The offensive line and the running game looked to be much improved after struggling mightily against Georgia Tech two weeks ago. Make no mistake the Hurricanes have a very talented front seven and yet it was Duke that set the early tempo on the ground behind Clifford Harris, Tony Jackson, and Jay Hollingsworth. The later two players showed what looks to be a bright future at the position as the season progresses. The biggest standout of the three was probably Jackson (once recruited to play defensive back) who showcased surprising speed and balance out of the backfield. In addition the second year player appears to have the breakaway gear not featured in some of the team's other options.
Sticking with the running theme, the offensive line (most notably the left side) was as good as they've been all season long - opening holes and allowing quarterback Thaddeus Lewis enough time to go through his progressions without fear of being planted repeatedly. The extended time allowed Lewis to have his best game in a month - even though his statistics may not show it due to several dropped passes by his receivers.
The kicking game continues to solidify with Kevin Jones, Nick Maggio, and Joe Surgan all having solid days. For the most part the special teams played well - most notable has been the continued improvement of the coverage on both kick offs and punts - though a couple of big mental lapses prevent that unit from being classified as having a great day.
Defensively the Blue Devils did a good job against the run for the most part. Unlike years past the linebackers aren't seeing their defensive linemen being pushed backwards as the opponents bull the ball forward.
What Went Wrong:
In Coach Cutcliffe's post game news-conference there was a real sense of disappointment. Not at the result, though he certainly can't be happy at the prospect of giving up five unanswered touchdowns, but more with the overall sense of surrender that seemed to permeate the Duke sideline and on-field performance as Miami continued to rack up points. He summed it up best by saying that he believed his team was playing hard, but they were not competing to win. It's a very fine line, but an important difference.
While the run defense was stout, the Blue Devils could not generate anything resembling a pass rush against the Hurricanes for most of the second half. This allowed the Hurricane QBs to find a rhythm and exploit the extraordinary advantage they enjoyed by sending highly rated playmakers at a Duke secondary - already missing one starting cornerback in Leon Wright - that couldn't hold up under the constant pressure.
Miami also seemed to adjust and then exploit Duke's lack of speed in the linebacking corps. After a few early blitzes worked to the Blue Devils' favor, the Hurricanes seemed able to read when the blitz was coming and put a barrage of speed receivers in position to make plays. Miami also seemed to catch Duke off guard by subbing in Jacory Harris who was able to create yards on the ground (10 rushes for 53 yards).
Offensively the Duke receivers had one of the worst days of any Blue Devil position in a long while. Several dropped passes - including a handful by the usually sure handed Eron Riley - not only killed Lewis' day statistically, but also killed crucial drives and caused Duke to be obliterated on the battle of field positioning. With a short field and superior athletes, it was only a matter of time before Miami began to stretch their legs and exert their advantages.
Onward To Vandy:
The Blue Devils now return to the road to face off against SEC opponent Vanderbilt in a game where they will once again be decided underdogs. Once again the Duke coaching staff will be in a position to put the team in a position to compete having spent the last few years at Tennessee. If the team returns with the will and desire to compete to win as Cutcliffe says, then Saturday could be interesting. If, however, the Blue Devils once again fold after some adversity, the Commodores earn their needed sixth victory in emphatic style.