Blue Zone

Around the ACC: Week 7

An eventful week of ACC play, including a shocking upset and yet another impressive performance by the North Carolina State offense, has left the Wolfpack—not preseason favorites Clemson or Florida State—in sole control of the Atlantic, with Miami and Virginia still atop the Coastal. 

Florida State 17, Duke 10

After a promising 4-0 start, the Blue Devils dropped their third straight to an embattled Florida State team that is slowly regaining its confidence. A familiar storyline emerged in this one, as the Blue Devil defense did all they could, but woeful offensive execution ended up being too costly to overcome. Mark Gilbert and Jeremy McDuffie each picked off Florida State quarterback, James Blackman, but a late comeback bid fell short. 

Syracuse 27, No. 2 Clemson 24

As a twenty-plus point underdog, the Orange pulled off a miracle Friday night, not only shaking up the ACC standings, but completely reshaping the College Football Playoff picture. It was a back-and-forth affair in which Clemson tied the game four separate times, only to drop their first game since November of last year. Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns while his counterpart, Kelly Bryant, was forced to exit the game early with a concussion. With this blow, the reigning national champions will likely need a perfect rest of the season to get to the Playoff for a third consecutive season.

No. 11 Miami 25, Georgia Tech 24

A miraculous fourth down grab by Miami receiver Darrell Langham, paired with a game-winning 24-yard field goal with five seconds remaining, kept Miami’s undefeated season alive in a tight win against Georgia Tech. The Hurricanes racked up 481 yards of total offense without turning the ball over, including 170 rushing yards and a touchdown from running back Travis Homer. The Yellow Jacket triple option will look to bounce back next week against Wake Forest. 

No. 20 NC State 35, Pittsburgh 17

It was a great day in more ways than one for the Wolfpack, as they were able to secure their sixth straight victory and claim first place in the ACC's Atlantic Division after Clemson’s loss to Syracuse. North Carolina State’s domination of Pittsburgh was powered by 248 yards on the ground, 135 of which coming from running back Nyheim Hines. Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley recorded his eighth consecutive game with at least one touchdown and no interceptions, keeping Pittsburgh winless in ACC play. 

Boston College 45, Louisville 42

Boston College grabbed a quality win in a thrilling shootout featuring 52 first downs and over 1,000 yards of offense. Despite another stellar performance by Heisman quarterback Lamar Jackson, who accumulated over 500 yards of total offense, the Cardinals dropped their second consecutive ACC contest. Workhorse running back AJ Dillon led the way for the Eagles, carrying the ball 39 times for 272 yards and four touchdowns.

Virginia 20, North Carolina 14

Another sound performance by the Virginia defense allowed the Cavaliers to escape Chapel Hill with a victory and keep North Carolina winless in conference play. The Virginia secondary forced three interceptions and held the Tar Heels to only 46 yards through the air. North Carolina running back Michael Carter scored both of the Tar Heels' touchdowns and accounted for 161 of North Carolina’s 257 total yards. While the Cavaliers look to crack the top-25 for the first time in years, UNC will search for their first ACC win next week in a challenging matchup at No. 15 Virginia Tech. 

Making the grade: Duke football vs. Florida State

Duke improved its passing game and limiting long pass plays on defense, but an atypical poor performance by the defense against the run game and limited red zone appearances cost the Blue Devils their third straight game.

Offense: C

Pass: A major step up compared to his performance against Virginia, Daniel Jones completed 22-of-35 passes for 204 yards. Although he was more accurate, he wasn't much better at creating explosive plays—he had just one 57-yard connection with T.J. Rahming. Running back Shaun Wilson also got a chance to throw it on a trick play, but was intercepted. 

Rush: In limited opportunities, Duke’s run game was solid, gaining 111 yards on 4.4 yards per carry. Wilson led the team with 13 carries for 66 yards. Brittain Brown also had a solid performance with 6 carries for 43 yards, including a nine-yard run for Duke’s lone touchdown of the game. 

X’s and O’s: While Duke was able to tie up the game, the inconsistency in the run and pass game and Florida State's methodical offense only created two red zone opportunities. Despite converting both red zone attempts into points, Duke’s inability to produce meaningful drives cost them the game, although the offense as a whole was more smooth than it was against Virginia. 

Defense: B-

Pass: Duke had a solid performance against the pass game, only just 197 yards and picking off  true freshman quarterback James Blackman twice—including one interception by Jeremy McDuffie for 19 yards—his third this season. While the Blue Devils certainly limited Blackman's total yards, they didn't stop him from being efficient—he completed 18-of-21 pass attempts. Duke only yielded one passing touchdown, but had difficulty shutting down Nyqwan Murray, who had 5 receptions for 81 yards.  

Rush: The Blue Devils could not contain the Florida State's run game, allowing 228 yards, led by Cam Akers' 15 carries for 115 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown. Fellow back Jacques Patrick also added 18 carries for 98 yards. This was an uncharacteristically bad showing for Duke's front seven, which was No. 7 in the nation in rushing defense before Saturday. 

X’s and O’s: The Blue Devil’s were able to limit the big pass plays that hurt them against Miami, a continuation on their improvement against Virginia. But the defense’s inability to stop the run game, allowing the most rushing yards since Miami had 139 in a 31-6 blowout loss, kept the Seminole offense on the field and wore Duke down.  

Special Teams: B+

As a punter, Austin Parker had a great performance, with five punts with an average of 46.2 yards per punt. Additionally, he made his lone field goal and extra point chances. 

The return game was especially quiet against Florida State, with no punt returns and a lone kick return by Shaun Wilson for 16 yards. The Seminoles returned one punt for two yards and one kick for 13 yards. 

Extra point: Duke football vs. Florida State

After a perfect 4-0 start to the season, Duke and its sputtering offense dropped its third straight game, a 17-10 loss to Florida State at Wallace Wade Stadium. 

Revisiting the three keys to the game:

  • Protect Daniel Jones: As it did against Virginia, Duke’s offensive line was improved in protecting Jones, allowing just one sack—when the signal-caller held onto the ball for just a bit too long in a two-minute drill. The redshirt sophomore generally had time to throw, and the results showed it—he completed 22-of-35 passing attempts for 204 yards, much better than his 14-of-42 showing last week against Virginia. 
  • Put pressure on James Blackman: Duke did a passable job of bringing heat on the true freshman quarterback, sacking him twice. The Blue Devils generally did well to limit explosive passing plays, yielding just two plays of more than 20 yards and 197 passing yards, but allowed him to be efficient, completing 18-of-21 passes. The Blue Devil secondary also continued its knack for big plays, picking off Blackman twice. 
  • Jump out early: Duke’s blueprint for success earlier in the season was to jump out to a big lead early with its offense. It certainly didn’t do that Saturday, allowing running backs Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick to manhandle its defense for 70 yards and a score on Florida State’s first two drives, while punting on its first possession. However, Mark Gilbert’s interception deep in Duke territory in the first quarter stalled the Seminoles’ momentum and prevented them from going up 14-0. 

Three key plays: 

14:54 remaining, second quarter: With Florida State driving deep downfield and threatening to go up 14-0 at the Blue Devil 22-yard line, the Seminoles were flagged for a delay of game penalty after the break for the end of the first quarter. After that, Florida State moved back, and on third-and-20, a Seminole receiver slipped on a Blackman throw, allowing Gilbert to intercept it. From there, Duke drove downfield to score a field goal to cut the lead to 7-3 and get back in the game. 

3:28 remaining, second quarter: Down just 7-3, Duke was driving on the back of Brittain Brown's three straight carries for a combined 34 yards. But the Blue Devils opted for a trick play on first-and-10 from Florida State’s 36-yard line, which ended in disaster. Shaun Wilson took a pitch and tried to throw it downfield to tight end Daniel Helm in triple coverage, but the pass was deflected up and picked off by the Seminoles Emmett Rice. The play killed Duke’s momentum and prevented it from taking a potential lead into halftime. 

14:18 remaining, fourth quarter: After Jeremy McDuffie picked off Blackman at the end of the third, the Blue Devils had the ball near midfield and had momentum on their side. But after two straight Wilson carries, Duke faced third-and-4 and subbed in quarterback Quentin Harris for Jones. Harris threw an incomplete pass and the Blue Devils went three-and-out. 

Three key stats: 

  • Florida State holds the ball for 36:44. The Seminoles’ methodical offense gave Duke few opportunities to score by holding the ball for so long, rushing for a whopping 5.7 yards per carry on 40 attempts. 
  • Three touchdowns in three games. Duke’s offense has ground to a halt in three straight losses, scoring just three offensive touchdowns in those games. 
  • Jones’ 22-of-35 passing attempts. Although he wasn’t able to push the ball down the field much, Jones was better against the Seminoles, completing 62.9 percent of his passes. 

And the Duke game ball goes to....T.J. Rahming

On a slow day for all other Blue Devil receivers, Rahming was able to break loose downfield for a 57-yard catch on a Jones scramble and had eight receptions for 111 yards. No other receiver had more than 21 yards. The team’s No. 1 threat, Rahming will be a major key going forward for Jones to establish the vertical passing game. 

And the Florida State game ball goes to….Cam Akers

Akers sliced up Duke's No. 7 rush defense for 115 yards on 15 carries and scored a 42-yard game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Paired with Patrick in the backfield, Akers was too much of a physical force for the Blue Devils to handle. 

Chronicle postgame: Duke football vs. Florida State

After winning four straight games to start the season, the Blue Devil's offense has cratered en route to three straight losses. The Chronicle's Hank Tucker and Ben Leonard dissect Duke's latest loss in which it fell 17-10 to Florida State. 

HALFTIME: Florida State 7, Duke 3

Duke's offense still has not found the end zone through a quick half of play at Wallace Wade Stadium, though it is staying close to a more talented opponent thanks to another strong defensive performance.

Florida State leads 7-3 after controlling possession thanks to an effective run game that has been too strong for the Blue Devils' defensive front. After entering the contest allowing just 2.9 yards per carry, Duke has let the Seminoles pick up 114 rushing yards on 18 attempts behind strong performances by quarterback James Blackman and running backs Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers.

Duke was driving late in the half with a chance to take the lead, but an attempt at trickery in Florida State territory backfired. Running back Shaun Wilson took a pitch to draw the defense in before throwing a deep pass downfield toward tight end Daniel Helm. But the pass was short and deflected into the air by the Seminoles and eventually intercepted by linebacker Emmett Rice.

With Florida State facing a third-and-1 on its first series, Patrick was met behind the line of scrimmage by multiple Blue Devil defenders, but the 6-foot-3, 234-pound junior shrugged off the tacklers and powered forward for the first down.

The Seminoles gained five more first downs on that drive, methodically marching down the field and eating up more than six minutes before a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback James Blackman to Auden Tate.

Blackman completed his first seven passes of the afternoon, consistently getting plenty of time to throw and and finding holes in Duke's secondary, before throwing an interception to Mark Gilbert in Blue Devil territory on Florida State's second drive.

Duke running back Shaun Wilson was effective on the Blue Devils' ensuing drive and finished the half with 43 yards on eight carries. Quarterback Daniel Jones completed a fourth-down pass to tight end Davis Koppenhaver to push Duke into field goal range, and kicker Austin Parker split the uprights on a 37-yard attempt.

Here are some observations from the first half:

  • The Seminoles been hurt by penalties, including an ineligible receiver downfield whistle that negated a 30-yard pass into the red zone in the closing minutes. Florida State has been flagged five times, and the Blue Devils have played a clean game with no penalties.
  • Duke spent much of the last week talking about the importance of making open-field tackles, but the Seminoles' ball-carriers have rarely been brought down by the first defender they meet.
  • After redshirt freshman Scott Bracey caught two passes on the Blue Devils' final drive of their loss at Virginia last Saturday, Jones went back to him early on. Bracey had two more catches in the first quarter.
  • The Blue Devils have been much more conservative in the passing game than they were last week, when Jones completed 14-of-42 passes. Jones has a 66.7 percent completion percentage, but still only has 3.4 passing yards per attempt.

Third and goal: Duke football vs. Florida State

Duke's offense has ground to a halt, and so has its early season run of perfection with two straight losses. With preseason No. 3 Florida State coming to Wallace Wade Stadium, it will need to pick up its play—in a hurry. Here are three keys to Saturday’s contest:

Protect Daniel Jones

While this is generally an expectation for any offensive line, it is particularly relevant matching up against a Florida State defense that returned nine starters from last season’s Orange Bowl-winning squad. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones has struggled mightily since his dominant performance against Northwestern, a trend that was epitomized in last week’s 28-21 setback at Virginia, where Jones completed just 33.3 percent of his passes. Part of that results from the quarterback being under pressure—Jones has been sacked 18 times this season—which is why the Blue Devils have opted for a high concentration of short throws, particularly against Miami. Duke excels offensively when Jones is firing on all cylinders—the Blue Devils limp into Saturday’s contest on a two-game losing streak because he hasn’t been, and the protection up front must be better if he wants to regain his early season form. 

Jump out early

With the exception of the game against North Carolina, in the games the Blue Devils have won this season, they have amassed double digit leads early and controlled the pace of play. Against Northwestern, Duke was up 21-3 halfway through the second quarter. Against Baylor, the advantage was 21-7 five minutes into the second half. Over the last two weeks, however, Miami and Virginia jumped to early leads, causing the Blue Devils to abandon the run game—one of the team’s relative strengths. While it is obvious that any team wants to get on the board early, it is particularly relevant against Florida State. The Seminoles have only scored six points in the first quarter this entire season. Compared with 35 points scored in the fourth quarter, it is clear that opportunity exists for Duke to go up early, which will be crucial for the team’s success given Florida State’s scoring history so far this season.

Put pressure on James Blackman

Blackman, Florida State’s true freshman quarterback, only has three games under his belt after Heisman-contender Deondre Francois went down with a knee injury. The Blue Devils boast one of the toughest run defenses in the nation, allowing just 2.9 yards per carry on average, and stand poised to take advantage of Blackman’s youth and lack of elite mobility. The Seminoles average four sacks per game, an encouraging sign for a Blue Devil unit that has amassed 19 sacks so far this season. Duke should do its best to rattle a freshman quarterback away from home in order to let the offense spend as much time on the field as possible.

Chronicle pregame: Duke football vs. Florida State

After two straight demoralizing losses, Duke will look to avoid a three-game skid against Florida State, which is 1-3 but could be the most talented opponent the Blue Devils will play this year. The Chronicle's Hank Tucker and Ben Leonard break down Duke's chances against Florida State. 

0:22—After re-watching every Daniel Jones throw from last week vs. Virginia, why has he struggled?

1:30—Is Florida State's defense too much for Duke to handle?

2:25—How have the Seminoles moved on after losing Heisman Trophy contender Deondre Francois?

3:30—Is there any chance the Blue Devils can win?

X Factor: Duke football vs. Florida State

After two tough losses against Miami and Virginia, Duke and its sputtering offense will have to rebound against Florida State Saturday if it wants to prevent a three-game skid.  

Every week throughout the football season, the Blue Zone will break down a player on each team who could be the difference-maker in the upcoming contest.

Duke: Quarterback Daniel Jones

After starting the season with one of the most explosive offensive outputs in program history, the Blue Devils have been stagnant offensively over their last two contests. Although Duke has begun to face stronger competition as ACC play has gotten underway, the Blue Devils have been unable to move the ball in the air due in part to a sophomore slump by Daniel Jones. 

Jones has failed to complete more than 58 percent of his passing attempts in each of his last four contests—the quarterback set a career low in completion percentage last week at Virginia with 33 percent. In contrast, Jones failed to surpass that mark just twice over the course of last season. 

In order for the Blue Devils to take down the struggling Seminoles, they will need Jones to get closer to his Northwestern self, when he passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns. The Charlotte, N.C., native’s struggles to thread the needle and convert on third down has eliminated Duke’s threat in the air and has put increased pressure on the defense to stop the potent offenses of the ACC.

Florida State: Wide Receiver Auden Tate

Despite the strong focus defensively to limit explosives during the offseason, the Blue Devils secondary has been burned by 30, 40, and 50-plus-yard plays time and time again over the first five weeks of the season. Thus, the matchup between constant explosive threat Auden Tate and the Duke cornerbacks seems to be in the Seminoles’ favor.

Consistency has been key for Tate, who has scored a touchdown in each of Florida State’s first four contests. The Irmo, S.C., native has been making big plays throughout the season. Tate has reeled in a reception of at least 20-yards in each game and enters Saturday’s showdown against the Blue Devils with an average of more than 17 yards per reception. Thus, the junior is capable of breaking out for a big game like he did when he gained 138 yards on nine receptions against N.C. State, especially if the Blue Devils secondary is as vulnerable as it has been in the previous weeks. 

Film room: Diagnosing Daniel Jones' woes

Every week, the Blue Zone takes you inside the video room and breaks down a key piece, player or unit for the Blue Devils’ opponent. In a special edition of Film Room, the Blue Zone dissects Daniel Jones’ struggles throw-by-throw.

It’s no secret that Daniel Jones has not been himself lately.

After a late surge last season in which he played like one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, Jones garnered considerable hype entering this season, but has not lived up to it. Since his first game against a Power Five team, Northwestern, he’s flopped.

Jones torched the Wildcats, but ever since has combined to complete just 42.2 percent of his passes in two straight ugly losses, including putting up a 14-of-42 stinker for 124 yards against Virginia on Saturday.

So what exactly went wrong against the Cavaliers?

From reviewing the film of all of Jones’ 46 pass attempts and sacks in Charlottesville, the redshirt sophomore committed 17 unforced errors and four errors that were forced and not entirely Jones’ fault due to pressure or receivers’ play. Just 12 were plays in which Jones did what was expected of him. The remaining 13 were miscues due to factors outside of Jones’ control, being either good defense, poor offensive line play or receiver errors. To see my chart documenting all of Jones' plays, click here

Now, let’s break down what Jones could control—those 21 out of 46 plays from scrimmage that he made some sort of error on. Of those errors, just five of them were based upon timing—as in throwing too early or too late, or holding onto the ball too long in the pocket. 

The vast majority of Jones’ errors—15 of the 21—came from poor touch on throws. Six of those 15 came on the five ensuing drives after being intercepted on just his second throw of the day. 

So what does that all mean?

First off, it’s clear that Jones was rattled after the interception and unable to settle in. He struggled with distance on his throws in the ensuing drives, indicating a lack of confidence in his ability to make plays through the air. It appeared that he was trying to aim his throws and didn’t have much faith in himself—so he threw 10 consecutive incomplete passes.

Jones certainly has the touch and accuracy in him—he was lethally accurate down the stretch last year, throwing just one interception in his last seven games. It likely wasn’t a physical problem with his throwing motion—which is repeatable and quick—but rather an issue of confidence. 

But after his 10th straight incompletion and five straight punts, something changed for Jones: He got his legs involved in the game. On the Blue Devils’ 15-play, 88-yard march to the end zone to take a 14-7 lead, Jones carried the ball twice on a zone read and a draw for a combined 14 yards before attempting a pass. 

Using his legs seemed to energize him—he made the first play he was expected to make through the air on third-and-5, standing tall and stepping up in the face of pressure to hit T.J. Rahming for a first down. 

After that, he completed three of his next four passes and ran for 34 more yards on the drive that ended with a seven-yard touchdown strike to tight end Davis Koppenhaver. On that play, Jones had to squeeze the ball in between three defenders, threading the needle for his first—and last—touchdown of the day. 

However, the running didn’t solve Jones’ passing issues after that drive. He was certainly better in the second half, but not significantly so. The signal-caller’s accuracy and touch on deep balls seemed to improve, which is a good sign going forward for head coach David Cutcliffe. He threw more catchable deep balls, including a 30-yard strike to Rahming that was arguably his worst deep ball of the half—even though it was the only one completed.  Three of his six deep balls in the second half were on target, even though just one was caught. 

Jones left it too far short for Rahming to catch it in stride, forcing him to go to the ground instead of almost assuredly taking it to the house, as seen below. 

The Charlotte native also struggled on vertical passes against Miami, completing just one of seven pass attempts of longer than 15 yards. However, despite his improvements on the deep ball late, he still struggled with timing, throwing some too late or too early to be caught. 

As a whole, Duke will need to improve all of the elements it uses in its passing attack, including its offensive line and receivers, but it all starts with Jones—he will need to find the confidence within himself to avoid the unforced errors that have plagued him in recent games. 

Duke in the NFL: Week 5

As the NFL season moves along, The Blue Zone takes a look at how some former Blue Devils in the NFL performed in Week 5. 

Vincent Rey, LB, Cincinnati Bengals

Rey continued his slide in performance, failing to record a single tackle in the Bengals' 20-16 victory against the Buffalo Bills. He started the season averaging six solo tackles and five assisted tackles through two games, but has now failed to record an unassisted tackle in the past two weeks as fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict has emerged in midseason form coming off a suspension. 

Laken Tomlinson, LG, San Francisco 49ers

Behind Tomlinson, the 49ers offense looked better this week against the weak Indianapolis Colts, amassing 402 yards of offense. But San Francisco still lost 26-23 in overtime, remaining winless. Tomlinson and the offensive line is still looking to improve as the season progresses, giving up two sacks for 17 yards and creating very little running room for Matt Breida and Carlos Hyde, who ran for just 3.0 yards per carry. The slate won't be getting any easier for the 49ers, with three matchups with the top three teams of the NFC East starting with Washington on Sunday. 

Ross Cockrell, CB, New York Giants

After putting up goose eggs last week, Cockrell found himself on the stat sheet with two total tackles and an assisted tackle-for-a-loss. But the hapless Giants fell once again, dropping to 0-5. With season-ending injuries to their top three receivers—Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard—the Giants' season looks like a lost cause, especially with a road matchup with the vaunted Denver Broncos on the horizon.

Lucas Patrick, G, Green Bay Packers

After starting his first career game against the Bears Sept. 28, rookie Lucas Patrick did not start this week against the Cowboys, as Brian Bulaga returned to the starting lineup from injury. He did record five snaps on special teams for the Packers, who came back with just 11 seconds remaining on an Aaron Rodgers touchdown to Davante Adams. Barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances, Patrick will likely not see another start for the season as David Bakhtiari is close to returning. 

Thomas Hennessy, LS, New York Jets

Hennessy performed well once again, fulfilling his duties as a long-snapper. The Jets connected on both extra points and Chandler Cantanzaro hit a 57-yard field goal for a team that is a surprising 3-2 and atop the AFC East following a 17-14 victory over the winless Browns. Hennessy also recorded his first career tackle on a punt return during the game. The Jets will look to prove their worth against their rival, the New England Patriots next week. 

Jeremy Cash, LB

After being released from the Panthers last week, Cash still finds himself unsigned as a free agent.