Coming off an important victory at home against Virginia, Duke ventured to Blacksburg, Virginia for a pivotal game against the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday. Due in large part to multiple turnovers and lack of effective run defense, the Blue Devils fell to the Hokies 41-20. Here is an analysis of Duke’s successes and failures during the game.
Pass: The passing game was the only somewhat positive aspect of the Blue Devil offense. It accounted for 307 of the 329 offensive yards gained, yet only produced one touchdown. Quarterbacks Sean Renfree and Anthony Boone shared time during the game each throwing one interception. The aerial attack averaged 7.3 yards per catch over 25 completions. The biggest issue that Duke needs to confront is pass protection and ball release. At times Renfree hesitated to let go of the football and attempt tighter throws. He will need to develop better confidence in his throwing ability and in his receivers to earn another victory.
Rush: This was easily one of Duke’s worst rushing games of the season. The Blue Devils gained merely 22 net yards (including yards lost due to sacks) on the ground over 29 rush attempts. Juwan Thompson and Jela Duncan each earned 15 yards in five carries. Duke will need to reexamine its game plan heading into the Carolina game this weekend. More contributions from the rushing game will be needed along with the some consistency in who rushes the most each game. The Blue Devils must find their primary rusher or these meager rushing numbers will continue.
X’s and O’s: There was no balance between the rushing and pass play calls. The Blue Devils have shown that they can beat top opponents when they maintain a balance in the running and pass game and maintain possession of the ball. Duke did that during the first quarter when they scored all 20 of their points. The rest of the game was a different story. Though Duke held possession for a minute more than the Hokies, the Blue Devil offense committed four turnovers, two interceptions and two fumbles. If the Blue Devils continue to focus exclusively on the pass and have trouble holding onto the ball, then their chances of winning will be severely decreased.
Pass: The secondary did a good job early causing an interception and pick-six in the first quarter. However, as with the rest of the Blue Devils, early success did not translate to continued effectiveness throughout the game. Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas threw for 256 yards averaging 11.1 yards per completion with two touchdowns. The coverage game remains strong for the Blue Devils. The key will be whether it can hold when Duke brings more safeties forward to stop the rush.
Rush: By far Duke’s biggest weakness has been its rush defense and Virginia Tech certainly exploited that deficiency on Saturday. The Hokies rushed for 269 yards over 39 attempts. Running back J.C. Coleman was especially effective with 183 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Blue Devils had serious issues meeting the rusher near the line of scrimmage and making the tackle. If Duke wants to have a chance of playing in a bowl game, the run defense will need to significantly improve.
X’s and O’s: On a positive note, Duke forced one turnover and converted it into a touchdown. Beyond that early success, the Blue Devils had a hard time stopping Virginia Tech’s offense. The Hokies procured 525 yards of total offense and put up 41 points. Duke’s defense will need to improve its approach to stopping the run game. The danger of committing secondary players to the run, as Duke has done, is the chance to get burned by play action pass plays. The Blue Devils cannot afford to take such a risk against better quarterbacks and hope to maintain a winning record.
Special Teams: A-
The kicking game was the only positive today for the Blue Devils. Punter Will Monday was effective with four punts averaging almost 47 yards per punt. Kicker Ross Martin made both of his field goal attempts including a career-long 40-yard attempt. The coverage teams performed well holding Virginia Tech to minor gains in special teams.