There was one bright spot on the offensive side of the ball; the play of senior wide receiver Jomar Wright. He was personally responsible for 143 of Duke's 222 yards of offense. With FSU playing special attention to fellow wideout Eron Riley, Wright was able to find seams and creases in the defense and expose them.
Defensively, the Devils deserve credit for holding FSU to 25 points. The Noles had many chances provided by good field position, but they were only able to get in the end-zone twice out of seven red-zone chances. While Duke's defenders allowed the Noles to move the ball up and down the field almost at will, the staff has to be proud of their success at limiting FSU success near their own goal line.
The Devils surprisingly also did well in two other categories. They ended up winning the turnover battle, throwing only one interception while forcing two FSU fumbles and recovering them both. The offensive line also was able to decently pass block for Thad Lewis on this day, allowing the Seminoles only a single sack.
What went wrong?
The Blue Devil defense did themselves no favors by allowing FSU to convert on 7 of 16 third down chances and 2 of 2 in 4th down chances. The Devils also allowed yet another opponent to throw the ball at will against them. QB Drew Weatherford came into the game struggling mightily, but was able to complete 35 of 46 passes for 339 yards and one TD. Lack of a pass rush (one sack), combined with loose, sloppy coverage (0 INTs and only 2 passes defended) allowed Weatherford to get into a rhythm and find his receivers with regularity.
Most of the bad play occurred on the offensive side of the ball. While QB Thad Lewis was able to throw for nearly 200 yards, he looked out of sync and confused for much of the afternoon. He only completed 16 of 30 passes and is starting to develop happy feet in the pocket. The offensive line actually did a decent job against the FSU pass rush (only one sack allowed), but the Noles were getting in the backfield and harassing Lewis into early throws and bad decisions. When it comes to the running game, however, Duke was downright pathetic. The Devils carried the ball 19 times for a grand total of 9 yards rushing. What made this number even worse is that Duke's leading rusher was Lewis, who is not to be confused with Steve Young, with 18 yards on the ground. Four of the Blue Devils that carried the ball ended up with negative yards rushing. If Duke is to win any more games in 2007, they must find a way to get something going on the ground. Otherwise, teams are going to load up in coverage and make things very difficult for Lewis and the Duke passing game.
TDD Player of the game:
Duke wide receiver Jomar Wright was the beneficiary of all the extra attention focused on Eron Riley this weekend. As a result, Wright was able to tally 7 catches for 141 yards. His receptions accounted for nearly two-thirds of the Duke offensive output for the day. For his efforts, Jomar Wright is this week's TDD player of the game.
If the Devils play like this the rest of the season, they will not win another game in 2007. The Seminoles dominated on both sides of the ball from the word go. The Duke defense did a credible job of keeping FSU out of the end-zone, forcing Gary Cismesia to kick 4 field goals on the day. Still, they gave up way too many yards and failed to hold the FSU offense in check when they needed to get off the field.
Regardless of how the defense played, Duke is not going to win many ball games if the offense continues to perform at this level. The problems are many and the solutions are few. The most important aspect of Duke's offensive ineptitude lies up front. The offensive line simply is not blocking ACC-caliber opponents with any effectiveness. They are being pushed around at the point of attack, often allowing the defense to re-establish the line of scrimmage several yards in the backfield. There might be problems at running back as well, but it is difficult to tell. The ball-carriers are usually getting hit immediately after receiving the handoff. This ineptitude stems from a lack of strength and technique combined with tentativeness in carrying out their assignments. The blame for all of the above falls in the coaching staff's ability to properly teach fundamental blocking schemes combined with an inadequate strength and conditioning program. There is little that can be legally done to improve the strength and conditioning of the offensive line at this point in the season. Those tasks have to be undertaken starting November 25th, the day after yet another bowl-less Duke football season ends. Bad technique, on the other hand, is a correctable error but the players must be coached properly in the fundamentals.
The Devils will return to Durham for their final two home games of the 2007 season. Their first opponent, the Clemson Tigers, bring a high-powered offense and tremendous pass defense to Durham. Of all the teams on Duke's 2007 schedule, this could be the worst match-up of the season. The Tigers are efficient running the ball, sporting two running backs that could start for almost any team in the country in James Davis and CJ Spiller. QB Cullen Harper is not a dangerous downfield thrower, but manages the passing game effectively and compliments the Clemson running game quite well. If the Devils put forth another effort like they did down in Tallahassee, this game will get ugly in a hurry.