Roof Hoping For A Rebound

For the second straight season the Blue Devil football team opened with an opponent that analysts believed they could beat. For the second straight season Duke came out on the wrong end of a disappointing effort and scoreline. And now, just as a year ago, head coach Ted Roof's team is left with many more questions than answers.

Despite the offense's inability to move the ball with any sort of consistency and the laughable production from their punting game, Duke went into the locker-room up by a field goal against Connecticut last Saturday. When the Blue Devils emerged from the tunnel to retake the field, something went very wrong as the Huskies reeled off 34 unanswered points for an easy 45-14 win. Much like last season, when underdog Richmond spanked the Devils in their own house, Roof and his staff are left searching for answers on how to right what appears to be, at best, a leaky ship.

"We went back to work [Monday] morning," said Roof of his team's attempt to move forward and prepare for Virginia. "It was good to get back on the practice field and be able to spit some of that out and move forward. At the same time, we have to learn lessons and as coaches, there are some things we have to make sure our football team understands."

In 2006 Duke seemed to learn its lessons quickly after the season opening debacle. Just a week after falling to the Spiders, Roof took his team to Winston Salem and had the eventual ACC Champion Wake Forest Demon Deacons beat before the special teams buckled on the final play of the game. Then it was the place kicking that was unreliable. Now, after a productive off-season, kicker Joe Surgan appears sound - it's the other kickers that are giving Roof nightmares.

Against Connecticut, Duke punted the ball seven times for an average of just 28.1 yards with no kick being longer than 35 yards. Simple put, Duke cannot hope to compete, let alone win in 2007 if those stats don't improve dramatically.

"We have to punt the ball better; that's no secret," said Roof. "We cannot average 28 yards a punt because even if you're not turning the ball over, you get killed on field position. We have to have some production there."

Laying the blame solely at the feet of the punters would negate the offensive struggles that called that aspect of the team into repeated service. After moving the ball down the field more than 80 yards in the first 90 seconds of the game, the Duke offense managed just another 100 yards the rest of the day - leaving fans, and coaches wondering where the magic went.

"We came down and that was as good of a drive as we've had since I've been here. It was methodical and we took it right down the field and finished off the drive. Defensively, we were able to force them to attempt field goals. Usually when you can force a team to do that and you have a big play in the kicking game, you feel pretty good about things. "

"In the second half, they [Connecticut] scored on a long pass play and we had a couple of guys run into each other. They got the momentum and we didn't do anything to swing it back with the lack of production offensively, turnovers, the punting game and big plays on defense."

Correcting those issues will be paramount on Saturday in Charlottesville with the Cavaliers looking to rebound from an equally disappointing loss in the season opener (23-3 to Wyoming). In 2006 it could be argued that the Blue Devils played better when they were away from home. Perhaps the coming four game road swing will provide Duke a chance to get on the road and play without the added pressure brought about by expectations of playing well in front of their home crowd. Of course after watching his team fail to perform against UConn, Roof isn't about to focus on anything other than Saturday.

"We have a one-game road trip right now. I think that for us to focus on anything that we have no control over would be a mistake and a waste of time. I just want our football players worrying about getting Duke executing then let the chips fall where they may."

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