Reviewing Duke vs. North Carolina

Looking back on Duke's season ending loss to North Carolina in Wallace Wade.

What went right?
Duke had its most prolific offensive output against a 1-A team since a 44-point effort against Northwestern in 1998. QB Thad Lewis had his best game as a collegian, completing 20 of 35 passes for 285 yards and 4 touchdowns. The brightest spot for the Devils on Saturday was their execution in the red-zone. After a season of titanic struggles scoring points, the Devils were nearly flawless this weekend. On six trips inside the UNC 20-yard line, they came away with five touchdowns and a field goal. The Duke defense have up big plays and plenty of yardage, but bowed their necks when they had to, stopping the Tarheels twice in the 4th quarter to keep the late Duke rally going. They even scored the last Duke points on a Pat Bailey interception return of a screen pass.

What went wrong?
Once again, special teams cost the Devils victory. UNC return a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns. Despite this adversity, Duke had a chance to tie the game with two minutes left in regulation after Bailey's interception TD, but it typical Blue Devil fashion allowed the extra point to be blocked. This was the second extra point block of the afternoon, the first being a momentum killer after the Devils had taken their first lead of the game late in the first half. Duke's special teams, especially the kicking game, have been woeful all season, and the blocked tying extra point was the icing on that quite bitter cake.

TDD player of the game:
The Blue Devil red-zone offense has slowly improved over the course of the 2006 season. From the better late than never category, it took until the final game of the season for the Devils to execute like a winning football team. Fullback Tielor Robinson had three receptions on the game, but all 3 resulted in Duke touchdowns. He also made a leaping grab and run for a game tying two-point conversion midway through the 3rd quarter. For his efforts, Robinson is this week's TDD player of the game.

Final Analysis:
This game is quite simple to analyze. Duke's special teams single-handedly cost them the Victory Bell on Saturday. Kickoff coverage has been a strong point for Duke all season, but when they needed it most it failed them. Two return touchdowns allowed and two blocked extra points is simply an unacceptable performance in that phase of the game. People can blame the kickers, the blockers on the extra points, or the coverage men that allowed the UNC scores. The brunt of the blame, however, falls on the coaching staff. Junior high teams do not get two extra points blocked in one game, nor do they give up two return TDs in one game. The either did not prepare the team properly or they did not teach them proper fundamentals for executing their assignments. Either way, the horrific play on special teams doomed the Devils.

Looking Ahead (and back):
The 2006 season is over for Duke and for the 3rd time since 2000 the Devils finished winless. Duke had chances to record several victories on the season. They were average special teams play away from being undefeated against their in-state brethren. Starting with a deflating shutout loss to 1-AA Richmond, followed by a last-second blocked field goal loss to Wake, the Devils have endured enough frustration to last a lifetime. For the seniors, they will not have another chance to taste victory at the college level. For the returning players, they need to adopt a new credo for the 2007 campaign, "One more play". What if Duke can kick a 27-yard FG against a now 10-2 Wake team? What if Duke completes a 6-yard pass on the final play against Miami? What if Duke can make an extra point against UNC? The season could have played out very differently had Duke made one more play. Unfortunately, what's done is done, and the Devils must bear the burden of a winless season until next year.

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