At the football team's weekly press conference, junior cornerback Kenneth Stanford and head coach Carl Franks expressed bafflement at Duke's wretched first-quarter performances this season that have led to the Blue Devils disappointing 2-2 record.
In each of their last two games against Rice and Northwestern, the Blue Devils have given up over 180 rushing yards in the first quarter, which combined with apathetic offensive play has led to multi-touchdown deficits. Neither Franks and Stanford could make no sense of this occurrence, each saying the team seemed prepared heading into the start of the game.
"[The slow starts] are definitely a mystery," Stanford said. "We had a real good week of practice. I thought we were really ready for the game, then to give up two touchdowns on the first two drives...We have to find a way to come out ready to play."
Stanford also had no explanation for why Duke's defense turns things around in the second quarter. Stanford said the coaches have made no adjustments in strategy at the end of the first quarters this season that might lead to improvements.
In an effort to create better defensive starts, Franks said he will now choose to garrison Duke's own endzone first if the Blue Devils win the coin toss at the beginning of games. Equally troubling for Franks has been the performance of the once-mighty defensive line. Last season the Blue Devils led the ACC in fewest rushing yards allowed, while so far in 2003 Duke ranks second to last.
"[The play of the run defense] is not what I expected it to be overall," Franks said. "At times it's been very good... At times it's been outstanding. But overall it's not what any of us expected [it to be], as far as coaches or players."
Franks said injuries were partly to blame for the poor defensive rush. Defensive end Micah Harris has missed two games due to nagging injuries so far this season, and defensive tackles Matt Zielinski and Orrin Thompson played through ailments in the loss against Northwestern.
"I'm proud of their efforts to play with injuries," Franks said. Although he certainly expressed his disappointments over the Blue Devils' 2-2 start, Franks said that he believes the 2003 Duke team is further along in its development than the 2002 Blue Devils.
"I think it is a better team than we had last year," Franks said. "But any time you're committed to playing a freshman quarterback you know there are going to be certain limitations on what you can do. But I do believe [redshirt freshman quarterback] Mike Schneider gives us the best chance to move the ball and win football games."
Stanford agreed that the team, which returned all but two starters from last year's squad, has improved, but with much less conviction. "We had a lot of aspirations coming out of two-a-days," Stanford said. "It's tough. People are saying 'it's the same old Duke.' And we're not the same team we've been, but people won't know it unless we show it. We haven't done a great job of showing it."
According to Stanford, the embarrassing 27-0 loss to open the season against Virginia dealt the Blue Devils' confident psyche a huge blow. "Not to dwell on the past, but I think that Virginia game...that hurt us some," he said. "We thought we seriously had a shot at that Virginia game. And then to go out there last week and lose to Northwestern...They're a good football team. They lined up and they beat us. I think we definitely had a chance to beat them, too. So we've got to check ourselves and play with heart."
Stanford said the disappointing play can perhaps be used as a catalyst to propel the Blue Devils to a winning season even though Duke's next five opponents have been ranked in the top 25 at one point this season.
"There's eight games left, and we can't be satisfied having won two games," he said. "The main goal is to go to a bowl game. We've lost two games; we've got to get up and learn from them."
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