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With Lewis out, offense stagnates

CLEMSON, S.C. - Many coaches share a similar mantra: A game does not come down to just one play. But early in the first quarter, on what the box score merely ruled an incomplete pass on third down, Duke's chances of beating Clemson Saturday seemed to go up in smoke.

Under pressure, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis threw the ball as he was being dragged down, landing awkwardly with his foot caught underneath himself. After leading a decent offense in the first two drives, Lewis never returned to the game after a mid-foot sprain, and backup Zack Asack was called upon to rally the troops.

The offense fell anemic, though, as the game plan was obviously altered to accommodate the different playing style of the new signal caller, including an emphasis on designed quarterback draws and an aversion to downfield passes. Seven of the first eight first-down plays with Asack under center were planned keepers, and most of his passes were screens or short dumps. The Blue Devils didn't convert a single first down for the remainder of the first half.

"Certainly, I haven't been out there in that long and I was just trying to get the rust off, but when you're in a situation like that, you have to make the most of it," Asack said. "Personally, I have to execute more. I wasn't executing, making the plays. Receivers did a great job, and the line was blocking great, but I just wasn't producing."

With the offense failing to manufacture sustained drives, the defense was forced to stay on the field longer than it had expected against one of the most explosive offenses in the ACC. At first, Duke was doing an admirable job containing the athletic offense spearheaded by the dynamic tandem of running backs C.J. Spiller and James Davis.

But as time wore on, the Blue Devils simply became exhausted, as Clemson ran a total of 23 more offensive plays than Duke.

"The team that makes the most first downs is probably going to win it, because that's the offense that's staying on the field and keeping their defense fresh," head coach David Cutcliffe said. "Obviously, we had a tough time doing that."

"That's part of football," defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase said. "Whatever happens on either side of the football, we have to go out each series and play. I can't control what the offense does. I can only control what I do and what the defense does."

Although Cutcliffe said Asack is put through the same number of repetitions and through the same playcalling as Lewis and the rest of the first-team offense in practice, it appeared as though Duke was playing with a limited playbook behind Asack.

Perhaps because of the rust gathered from not seeing serious playing time since his freshman year, Asack had trouble hitting his targets accurately. As the Tigers began building a sizable lead and Duke was obligated to air it out in hopes of making a quick comeback, the Blue Devils called more and more deep passing plays later in the game.

Lewis commanded only two series, but his 24 yards were more than a third of Asack's 61 on the day-proof that Asack never established a rhythm as he finished 10-of-22 with a late touchdown and two interceptions.

"I felt like we had a good plan-a lot of it, unfortunately, surrounded Thad and how we were going to try to play this game," Cutcliffe said. "Zack fought his rear end off. It's tough being a backup quarterback. One of the things you tell them, and it's very difficult mentally, is everyday is your game day.... You're only one snap away always."

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