When Duke rang the Victory Bell in September, it was high on the tune of an undefeated season and optimism that it might be able to contend for the ACC Coastal Division. 

Almost six weeks later, the Blue Devils still are searching for their next win—and are on the cusp of not making a bowl. 

Daniel Jones’ offense has cratered, helping Duke pick up as many offensive touchdowns as losses during that five-game span. Despite being on the field for an average of nearly 35 minutes per game, the defense has done enough to keep the Blue Devils in games. 

Now, against an Army offense that devours the clock and limits opponents' chances with its triple-option offense, Duke’s offense is going to have to get back on track Saturday at noon if it wants to win arguably its most winnable remaining game of the season. After a bye week, the Blue Devils will face an Black Knights squad that has a chance to win its most games since 1996 at Michie Stadium in West Point, New York—despite not throwing a single pass Saturday against Air Force. 

“You might not get more than eight series,” Duke offensive lineman Gabe Brandner said. “It places an emphasis on every snap and making each one count.”

That task could prove difficult for the Blue Devils (4-5, 1-5 in the ACC), who have found the end zone just five times in 64 drives during their losing streak. Jones has been at the center of the offense’s failures, completing just 33.3 percent of his pass attempts against Virginia Oct. 7 and throwing for just 82 yards last week against Virginia Tech—albeit in monsoon-like conditions in Blacksburg. 

Typically a multi-faceted offense, Duke’s rushing attack that carried the team in the early going has faded in the past two weeks along with Jones, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. 

“We have to have balance,” Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’re not throwing the ball and completing it at a high percentage. We’re not putting ourselves in position to be successful on third down with a more friendly third down number than we’ve been getting.”

The traditional rushing attack spearheaded by Brittain Brown and Shaun Wilson disappeared against the Hokies—Jones was Duke's leading rusher, with Wilson getting just 12 carries for 38 yards and Brown earning two carries—for negative yardage. 

With the collective offensive meltdown, Cutcliffe found it time to let the entire offense watch film at once—usually, individual units watch tape together. Cutcliffe said he did it to hold the players accountable and remind them of what they need to improve on as a unit of 11 heading into the clash with Army (7-2, Independent). 

“I’ve done it before,” Cutcliffe said. “This isn’t a first time thing. It’s before you let people get frustrated. People start talking behind the scenes. I don’t know if we had it or not, but I’m a proactive person, and the climate was there. It’s interesting how few people talk when they’re watching the film. Tape doesn’t lie.”

The numbers don’t lie: the Blue Devils will be up against one of the most clock-hungry teams in the country, that has held the ball for an average of over 34 minutes per game. 

Playing in the Coastal Division that puts Georgia Tech on its slate every year and scheduling service academies routinely, Duke has a breadth of experience against triple option teams. 

Faced with the task of playing this archaic form of offense year in and year out, Mike MacIntyre, defensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009, helped to build a philosophy to slow it—and Cutcliffe says his replacement, Jim Knowles, has done a fine job of continuing it. 

"We now have people coming to us asking what and why we're doing certain things,” Cutcliffe said. 

Since MacIntyre came to Durham, Duke has been successful in slowing the Black Knights—winning three of four contests, including a 13-6 slugfest in Hurricane Matthew last year. It hasn’t been as successful against the Yellow Jackets—next week’s opponent—going 2-7 during that time despite winning two of the last three. 

For Cutcliffe, the formula is simple: get the offense on the field. 

“You have to maximize your opportunities for stops. They’re an offense that’s extremely efficient. They chew up the clock,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got to make plays ourselves on defense. You can’t let them via throws make big, big plays. Sometimes, you get so mesmerized by stopping the run that their big plays come in the passing game.”

Forced to play without the benefit of the passing game last year in the torrential downpour, Duke allowed Army to convert just twice in 13 third down attempts and rush for 165 yards—its season low at the time. 

Although Black Knights’ quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw has been woefully inefficient this year, he has been explosive when he does find receivers, throwing for 19 yards per completion. Army rarely passes, but when it does, Duke will have to be ready. 

“It’s rare to go against a team like that, but we’ve always got to be ready for them to throw the ball,” Blue Devil safety Alonzo Saxton II said. “It can easily turn into a game where they start throwing the ball if they need to if it’s a passing situation.”

After a bye week, Duke desperately needs to freshen up if it wants to make a bowl. Because of its high APR, the Blue Devils likely need to win just one game to make it to the postseason—and this is their best chance left. ESPN’s FPI favors Duke against Army, but has it as heavy underdogs against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest to close the season. 

“The focus on this team is 4-0,” Brandner said. “Let’s put these last five games us and finish 4-0 and leave behind a winning streak into next season.”

Mitchell Gladstone contributed reporting.