The football team just couldn’t hang on.
In Saturday’s loss to No. 23 Maryland (3-1, 1-0 in the ACC), Duke (0-4, 0-2) seemed to bring out two different teams. Keeping up with a strong Terrapins running game, the Blue Devils trailed by only six at the half, but Maryland exploited a tired and depleted Duke defense and stacked up four unanswered touchdowns to eventually beat the Blue Devils 55-21.
“Regardless of what the stats said, the second half was just a completely different football game,” head coach Ted Rood said. “I think we wore down. I think our lack of depth was very obvious.”
Although Duke was not too far behind, the Maryland controlled the first half. With 330 yards of offense, the Terps possessed the ball for over 22 minutes in the first half, had 18 first downs to Duke’s three and completed more than half of their passing attempts.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils’ offense struggled. The team posted 85 total offensive yards, possessed the ball for seven and a half minutes and made it into the red zone only once. Despite the disparity in offensive production, Duke only trailed by six at the break and led game at one point.
The Blue Devils took the lead from Maryland with 8:46 left in the half, when sophomore corner back John Talley intercepted a pass and returned it for an 85-yard touchdown along the sideline. From that point, however, the Terps did not allow Duke to score for the rest of the game. Trailing by four, Maryland drove down the field in four minutes and took back the lead when quarterback Joel Statham completed a 12-yard pass to Vernon Davis, his second of three receiving touchdowns.
Maryland’s powerful ground game allowed it to control the time of possession, while the Blue Devils struggled to penetrate the Terps’ line. Quarterback Mike Schneider led the Blue Devils, rushing for 28 of the team’s 83 yards. With 99 and 87 yards respectively, Terrapins Sammy Maldonado and Josh Allen each individually ran more yards than Duke did as a team. Without Cedric Dargan, who continues to lead the Blue Devils in rushing despite being injured since the first game of the season, and Aaron Fryer, the team has not been able to create a strong rushing game.
Duke’s defense began the game relatively strong, holding Maryland to only one touchdown on three first-half drives inside the Duke 10 yard line. C.J. Woodard, Eli Nichols and Talley each intercepted a pass. Woodard’s catch in the end zone kept Maryland from scoring on its second possession. Because the Terrapins relied heavily on a rushing game, however, the Blue Devil defense was forced to take 100 snaps by the end of the game.
“If you don’t want to play a hundred plays on defense, then get off the field on third down,” a disappointed Roof said. “Make a big play when you have a chance to make a play. And we didn’t do it, so we ended up staying on the field. On offense, we need to convert some third downs so that we can keep our offense on the field and let our defense get a rest because that’s nobody’s formula for success.”
In the second half, Duke’s tired defense missed tackles and assignments, allowing Maryland to score four touchdowns. Twice in the third, Statham completed passes of more than 25 yards for scores, to increase Maryland’s advantage to 20. In the fourth, the Terps twice capped off long drives with rushing touchdowns in the red zone. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils punted four times, fumbled once and Schneider threw an interception in the second half.
The offense was only successful on two of its nine third-down conversion opportunities, while Maryland gained first downs on 16 of its 20. Even though Statham threw 22 completions for over 350 yards and four touchdowns, the Terrapins quarterback was still inconsistent. Statham, who was the only Maryland player to fumble, did so three times and threw three interceptions, keeping Duke in the game in the first half.
Duke’s quarterbacks were not any better. Schneider, who played for the majority of the game, threw for about 50 yards per half and completed about half of his attempts. As Roof has done the entire season, he has switched his quarterbacks between plays throughout the games. Roof sent in Curt Dukes for a few plays Saturday, but Dukes did not complete a pass.
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Roof expressed his hope to name a single leader for the position.
“I’d like to just have just one quarterback and let that be our leader,” Roof said. “I certainly have some feelings, but I just want to verify them by watching the game tape.”
Although the quarterback question continues to linger for Duke, Schneider, who has started all but one game, has been the most consistent.
Each unit—offense, defense and special teams—scored a touchdown, something that hadn’t been done since 1977, but the team still agrees that it will need a great deal of improvement to turn around its season.
“We’re definitely not where we want to be,” Roof said. “We’re not where we had hoped to be, but we are where we are and we’re going to dig ourselves out of it. Nobody’s going to be wallowing around in self-pity.... We’re going to go back to work and get ourselves out. That’s the only way I know how to do it.”
As for the lingering questions—why the team cannot seem to play strong through the end of the game and how to improve certain areas of the team—senior co-captain Guiseppe Aguanno seems to be at a loss.
“We don’t have the answer yet,” Aguanno said. “We don’t know what it is, but someway, somehow, we’re going to have to find a way to hang on.”