Too little, too late. Again.
The football team got quarterback Thaddeus Lewis back for its matchup against North Carolina Saturday, and he immediately displayed what we've been saying while he was down—Duke needs Thad. With Lewis at the helm, the offense marched straight down the field on its first possession and scored a touchdown. During the nearly two complete games Duke was forced to play without him, the Blue Devils only scored one touchdown in garbage time against Clemson's backup secondary.
But in the end, it wasn't enough. The Blue Devils surged down the field for a final chance to tie the game trailing 28-20, but like a number of games this season, Duke had a chance, and lost it. People may disagree with this point, but I've seen my fair share of close Blue Devil losses over the last three years, and this season's all had a different kind of feeling.
I understand that saying one close win is better than another close win still leaves you comparing two losses, but it's still all there. Ted Roof's close games all seemed lucky, like the other team underestimated Duke, the Blue Devils caught a couple breaks and then they crumbled at the end like the rickety house of cards they were. This season, the Blue Devils scared teams. Northwestern, Wake Forest, North Carolina and even Virginia Tech—they were all pushed to the brink by Duke and escaped. Looking back, you could say, 'With a few lucky bounces here or there, the Blue Devils could be 6-6, or maybe even 8-4.' They could be, and, maybe in the next few seasons, they will be.
If Hawks and Hilltoppers now, then what about Lady Vols and Tar Heels later?
Since coming back against then-No. 14 Oklahoma State squad in their season opener, it seems the Blue Devils are struggling to find their way again. A shocking upset loss to Hartford was quickly followed by a three-point squeaker past Western Kentucky. What is going on?
No, seriously, that's it. I have no idea.
What is going on? Maybe it's injuries—point guard Jasmine Thomas didn't play against the Hilltoppers, and her backup, Chelsea Hopkins, also went down. Maybe it's something else. You tell me.
Oh yeah, and a certain former coach has proved her worth quickly down in Austin, as Gail Goestenkors has Texas to a top-10 ranking in just her second year. Yikes.
Black (and Bruin) Saturday
Although people with their eyes on the economy were pleasantly surprised with the results on the busiest shopping day of the year, the women's soccer team got more than it bargained for when it traveled to Los Angeles over the Thanksgiving break to face top-seeded UCLA in the NCAA tournament's national quarterfinals.
Although the Blue Devils ultimately fell 6-1 to an unbeaten Bruin squad, they held their own at the game's outset, down just 3-1 at the half. Goalkeeper Cassidy Powers matched her career-high in saves in just the first half with 10, and Duke registered just the fifth goal UCLA has given up all season. It's a sign of progress that this squad has made the round of 8 in two straight seasons, but the next step is the one that matters most.
Holiday wish lists...
Someone who can pronounce Duke Football's best player's last name... when linebacker Michael Tauiliili is (hopefully) selected as an All-American. I say hopefully because this isn't a sexy pick—after all, he is playing for the 4-8 Blue Devils—but is nonetheless one of the best defensive players in the country. He wrapped up a conference-best 140 tackles (20 better than anyone else), had 13 tackles for a loss, four interceptions and three forced fumbles. And, according to the Sagarin Index, Duke's strength of schedule is second in the country. Do the right thing, voters.
Another lump of coal for the Big Ten...when the ACC/Big Ten Challenge wraps up. With some games starting today and more to come Tuesday and Wednesday, the ACC has won the event each of the nine years since it started. The biggest games on the slate include No. 13 Michigan State, which just lost in embarrassing fashion to Maryland over the weekend without its two best players, and No. 1 North Carolina, and No. 9 Purdue and No. 4 Duke. The Blue Devils have looked strong in its recent outings, but the Boilermakers will prove a far tougher challenge than Duquesne, which Duke trounced 95-72 Friday.
Duke by the Numbers
Men's basketball's seed in the NCAA tournament vs. Number of Duke football players taken in the 2009 NFL Draft: Wow, I think this is a tough one. So, from the look of things, the Blue Devils probably won't be seeded any lower than No. 3, and, even if the season does turn sour, we've all seen how kindly the tournament committee takes to the Blue Devils.
As far as football is concerned, I believe there are no more than three players who have a shot at hearing Roger Goodell (or one of his surrogates) call their names in April: the aforementioned Tauiliili, Eron Riley and defensive tackle Clifford Respress. Tauiliili might be too small for some NFL scouts, but he's proven he can fly to the ball and have a hand in every play. He wouldn't meet NFL standards in pass coverage, but his athleticism and tenacity could earn him a phone call. Riley is speedy, long and an every-down-deep-threat. He also lacks the sure hands and ankle-breaking moves of current NFL wideouts, but again, he could hear his name on Day Two. Finally, Respress is a tank, bulldozer and bear all rolled into one—dangerous, massive and ferocious. I spoke to an NFL scout a few weeks back who said he was at Wallace Wade Stadium to evaluate all three.
Of course, this could come to a predictably anticlimactic final score of No. 1 vs. 0 draftees. But it's still fun to argue, and there's a lot of debating to be had before we know how this shakes out.
Which side would you take?