One could look at the resilience of the quarterbacks, relying on the No. 3 and No. 4 guy against a disciplined defense, as a group. The offensive line held up despite its own increasingly seemingly insurmountable injury situation. Perhaps the entire front-seven on defense, which limited the Blue Devils to just 98 yards on the ground, deserves some credit. The same can be said for the secondary, which frustrated redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Boone more times than not.
Within the back-end group, the play of Brandon Reddish again was easy to identify. It wasn't just his jump-ball interception over ACC great Jamison Crowder or physical tackling that shined, it was his consistency. From the time the previous play ended until the next whistle, the senior stood his ground against arguably the conference's most complete group of wide receivers in Crowder, Max McCaffrey and Isaac Blakeney, who accounted ford a pair of touchdowns in the 27-10 affair. Each of his scores was opposite the side of the field Reddish occupied on the given play, where Boone progressively avoided throughout the afternoon.
Reddish has been on this tear, physical play at the line of scrimmage mixed in with plenty of plays on the ball and his usual solid tackling in the open field, for about a month -- so it's perhaps fitting that he put in his best effort during his final dance in the Carrier Dome, against the league's darling program and player.
Crowder, who lined up opposite Reddish for about two-thirds of the snaps, still managed to put together some catches offensively en route to 58 yards on nine grabs, but most were underneath and lacked the usual impact seen from the ACC's No. 2 all-time producer. Sure, he swung the game Duke's way for good with his fourth-quarter punt return for 6, one of his few touches where the New York City native wasn't hot on his trail.
If the secondary played well, highlighted by the top cover-man, schematics had plenty to do with it. Scott Shafer and Chuck Bullough designed a coverage plan that nearly led to an upset of the nationally ranked visitors, fit with disguises, pressures and the usual chances spectators have become accustomed to over the last two years. At times, man-press looks developed into traditional cover-2 or cover-3 sets, preventing the big play from breaking the Orange's back save for a late 54-yard hookup between Boone and Blakeney with the game perhaps already out of reach.
Reddish, in particular, pestered Crowder to the point that several shoves accompanied the referee's whistle. On run plays, there was more incentive to get hands on the 5-foot-9, 175-pounder, and Syracuse took advantage. In the first half, it was all about the physicality against Crowder on passing plays, as both Reddish and Julian Whigham played at the line of scrimmage more times than not -- often transitioning to bail or zone techniques to protect the defense against his explosiveness.
"He did a nice job," Shafer said. "Speaking of Brandon Reddish's performance today, he had a lot of tackles. I haven't seen a stat sheet. He played really good on the edge. He did a nice job with their quick passes defeating the number one receiver on a stalk block situation and then made a nice interception back there at the one yard line. I wish it would've been in the end zone to be honest with you but it was a great play by him."
The opening two frames saw six different schemes against Crowder, from traditional jams at the line in man coverage to the bail-zone techniques and traditional cover-2 and cover-3 looks the defense utilized all season. The difference was the physicality before Crowder could get to the top of his route. Both Reddish and Whigham saw some success in this style. After halftime, Reddish saw more of Crowder, and many more zone schemes seemed to be utilized, especially cover-2. The key is that the look is designed for the cornerbacks to get hands on the most-outside receiver on each side -- often Crowder.
With it having plenty of success, in what became a 10-10 game as Mitch Kimble's run-first mentality worked for the Orange offense, offensive guru and DU coach David Cutcliffe began to move Crowder around the formations before the snap, which resulted in less friction against his star on early downs. But in obvious passing situations, including that key third-down in which Reddish snared his third pick of the season, Shafer out-dueled the veteran. The pre-snap look was zone coverage with no pressure, though Boone soon realized it was just the opposite. SU came with heat, leaving Reddish alone against Crowder, and he used all of the tools we've chronicled to make the home team's most exciting play of the day.
At the line, Reddish forced Crowder inside, stemming off of his route -- which became a "go" route down the field once the two seniors realized SU was in man with pressure headed the quarterback's way. As Duke's top threat gained ground on SU's emerging defender, he stacked the route, therefore cutting off a quicker advancement down the field. Back in the pocket, Boone was running out of time and saw his No. 1 option with one man to beat. The result was a lobbed pass that dared Reddish to make a play against an All-America candidate, and he did. Realizing the ball was in the air despite the basic principles of man coverage -- which state the need to keep one's eyes on the target -- he was able to position himself closer to the ball's path than its intended target. Some out-muscling of the smaller defender and a targeted leap resulted in what looked like a game-saving interception at the time.
Unfortunately for SU, the offense could not get going pinned at its own end, and the ensuing punt was the game's highlight as Crowder eluded defenders early and hit his top speed late on his latest explosive score. The Orange would try to respond and rally with a fake punt on fourth-and-short, only to be stopped by the Blue Devils. Duke kicked a field goal to go up 20-10 just minutes later as any upset hope was dashed.