Duke had a number of promising moments, but Miami's explosive offense was simply too much to handle in the team's final game of the regular season.
The Hurricanes defeated the Blue Devils 52-45 Saturday on Senior Day at Wallace Wade Stadium, handing Duke its fourth-consecutive loss. There was no shortage of offense in a game where the teams combined for 1,229 yards, but ultimately it was too little, too late for the Blue Devils. They did not find their offensive spark until the third quarter and were unable to stop Miami's explosive plays to have a shot at a comeback. Following the game, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe lauded his seniors for their efforts this season, leading the Blue Devils to their first bowl appearance since 1994, but said his team's performance against Miami—particularly on the defensive side of the ball—left much to be desired.
“Obviously we had some players make some plays,” said Cutcliffe, who this week signed on to coach Duke through 2019. “That’s a sign of a lot of good things. It is—but not to be confused with playing as well as we needed to play.”
Trailing Miami (7-5, 5-3 in the ACC) by 18 points at halftime, Duke’s offense seemed to come to life in the third quarter, coming within one score of the Hurricanes after scores by senior wide receiver Conner Vernon and sophomore wide receiver Jamison Crowder. The Hurricanes would respond when freshman tailback Duke Johnson scampered for a 65-yard score, eluding a number of would-be Blue Devil tacklers on the way.
2012/11/24 FB vs. Miami - Images by Duke Student Publishing Co. Duke Chronicle
After a crucial stop on fourth down in the shadow of its own goal line, Duke (6-6, 3-5) once again seized momentum in the final quarter when Crowder caught a 99-yard pass from redshirt senior quarterback Sean Renfree—the longest play in Duke football history.
But the Blue Devil defense simply could not record a stop when it needed it the most. On the first play of Miami's next drive, freshman wide receiver Herb Waters turned a screen pass into a 65-yard touchdown when he evaded a Duke tackler with speed to burn. Waters' score gave the Hurricanes a 52-38 lead and put the game out of reach for the Blue Devils. Despite a late score by Brandon Connette to draw within a touchdown, Duke was not left with enough time to complete the comeback.
Renfree, who was recently awarded the Pop Warner National College Football Award for his achievements on the field, in the classroom and in the community, noted that the team was not happy with the way it started game started, or with the final score, calling Miami’s offense “explosive.”
“We just couldn’t muster up enough in the end,” Renfree said. “I thought we were in the game the whole time… We just couldn’t overcome some of our own mistakes to score enough points.”
The Blue Devils were a little deflated after watching Miami’s numerous quick scores and one-play drives in the first half, Crowder revealed. However, the team was able to relax at the half and come out of the locker room with renewed determination, leading to a better performance on the field.
“I wasn’t nice, I wasn’t consoling,” Cutcliffe said of his halftime talk with the team.
Cutcliffe noted that the Blue Devils’ performance has gone south since its win over North Carolina not only because of the talent of their opposition, but also because they haven’t been playing well.
“I want a signal sent to everybody involved with Duke football—it isn’t about being close, it’s about winning,” Cutcliffe said. “Winning has got to become important.”
Duke’s all-time leader in both receptions and receiving yards had another opinion of what was plaguing his team. Vernon pointed to a lack of execution and an excess of penalties as the reasons for the Blue Devils’ losses over the past four games. Though penalties may be a problem, the team committed just five penalties in the game, which pales in comparison to the 11 the Hurricanes committed.
Though the team’s losing streak has left a sour taste in the mouths of fans and players alike, Cutcliffe wants to highlight the accomplishments his club, especially his seniors, has achieved this season, including winning the program’s most games since 1994.
“I want those young men to be proud of what they’ve done,” he said. “There’s a lot to celebrate. Not celebrating losses to Miami, but there’s a lot to celebrate.
With the regular season in the rearview mirror, the team’s seniors say they are looking forward to another three or four weeks of practice, and to ending the losing streak by winning their bowl game.
“It’s a legacy we want to leave and set the bar for the next class,” Vernon said.