Duke’s rushing attack has been a point of weakness for the offense throughout the season. The lack of consistent production from primary running backs Jela Duncan, Juwan Thompson, and Josh Snead has hindered Duke’s ability to succeed thus far against top competition. Against Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils running deficiency was highlighted with Duke only gaining 22 net yards on the ground. Despite large losses due to five sacks, the Duke run game was abysmal and must improve to give the Blue Devils a chance against North Carolina.
If one looks at the splits between Duncan, Thompson, and Snead during all four quarters, there is a clear difference in production between backs. Through the first seven games, Thompson and Snead have received the vast majority of touches in the first quarter with a combined 25 rushing attempts. Snead has been more successful in the first quarter with his 13 caries averaging 4.8 yards per carry while Thompson has average merely 2.4 yards per carry over 12 attempts. Snead also has the longest gain in the first with a ten-yard run.
Looking at the second quarter, Thompson has more carries, 16, than Snead’s six and Duncan’s eight. Despite his greater amount of touches, Thompson averages fewer yards than his two counterparts. Duncan has proven especially effective averaging 9.9 yards over eight carries in the second quarter. From the numbers, it seems best to play Snead exclusively in the first quarter and Duncan almost exclusively in the second quarter. However, the benefits of Thompson, who is more experienced than the other two backs, is evident. Thompson takes the carries that breakdown the defense allowing the younger Snead and Duncan to capitalize with their fresh legs. Snead is the only back of the three to have a touchdown in the first half. The key for Duke is finding a better balance between these backs in the first half to establish the rushing attack early in each game. The passing game will open up more as a result.
Looking into the second half, Snead has taken 19 carries in the third quarter with Duncan and Thompson carrying the ball eleven and ten times respectively. Duncan has been the most productive in the third quarter, with his 11 touches averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Snead has only averaged 3.4 yards per carry in the third despite his nearly 20 touches. In the fourth quarter, Snead has had merely four carries with seven net yards gained. However, both Duncan and Thompson pick up on Snead's lack of production late in the game. Thompson has nine carries in the fourth averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Duncan has been the stand out running back late in the game with 25 touches averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Thompson and Duncan account for the majority of rushing touchdowns in the second half for Duke.
The numbers show that Snead and Duncan are the most crucial backs to the Blue Devil rushing attack in the second half. After extensive usage of Thompson early, it would make sense to put the onus of the offense on the remaining two backs. However, it becomes more difficult for Duke’s offense to divide carries based on quarter. Depending on the opponent, each back has had better and worse games in terms of production. Therein lies the problem with Duke’s rushing attack, an overall lack of consistent production regardless of quarter or opponent. The trends in the statistics point to a certain approach, but this game plan’s realization during each contest must adapt to the dynamic situation that is the Blue Devil rushing attack.