Though he may catch some flack in the micro sense, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis played well for the most part on Saturday. The junior signal caller suffered another three drops by his receivers, which could have left him with 41 completions on the afternoon. No matter the nature and style of those passes, it's hard to nitpick those kind of numbers.
Two true freshman made impacts on offense against NC State Saturday. Jay Hollingsworth showed why many believe going to be a very good player for the Blue Devils for the next three seasons. All told he finished with 103 total yards and a touchdown. Many of those yards were earned after the initial hit and first line of defense. Despite his youth, Hollingsworth has been a very powerful runner who is very difficult to bring down with just one hit - something that is more inherent than coached. To this point he's had a habit of looking to go wide (instead of running north to south) a bit too frequently, but that could be due to the penetration opponents are getting along the offensive line.
Classmate Donovan Varner was equally impressive and showed a lot of potential for a great career as a slot receiver in Cutcliffe's offense. Despite being on the smallish side, Varner is surprisingly tough to bring down - carrying a few Wolfpack defensive backs on a few runs after the catch. Going forward it's likely he'll become more and more of a part of the offense.
Defensively, there should have been a standing ovation for senior Mike Tauiliili who finished with 18 total tackles including 15 solo stops and another tackle for loss. He was all over the field making plays. The Blue Devils are going to sorely miss #34 in 2009. Hopefully Duke's late season slide won't impact the voting for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
What Went Wrong:
Credit goes to NC State who really played well on defense - especially in finishing their tackles. While they are certainly not the most athletic or talented group Duke has seen this season, they did provide the best performance in the tackling arena.
One of the Blue Devils' biggest weaknesses was exposed this weekend as State absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage against the Duke offensive line. It took some offensive scheme adjustments in the second half to get the Blue Devils moving up and down the field, but as the field shortened (when Duke approached the redzone) - the O-line couldn't open holes for the running backs and Lewis was constantly under pressure as soon as the ball was snapped. As it became more and more apparent that Duke couldn't block State's defensive front, the Wolfpack were able to drop more and more players into coverage down field.
Overall the effort wasn't what many have come to expect from a Cutcliffe led team. A week after a heart-breaking loss to Wake Forest the Blue Devils were not able to bounce back against an opponent where a big time effort was needed. That kind of inconsistency will keep Duke from realizing its dream of bowling in 2008.