Coming off a bye-week and a crushing defeat against Clemson, the Blue Devils took the field in a season-defining matchup in Atlanta Saturday afternoon against Georgia Tech. Although Duke kept the game close for the majority of play, the Yellow Jackets proved too powerful on the ground to be stopped as they went on to defeat Duke, 42-24.
Pass: Quarterback Sean Renfree continues to play well for Duke completing 67 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and throwing only one pick on a desperation throw late in the game. What is most surprising from Saturday’s contest is wide receiver Desmond Scott’s exceptional play. With 10 receptions for 124 yards through the air, he accrued the vast majority of Duke’s passing gains. Receiver Conner Vernon also contributed but less so than earlier this season. He did break the record for most receiving yards in ACC history on a five yard completion from Renfree. Vernon needs to be a presence during his final two college games with Duke. If he is not, don’t expect the Blue Devils to have a winning record at the end of the season.
Rush: Duke can’t rush the ball consistently and Saturday proved that fact yet again. The Blue Devils managed 77 yards in 22 run attempts for the entire game. Even though Duke was losing the time of possession battle all night, the lack of rushing efficiency, an average of 3.5 yards per carry, is troubling so late in the season. Freshman running back Jela Duncan lead the Blue Devils in carries and yards with six carries for 39 yards. Miami is a tough opponent and Duke will need the rushing game to be a presence next weekend if the team will have an opportunity to compete.
X’s and O’s: Duke had possession of the ball for 16 fewer minutes than Georgia Tech on offense. The passing game was good and the rushing attack a little less than average, but Duke had limited opportunities this game to score and were unable to do so in crucial moments of the game. The fourth quarter saw no points scored for Duke, and overall, the Blue Devils only converted three of 10 third down attempts. Such inefficiency on the offensive side of the ball put Duke at a disadvantage that the team could not overcome.
Pass: There is not much to say about Duke’s pass defense because Georgia Tech has such a run-heavy offense. The Blue Devils had to commit their defensive game plan to stopping the run, which opened up some opportunities for the Yellow Jackets through the air. The difficulty for Duke is in controlling the efficiency of opposing quarterbacks. Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington had only six completed passes, yet three touchdowns and 102 yards through the air. The secondary has consistently shown problems defending the deep ball. Improvement in that aspect of the defense is necessary.
Rush: The Yellow Jackets triple-option offense requires running the ball upwards of 70 times per game, but the Blue Devils were unable to stop the expected onslaught especially when it counted most. Georgia Tech gained 330 total yards on the ground averaging 4.6 yards per rushing attempts. The Yellow Jackets gave 10 different players a carry, lead by Washington's 19 totes. The majority of the rushes were effective against the Blue Devil defense, which did not bode well for Duke’s chances.
X’s and O’s: 449 yards of total offense for the opposing team usually means that the defending team lost and Duke most certainly did. What is most alarming about the defense’s play against Georgia Tech is the way in which it was manhandled by the triple option. The Yellow Jackets controlled ball possession, sustaining long drives that ate away much of the clock. They converted on 13-of-20 third down attempts and all four fourth down attempts to trample the Blue Devil defense. Serious improvement in the rush and late down defense must remain a priority for Duke through the end of the season.
Special Teams: A-
Duke has exceptional kickers; that much has become apparent thus far. Punter Will Monday averaged 52.5 yards per punt and currently leads the ACC in that statistic. Freshman kicker Ross Martin is equally special. He notched another career long kick against the Yellow Jackets, a 50-yard boot in the second quarter. The return game has also been strong, though the loss of Lee Butler for the remainder of the season will seriously impact the team's ability on kickoffs. The fake punt in the fourth quarter was ineffective, and Duke has not succeeded often on those plays, especially when the opponent expects them.