The Blue Devil offense seems to have hit its stride in the last two games. Coming off an efficient first half performance a week ago, Duke was able to score 5 touchdowns in the opening half. The 36 points represents the highest point output in one half of football since 1999. The quarterback receiver combo of Thad Lewis and Eron Riley were virtually unstoppable. Lewis threw for almost 300 yards before halftime, and Riley had close to 200 yards and three touchdowns before the break. Overall, the Duke offense was able to gain 506 yards on the day, the first time during the Ted Roof era that the offense has been able to generate over 500 yards of offense.
Kick returner Jabari Marshall had another outstanding day, averaging 30.5 yards per return. He will remain among the nation's leaders in that category. Punter Kevin Jones has rebounded wonderfully from an atrocious first game this year and had solidified the Duke punting game. He averaged almost 44 yards per punt, and the Duke punt coverage allowed only 7 total return yards on the three kicks. On defense, a few individuals had career day in the stat department. Three Blue Devils, LBs Mike Tauiliili and Vince Rey along with DT Vince Oghobaase, recorded at least 10 tackles a piece. Oghobaase also added 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Freshman defensive end Wesley Oglesby chipped in with 9 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
What went wrong?
Quite simply, the Duke defense was unable to get off the field on third down. The Midshipmen were 12 for 17 on third down conversions. The Middies were able to parlay this success into nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession. In the second half, it was apparent that the Duke defense was wearing down, and their fundamentals started to get shaky because of this fatigue. The run-oriented Navy offense was able to gash the Blue Devils through the air. Two Navy QBs (and one running back) were able to complete 13 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, the Middies were able to roll to 540 yards of total offense, including 50 yards on their game winning drive.
Once again, the Duke kicking game had a major negative impact on Duke chances for victory. After the first Duke score, Joe Surgan missed the extra point. The Duke staff had seen enough and went for two the after the next two scores. Then the Devils inserted walk-on senior Greg Meyers who hit three extra points. But Meyers missed a crucial chip-shot field goal early in the 4th quarter, which would have given the Devils a two-touchdown lead. If the Devils are to win another game, they must find a reliable extra point and short field goal kicker.
TDD Players of the game:
Duke had two near record-breaking performances this weekend. QB Thad Lewis hooked up with Eron Riley early and often. The combination accounted for 6 catches for235 yards and 4 touchdowns. The four touchdowns tied and all-time Duke record, previously reached by RB Justin Boyle against Vanderbilt last season. Lewis's passing performance will rank in the top-10 all-time in Duke history when the official release comes out this week. For their efforts, Thad Lewis and Eron Riley are this week's TDD players of the game.
After playing just well enough to win a week ago, the Devils were unable to put the game away when they had the chance and allowed Navy to hang around just long enough to steal the victory. The Devils had this game in hand early in the 4th quarter, but the offense started making mistakes and the kicking game let the Blue Devils down yet again with a missed chip-shot field goal. If that field goal is converted, Duke would have taken a 14-point lead and a Navy comeback would have been much less likely.
The Navy game plan had quite a wrinkle this week. They came out throwing the ball and had plenty of success doing so. Their starting QB, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, completed 11 passes for 217 yards. Both figures were career-highs. The Devils allowed 240 yards less on the ground than the Middies gained a week ago, but their lack of success on 3rd down kept them on the field for extended stretches and eventually wore them down.
The Devils were also the victim of some untimely and highly questionable penalties in crucial situations. On the first offensive play after Navy tied the score at 43, Lewis hit senior wide receiver Jomar Wright with a short pass that Wright turned into an apparent 80-yard touchdown. The play was called back, however, on a holding penalty on Eron Riley. The video replay of the play showed the block to look clean. Still, the Devils shook off this misfortune and marched down the field, running time off the clock. Facing a 3rd and 10 and threatening to move into scoring range, Lewis appeared to complete a first down strike to Raphael Chestnut. Once again, however, the play was called back by a holding penalty. On the next play, Lewis threw into coverage and was intercepted. The Middies, buoyed by this turn of good fortune, were quickly able to maneuver into position to kick the winning field goal. Regardless of the misfortune, the Devils had many chances to win the game going away, but shot themselves in the foot with a lack of execution.
The Devils will play the last of four consecutive games on the road when they head down to south Florida to take on the Miami Hurricanes. After nearly pulling the improbable upset a season ago against a depleted Hurricane squad, the Devils will probably not be taken lightly. The Canes are coming off one of their best performances of the season, a 34-17 rout of then number-20 Texas A&M. The Devils will face a supremely talented Hurricane squad with skill athletes all around. Head coach Ted Roof must figure out a way to erase the disappointment of the Navy loss and get Duke prepared for this week's challenge.