The Devils once again received an outstanding passing performance from QB Thad Lewis. Despite being under almost constant pressure from the Miami defensive front, Lewis was able to complete 18 of 27 passes for 245 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Most impressively, Lewis spread the ball around to many different receivers as eight blue Devils recorded at least one reception on Saturday. This continues an amazing streak of efficiency and accuracy for Lewis, who has only thrown 1 interception in the last 4 games. Wide receiver Eron Riley continued his TD scoring streak by hauling in his only reception of the day, a 31-yard strike from Lewis. RB Ronnie Drummer accounted for the other score, catching a short middle screen and turning it into a 41 yard score. The Duke running game also showed signs of life in the second half. Re'Quan Boyette made a case for more carries in the future by leading the Devils with 71 yards on 14 carries.
The defense played one of its better games of the season. They did give up 430 yards of offense to the Hurricanes, but after allowing 10 early points, held the Hurricanes off the scoreboard until the 4th quarter. After allowing Navy to convert on well over 60% of 3rd downs last week, the Devils held Miami to a 33% conversion rate on 3rd down and stuffed the Hurricanes on a crucial 4th down attempt in the 4th quarter that kept the Devils in the ball game.
What went wrong?
One of the big Duke concerns coming into the game was the ability of the Devil offensive line to block the Miami defensive line. Unfortunately for Duke, this battle did not turn out to well. The Miami defense recorded a season-high nine sacks for a total loss of 68 yards. The Devils also had difficulty hanging on to the ball. For all of his good work through the air, Thad Lewis also had two 4th costly quarter fumbles, including one when Duke was in scoring position in the 4th quarter.
The Blue Devils once again struggled to contain an opposing passing game this weekend. Miami starting QB Kyle Wright completed 19 of 23 passes for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. The defensive front was getting pressure on Wright and did record two sacks. Granted, Miami's skill players are the best Duke has seen to date this season, but the back seven needs to provide better pass coverage if the Devils are too taste victory this season.
TDD Player of the game:
Despite the back seven's coverage woes, one player stood out. Sophomore CB Leon Wright provided Duke with two interceptions on Miami's first two drives of the second half. On both occasions, the interceptions stopped a potential Miami scoring drive, with the second one occurring in the end-zone. Wright was also a critical part of Duke's run defense, recording 7 tackles including 6 solo stops. For his efforts, Leon Wright is this week's TDD player of the game.
This game was a good news/bad news scenario for the Blue Devils. On one hand, the Devils have come a long way from a talent standpoint over the last few seasons. In the past, teams like Miami would just blow by Duke with the skill talent and put up huge offensive numbers. Granted, this Miami team is not an offensive juggernaut. Still, they have top notch division one talent on the field, and Duke was able to compete on both sides of the ball.
On the other hand, the Blue Devils squandered a great upset opportunity away with a few bad penalties and two killer fumbles by Thad Lewis. This was also the first game where the staff's lack of confidence in the kicking game directly affected end-game situations. Down three facing a 4th and 6 on the Miami 30 yard line, the staff elected to go for the first down rather than attempt a 47-yard field goal. It would have been a tough kick because of the 15 mile-per-hour wind in the face of the Devils. Still, if the Devils had confidence in the kicking game, the staff would have taken their chances with a FG attempt.
The bottom line of this game was pass-protection. The Hurricanes were able to get tons of hits on Lewis and recorded nine sacks. Lewis did a commendable job completing 66% of his passes without throwing an interception. Still that pressure caused a late fumble which gave the Hurricanes easy points. The good news for Duke fans is that after the second fumble and subsequent Miami score, the offense came right back and immediately responded with a long TD drive of their own. This really fired up the defense which immediately forced a Hurricane 3-and-out. The Devils drive right back down the field, but were unable to convert on 4th down in Miami territory to continue the potential winning scoring drive. The Devils showed lots of heart on Saturday. If they continue to show that heart the rest of the season, they WILL win some football games.
The Devils will finally return home for a couple of games after a 4-game road trip. First up this weekend, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Most Duke faithful remember last year's heartbreaker in Winston-Salem. The Devils beat the Deacon up and down the field for 3+ quarters, but Wake scored 2 late TDs and blocked a last-second Duke field goal to eke out a 1-point win. For Wake, this was the springboard for an ACC championship. For Duke, it was the beginning of a nightmare season, which ended without a victory. The Devils have proven they can compete with Wake and have been right in the last four contests late in the 4th quarter, winning one. The Devils are playing with plenty of passion and if they can cut down on the mistakes by a little, could taste victory for the second time this season.