Poor execution continues to hurt Blue Devils

Every Sunday afternoon, Duke players and coaches convene in the Yoh Football Center to watch a tape of Saturday's game.

And nearly every week the Blue Devils leave the screening room after an unpleasant viewing experience. After all, Duke has lost all eight of its games to Division I-A opponents by an average of more than 28 points.

"It's gut-wrenching," head coach Ted Roof said. "You look at the final score and the stats and that's disappointing. Then when you look at the tape and see how close this play was, or how close that play was-I'm talking about a matter of inches."

The most recent Sunday tape session was especially tough to watch. In Saturday's loss to Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons ran over the Blue Devil defense to the tune of 557 yards of total offense. Of the 557, 419 were on the ground. Duke defenders were either out of position to make plays or failed to tackle when the play came to them.

"On most plays we had either 9-of-11 or 10-of-11 doing the right thing," Roof said. "Some programs, when they go 9-for-11 or 10-for-11, somebody makes a play and it kind of erases it. Right now where we are with our margin for error we've got to operate at 11-for-11."

Players missing assignments allowed small Wake Forest gains to become game-breaking plays. Wake Forest's backs averaged more than eight yards per carry Saturday, including Chris Barclay's 71-yard run in the third quarter.

Duke's defenders filled the wrong gaps and missed blocking assignments up front. This allowed the Demon Deacon offensive line to release up the field and block the linebackers who were schemed to be in position to make the play, Roof said.

"Over the course of the ballgame these things add up and that's what happened Saturday," Roof said. "On defense there's a bunch of independent jobs with a dependent result."

The mistakes were not just on defense in Saturday's game, though. The Blue Devils attacked the air for 153 yards passing-the most of any game this season-but they only totaled 50 on the ground on 31 carries.

Blockers missed their assignments by engaging Wake Forest defenders in the wrong position or pushing them the wrong way, Roof said.

"We tend to self-destruct," said freshman wideout Eron Riley, who led Duke with 56 receiving yards against the Demon Deacons. "We make our own mistakes. In the ACC we don't play bad teams. If we make mistakes they're going to capitalize."

The lapses in execution have become especially frustrating for the Blue Devils because they have continued to occur throughout the season. Duke has been particularly susceptible to big plays in the third quarter. Barclay's long run was part of a 17-point outburst by Wake Forest Saturday in the third quarter that added to the season-long trend.

The offense stalled after the first half touchdown pass from quarterback Zack Asack to Riley. After wide receiver Ronnie Elliot dropped an open pass from Asack on a key third-and-nine situation, the Blue Devils were unable to muster any real threat. Roof said that play was not the only one that hurt the team, though.

"That just was glaring because it happened out in front of everybody," he said. "Some of these other things you really have to be watching and know what's going on to be able to pinpoint."

With only two games and three weeks of practice remaining in the season, Duke has little time left to correct its problems. In practice, the team will continue to focus on becoming more precise in its execution.

"The coaches do a good job of preparing us, putting us in spots to make plays," Riley said. "We have to go out there and make them. It's more on the players than anything."


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