Duke football is not a campus-wide laughingstock.
The Duke quidditch team is a campus laughingstock. Larry Moneta is a campus laughingstock. People who take 8:30 a.m. classes are laughingstocks.
It’s okay to point and laugh at those people. They’ve essentially brought it on themselves.
But not the Blue Devils. Yes, they are 0-2. I believe, though, that this rough start is not going to define their season. I still see a team that will go on to have a decent year.
If you don’t buy that, here are three reasons why you should:
1. Duke needs to heal
Right now, the Blue Devils’ top two running backs are hurt. Josh Snead, the explosive sophomore who saw major game action last year as a true freshman, and Desmond Scott, the every-down back and returning starter, both didn’t play against the Cardinal. They’re expected to return soon, however, which will give running back Juwan Thompson some help, and Duke will have the best rushing offense it’s had in years.
There’s another injury, though, that, when corrected, will really put the Blue Devils in good shape. It concerns Will Snyderwine.
I, and many others, watched with creeping horror Saturday as the preseason second team All-American missed kick after kick. Had Snyderwine been infected with Rick Ankiel or Chuck Knoblauch syndrome, I wondered, in which normally-accurate athletes suddenly lose the ability to do a simple task? Or perhaps, had a group of small space aliens—let’s call them the Monstars—kidnapped Snyderwine and zapped him of his talents for an intergalactic kicking contest?
No. It turns out that Snyderwine has an injured right foot, which he aggravated again on Saturday. It’s not his fault he’s struggling—the guy is hurt.
And when he, Scott and Snead recover, Duke will be a much better team.
2. Duke competed with Stanford
The 44-14 score was rough, and Andrew Luck’s 290 yards passing and four touchdowns were painful. But what everyone seems to have already forgotten is that the Blue Devils could have been down only one point at the half.
Duke’s defense gave the Stanford offense major trouble moving the chains throughout the first 30 minutes. Safety Matt Daniels, the captain of the defense, went toe-to-toe with Luck, exposing the quarterback’s flaws and predicting several times where he was going to throw. And who can forget Lee Butler and Johnny Williams making Luck look silly with 4:38 left in the first half, picking off the future No. 1 NFL draft pick and taking it 76 yards to the house?
After that play, ESPN’s entire family of networks flashed an upset alert that Stanford was only up three as the first half neared its close. A friend of mine tweeted, “Do you believe in miracles?”
I did, after Cutcliffe’s gutsy next play call. The coach gave Snyderwine the go-ahead to kick it onside, and the Blue Devils pounced on the ball. After a replay showed the kick had barely crossed the 10-yard threshold, the momentum was very clearly in Duke’s favor. The improbable upset looked plausible.
Of course, it didn’t stay that way. The Cardinal got hot in the second half, and they ran up a final score which betrayed none of those early Duke successes.
But the Blue Devils should still be encouraged by what they pulled off against such a highly-ranked team—they were nowhere near that competitive during last year’s Wallace Wade Beatdown against Alabama. When running back Juwan Thompson said Saturday, “We should have won this game,” it didn’t sound that ridiculous.
3. Three straight wins are on the table
This weekend, Duke travels to Boston College to face a team that is struggling mightily. The Eagles are 0-2 and have looked pretty terrible in their two losses. Luke Kuechly aside, they don’t have many game-breaking players. And their quarterback, Chase Retting, is coming off a game in which he went 10-for-23 for 70 yards and two picks. This is an eminently-winnable game.
The Blue Devils then host Tulane for the homecoming contest. The Green Wave is 1-1, and just lost to Tulsa by 28. This should be another win.
Then, Duke travels to Florida International. This one will be a bit trickier, but if Duke’s passing defense is able to contain Wesley Carroll and, more importantly, T.Y. Hilton, the team has more than a puncher’s chance.
Duke is better than 0-2. The next few weeks will show it.
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