From The Stands: Duke vs. UConn

TDD reviews the season opening loss to Connecticut and examines what went right and wrong for Duke, while also looking ahead at what has to happen for the Blue Devils to salvage their season.

What went right?

Duke started the game like a house on fire Saturday, talking the opening kickoff 85 yards in a little over one minute to quickly open the scoring. The offensive game plan during that stretch was aggressive and imaginative. The called plays were keeping the Connecticut defense off-balance and Thad Lewis was executing the offense almost flawlessly. Unfortunately it did not last very long. The kickoff return team also provided a spark later in the first half. Connecticut had just kicked their second field goal of the game to make the score 8-7 in favor of the Huskies. On the ensuing kickoff, Duke return-man Jabari Marshall immediately gave the home team the lead back with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. That concluded the day's scoring for the Devils. Until they were worn down in the second half, the Blue Devil defense did a good job stopping the run, especially containing Connecticut's star running back Donald Brown, holding him under 100 yards for the game.

What went wrong?

Before the game, there was concern on the part of the Blue Devils as to how Connecticut's JUCO transfer QB Tyler Lorenzen would handle his first D1 game. Unfortunately, Lorenzen shook on a few early game jitters to slice and dice the Blue Devil defense with his arm and his legs. Lorenzen ended the day completing 22 of 30 passes for 298 yards. He also added 56 yards rushing, gaining key first downs in the process. Many thought that Duke QB Thad Lewis would be able to exploit the green Connecticut safeties and have a big game through the air. He started out very well, but really struggled after getting pasted during a botched flea-flicker attempt that turned into a safety for the Huskies. The Duke offense has a whole was not up to the task on Saturday, gaining a paltry 169 yards of total offense, 85 of which came on the game's initial drive. It is difficult to pinpoint the source of Duke's offensive woes. The offensive line had all sorts of trouble blocking the Connecticut front. Thad Lewis made some bad decisions with his throws, three of which led to interceptions. All in all, this is a day the Duke offense would like to forget.

Another aspect of the game that Duke must improve on if they wish to break their nations-longest 21 game losing streak is punting. Duke used two punters on Saturday and both players struggled mightily to say the least. When the day ended, Duke's GROSS punting average was a paltry 28.7 yards per punt. The Devils cannot afford to give up that much field position in the punting game if they are going to win in 2007.

TDD Player of the game:

Despite the defense allowing 45 points, there was at least one outstanding individual effort. In his first career start, MLB Vince Rey racked up 17 total tackles and 1.5 sacks.

With Mike Tauiliili returning form suspension this week, Rey showed the coaches that he deserves to be on the field with his play on Saturday. For his efforts, Rey is this week's TDD player of the game.

Final Analysis:

It was not the opener that Duke head coach Ted Roof was hoping for. The Devils were soundly defeated on the line of scrimmage, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and made way too many mental errors to stop their growing losing streak. While it is unclear what Duke must do to reverse their losing trend, one thing is very apparent, they will need to play better in every facet of the game if they wish to win a game in 2007. On offense, the Devils are going to need to find five players up front that are willing and able to block their opponents. Connecticut was able to get consistent pressure on Thad Lewis without blitzing. Needless to say, the Huskies were also able to stop Duke's running game without having to bring safeties up in the box.

Defensively, the Blue Devil defensive line actually played a respectable game. They were able to generate a pass rush and held up well against the run. As the game wore on, however, the Devils were forced to play way too many downs on defense and started to tire later in the second half. This, coupled with great field position all day, allowed the Huskies to threaten the endzone on most of their possessions. The Blue Devil defensive back seven did not do a good job of supporting the defensive line after they flushed Lorenzen out of the pocket. The linebackers did a poor job tackling and were often slow to the ball. The cornerbacks were decent in run support, but missed some key tackles in the second half which allowed the Huskies to break off big chunks of yardage. All in all, this was yet another lackluster season-opening performance under the watch of Ted Roof.

Looking ahead:

The bad news for Duke is the four game road trip that now startes them in the face. They will not return home until the month of October. The good news for Duke is that their next contest is against Virginia, a team that also performed dismally in a season-opening loss at Wyoming. For the Devils, this is a great opportunity to forget about the disappointment they are feeling right now and concentrate of upsetting a vulnerable opponent. Duke is not beating anyone, however, until they figure out how to block along the offensive line. If they do not, Duke will be able to move the ball against a pretty decent Virginia defense. If Duke cannot score, they will not win. The defense will not hold UVA scoreless. Execution on offense is paramount to the Devils' chances this coming week.


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