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Roof needs time to rebuild program

Head coach Ted Roof is trying to build Duke football, but right now he is lost. It almost seems like all the life has been sucked out of a coach who took the job last December displaying raucous confidence.

Less than 10 months later, after Duke’s 55-21 loss to Maryland Saturday, Roof just paused when asked, “Where are you?” about his program.

A few seconds later, the demoralized coach responded.

“We are definitely not where we want to be and that’s the most honest answer I can give you, and definitely not where we hoped to be,” Roof answered, acknowledging that early expectations have not been followed by results.

Roof has reason to be upset. What was as hyped a potential turning point for Duke football has disintegrated into the worst start since 2001, a season when the Blue Devils went 0-9. The Blue Devils have lost their four games by an average margin of 21 points.

Furthermore, Duke has yet answer a number of lingering questions and yet to form any offensive or defensive cohesion.

Whether it’s fair or not, a team’s identity is based on its quarterback, and for a team that is struggling to establish itself, a solid starter behind center is critical. At first, Mike Schneider and Chris Dapolito gave Roof two options. After Curt Dukes played a solid second half at Virginia Tech, Roof had a trio of choices. Essentially, the quarterback dilemma has translated into musical chairs in the backfield, and against Maryland, Dukes and Dapolito bounced around to different positions.

Roof has sought a single leader behind center all season, and after the game, he appeared to be fed up with the current shuffle. Schneider played the entire game Saturday, except for several short stints when Dukes was behind center, and Dapolito didn’t take a single snap at quarterback. With Roof intent on selecting one quarterback, it seems like Schneider, who has started three of four games, will get the nod for the rest of the season.

Injuries have thrown the team some very different curveballs. Phillip Alexander, the team’s most experienced defensive lineman, broke his leg against Connecticut, and junior Justin Kitchen has stepped up to take his spot at defensive end. Because of injuries and inexperience, the offensive line shuffled like the quarterbacks—only two Blue Devils have started all four games.

At running back, Cedric Dargan and Aaron Fryer missed Saturday’s game, and at wide receiver, a host of injuries have left Roof searching for fill-ins. True freshmen have been called up to make up for the injuries.

Saturday, these volatile elements lacked the balance to maintain their precious structure. After the first quarter, Duke should have been in a much larger hole than its 10-7 deficit. Maryland had three dangerous chances in the red zone, wearing down the Blue Devil defense for almost 13 minutes in the first quarter. Some key tackles, however, held the Terrapins to a 20-yard field goal and a one-yard touchdown in the quarter.

One of the reasons the Blue Devils were not further behind after only 15 minutes of play was the skillful maneuvering of true freshman Chris Davis, who ran a kickoff back 94 yards to get the Blue Devils on the scoreboard. Maybe, just maybe, Davis is a sign that the football program is set to launch forward. But it doesn’t look like it will happen this year.

Duke’s opportunistic defense allowed Roof’s team to stay in the game, and even go ahead in the second quarter. But Duke did not have a first down or even attempt a pass in the first quarter. The Blue Devils’ 35 rushing yards were significantly exceeded by Maryland’s 119. Joel Statham, a first-year starter for the Terps, threw for 211 first-half yards. Schneider, who looks to be Duke’s permanent starter, threw for a mere 50 yards in the first half. Yet at the end of 30 minutes, the Duke squad found itself only six points behind.

As Roof put it, the team was able to “hang in” through out the first half. Duke looked like an unranked, injured, winless squad battling against a team that has gone 29-0 under head coach Ralph Friedgen when leading at halftime. The Blue Devils’ defensive line was not stopping the Terrapins. Instead it was tiredly dragged down the field as Maryland marched to 38 unanswered points.

That’s not how you win a football game, especially against a top-25 team, and it’s not a sign Duke will contend for victories by season’s end. Roof may bring everything that was advertised to Duke football, but the first four games of 2004, especially the struggles against Maryland, show it is going to take more than one off-season and a lot of optimism.


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