From The Stands: Duke v. GT

After winning three of their first four contests the Blue Devils were riding high heading into a showdown with Georgia Tech. However, the first road game of the season left little doubt that head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff still have a long road ahead of them in 2008. TDD reviews the game and offers our analysis.

What Went Right: Clearly when a team is shutout there's going to be more in the other part of the article, but there were several reasons for optimism tucked inside Saturday's lopsided score. Most notable here was the performance of the defensive unit. That may seem a bit off after giving up 27 points, but overall the defense was solid against a Tech offense that ate up the clock on possession after possession. Included in that performance was the individual effort of Mike Tauiliili who officially recorded 11 tackles, but seemed to be north of 15 stops with the way he was flying around the defensive backfield.

Offensively the Blue Devils didn't have too many bright spots to point out, though freshman runningback Jay Hollingsworth continues to impress a number of onlookers with his instincts and decision making. With Re'quan Boyette a possibility against Miami, the Duke coaching staff will have three ACC-level runningbacks from which to choose in two weeks.

In spots the punting game was better this week, though there were still a couple kicks that didn't help the overall cause. Notable there was Georgia Tech scoring 17 of their 27 points in a much shorter field. On the ones that Jones really connected on, the Duke punt coverage was as good as it's been all season led by Raphael Chestnut and Matt Daniels.

What Went Wrong

Sticking with the review of the defensive performance (which was failry strong), the Blue Devils were simply unable to stop Demaryius Thomas - and it was he, not Dwyer, who proved to be the difference. The Tech receiver was well-covered throughout the day and he still managed to record nine catches for 230 yards. Simply put, he was better than the defensive backs who attampted to cover him and will likely prove to be the standard which that group of Blue Devils work towards.

In the post game presser Coach Cutcliffe said he was disappointed with the way the team played on the offensive side of the ball. That's understandable and one player who struggled mightily was junior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis who followed up a shaky first half performance against Virginia with one that was below his usual standards against the Yellow Jackets. True the junior is facing defensive units that are much better than he saw early in the year (more on that later), but in the last two contests he's seemed to be out of rhythm or, worse, unable to establish a rhythm on his throws. It's most noticbale on what should be routine passes where instead of hitting the receiver in the numbers he's leadng them a bit much at times and over-throwing them completely at others.

Much of Lewis' inconsistency can be traced to his lack of time in the pocket, which was significantly decreased in the last two weeks. There is not doubt that Tech's defensive line was better than Duke's offensive line on Saturday, but it was a perceived lack of fight that set the tone and allowed Lewis to become more sitting duck than signal caller. One particular concern is on the right side of the line where UVa's Clint Sintim racked up three sacks last week and Michael Johnson and his teammates had a field day on Saturday - putting pressure on Lewis no matter where he [Johnson] was lined up.

With the offensive line not providing enough time it was left to the coaching staff's creativity to buy Lewis time. The most success came from Lewis rolling out and using bootlegs to buy that extra second or two. However it seemed as though Duke went completely away from this strategy after halftime - leaving Lewis as a target. Tech certainly adjusted, but from the stands it never seemed as though the Yellow Jackets proved they were able to stop that line of play calling.

While you certainly won't see the comments coming from the Duke program, it was certainly noticed by the fanbase that new Georgia Tech coach and one time Duke target Paul Johnson was sending a message to the Blue Devils by throwing to the endzone late and then kicking a meaningless fieldgoal with less than a minute remaining. No doubt 27-0 looks better than 17-0 or 24-0, but it was pretty clear that Johnson enjoyed picking on an opponent that he had earned a postive (and illustrative) victory over. No doubt the message was received in Durham.


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