the Devils to within 7 early in the 4th quarter. Duke also was unable to convert in short-yardage situations, including a 4th and inches on the BC 2-yard line.
I am not sure what has happened to the Duke run defense, but they have been completely torched the past 3 games. BC had two rushers go for over 100 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Overall, the Devils gave up 501 yards of total offense. This is the third straight game that Duke has allowed at least 450 yards of total offense to their opponents, including two games of over 500 yards (Vanderbilt and BC). Duke was completely unable to stop any phase of the BC offense.
Duke also suffered a multitude of injuries to important players on Saturday. DT Eli Nichols and RB Justin Boyle both left the game in the first half with apparent knee injuries. LT Cameron Goldberg also did not return from a first-half injury. Then, late in the game, leading receiver Jomar Wright suffered an undisclosed injury. If these players are out for any length of time, Duke will find attaining their first 2006 victory will be even more difficult.
TDD Player of the game:
As the backup QB, Cliff Harris often will come in for a play or two per half to give the defenses a different look. With the first half injury to Boyle, Harris stepped in and gained 62 yards and scored the lone Duke touchdown. For his efforts, Harris is this week's TDD player of the game.
The Devils had a real shot to make this a close game. Despite BC's 500+ yards of offense, the Devils were able to force some turnovers and were two yards away from tying the game early in the 3rd quarter. After failing to convert on that 4th and short, the Eagles used the next possession to exert their dominance over the Devils in the form of a 97-yard TD drive. The Devils drove down the field again and threatened to score, but a dropped TD pass by Riley and a successive failed 4th down attempt foiled the Devils hopes.
The Duke defensive performances of the last three games have been shockingly bad. After standing toe-to-toe against good running teams in the first half of the season, and competing well against teams like FSU, Miami, and Alabama, they have simply gone in the tank recently. Vanderbilt, Navy and now Boston College have pushed the Devils around up front. There also appears to be a breakdown of defensive fundamentals as well. Guys are taking poor pursuit angles when tracking down ball carriers, they are not breaking down and getting under control before the tackle, and they are allowing lots of yards after contact. If Duke is to win a game this season, the defensive performance must improve drastically. The last two opponents (GT and UNC) both have running backs that can make defenses look bad. Luckily for them, Duke has not needed anyone's help to look that way the last three weeks.
Offensively, Duke looks like a car engine with a bad cylinder. There is neither rhythm in the play-calling nor consistent execution of the plays that are called. QB Thad Lewis is really struggling with his accuracy and touch right now. He has the arm to make all the throws and has mad those throws at points this year. Unfortunately for the struggling offense, he is not consistently hitting the east throws and his accuracy on his longer throws is leaving a lot to be desired. Still, he is an 18-year old freshman and he will be off from time to time. Hopefully, he will rebound soon and find some consistency. If he can, Duke has the skill players to actually do something on offense. Along with Lewis's consistency, the offensive play calling has to get better. Duke has been quite poor in short-yardage situations this year, even with the sledgehammers of Tielor Robinson and Justin Boyle in the backfield. The offensive line just does not get a good push in these situations. Part of the reason is because Duke runs the same play every time and the defense loads up against that play. If the Devils are to score points this weekend against a good Georgia Tech defense, they must be less predicable and better execute the called plays.
Up next for the Blue Devils is a trip to Atlanta to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Despite the narrow 7-0 escape against UNC on Saturday, the Jackets Wrapped up the Atlantic Division title and will represent that half of the conference in the ACC title game. There are two ways to look at this weekend's contest. Either they will look at the Duke game as a way to tune up for their annual regular season finale against Georgia, or they will use the game as a chance to take their foot off the throttle and get the backups some extended minutes. Unfortunately for Duke, they rarely play well in Atlanta. The Devils face an uphill battle to have a chance to pull victory out.