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Commentary: Where's the realism

By admissions standards alone, it can be reasonably assumed that the Duke football team far better understands Newton's Laws of Motion than the players at Florida State. But Saturday it was the Seminoles who far better used momentum in their 56-7 trampling of the Blue Devils.

But on second thought, Duke perfectly followed Newton's Third Law--that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction--when every brilliant Duke play was immediately followed by an equally gorked one.

In many games with scores as lopsided as 56-7, the losing team makes next to zero positive plays and chalks up seven fluke points late in the fourth quarter. But in Saturday's game, the Blue Devils continually knocked the overly aggressive Seminoles off balance only to trip over their own feet.

After the Seminoles raced to a 7-0 lead in the first 1:37 in the game with a five-play, 80-yard drive that included a 53-yard Greg Jones run, Duke's Senterrio Landrum blasted through the Florida State special-teams unit for a Seminole-esque 36-yard kickoff return. Duke subsequently lost eight yards on its first play from scrimmage and punted three plays later.

Despite the poor offensive showing, the Blue Devil defense was looking to avenge for its embarrassing opening and surprised the Bobby Bowden squad by nearly recording a safety when, after a great punt by Trey McDonald, Phillip Alexander and Brendan Dewan tackled Seminole sophomore Willie Reid for a seven-yard loss at the Florida State one-yard line. The Seminoles ended their endzone problem when quarterback Chris Rix completed a pass for nine yards on third down, but Florida State was still eight yards away from the first-down marker. After a poor Seminole punt, the Blue Devils had the ball on the Florida State 42-yard line down only a touchdown.

But everything immediately shifted when a flag was thrown against Duke for a roughing the kicker penalty. The automatic first-down penalty gave the Seminoles the ball back on their own 25. Unlike the Duke players, Rix immediately used this momentum to complete a 50-yard pass to Donnie Carter. Six plays later, the Seminoles held a 14-0 lead.

In response, the Blue Devils briefly turned into the 1999 St. Louis Rams and scored only the third touchdown the Seminoles have allowed all season by combining brilliant play calling with impressive execution. But before any "upset-of-the-century" thoughts could be processed by even the quickest of Duke students, Antonio Cromartie did his best Moses impression when he parted the sea of Blue Devils en route to a 62-yard kickoff return that quickly led to another seven points and a 21-7 Florida State advantage.

Duke began its next drive with a 36-yard completion to running back Chris Douglas, who added about 10 yards to the play with a wicked spin move. The Blue Devils then gradually shouldered themselves into field goal range. But Brent Garber's field goal attempt, which had the potential to make the game interesting again, was blocked.

This "good play/what-are-you-doing play?" trend continued for the rest of the game with at least four concrete examples, including Duke quarterback Mike Schneider's fumble after the Duke defense forced a rare Seminole punt in the second quarter. Despite this horrible pattern, the Blue Devils sounded nothing but optimistic about the game.

"I think that's a different [Duke] team tonight than we were last week," Franks said. "We worked through the week to try to get better. We worked to play hard, and have some fun. At times we did that."

Throughout the Franks era, the football program has continually pointed out the positives of blow-out losses. While it seems unproductive to dwell on the myriad mistakes against a team like Florida State, complimenting the good plays nearly as often as condemning the bad ones is not working. Franks even said that if the Blue Devils played like they did against Florida State last week against Northwestern, Duke would have had a better chance of winning. But games against teams such as Northwestern are over. Duke's next four opponents have all been ranked in the top 25 at one point this season, and the Blue Devils can no longer play well "at times." Duke must play better than its current and forecoming opponents, not more productively than teams to which it has already lost.

Even the players seemed to place too much emphasis on the positives of Saturday's 49-point loss.

When Alexander was asked if the Blue Devils performance was not indicative of the score he responded: "Yeah. We had a couple of mishaps that prevented us from making big plays."

What is that supposed to mean? That instead of a 56-7 blow-out loss the game was more like a 42-21 blow-out loss?

Duke is right not to just completely beat itself up after a loss to the No. 6 team in the nation, but more self-criticism is desperately needed. Duke cornerback Kenneth Stanford complained Monday that he was tired of people saying it's the same old Duke when it is not. But with 22 starters returning from last year's mostly competitive squad, it is the same team. The extra year of experience has thus far done nothing, with the Blue Devils simply spewing the same positive remarks after every loss.

But the season is still not completely lost--yet. The Blue Devils showed that they had the ability to move the ball against the defense that has given up the least amount of points in the nation, something of which they should deservedly be proud. But instead of using this pride to fuel greater plays, the Blue Devils became complacent. For a team that was self-described as "over-confident" in its 27-0 nothing loss to Virginia despite owning the ACC record of 25 consecutive conference losses coming into the game, Duke needs to be far more concerned with what it needs to do better in the future, not what it is doing well now.


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