Blue Devils find silver lining in sloppy loss to the Hurricanes

Redshirt junior Jeremy Cash was one of sole bright spots for Duke Saturday, as he amassed 10 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Redshirt junior Jeremy Cash was one of sole bright spots for Duke Saturday, as he amassed 10 tackles and two forced fumbles.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.—The lasting memories from Duke's weekend getaway to South Florida will have nothing to do with sunshine and palm trees. A 22-10 loss to Miami—highlighted by one of the Blue Devils' worst offensive performances in recent memory—was hardly the way the defending Coastal Division champions envisioned their ACC opener going.

There were plenty of black clouds hanging over Sun Life Stadium Saturday, culminating in monsoon-like conditions early in the third quarter. After the dust settled and Duke's 12-game regular-season winning streak was no more, safety Jeremy Cash wasted no time finding the silver lining.

"We're a hell of a defense," said the redshirt junior, who recorded 10 tackles and two forced fumbles against the Hurricanes. "There were times when our back was against the wall and we had to fight to stay in the game."

Miami (3-2, 1-0 in the ACC) looked as though it was poised to run the Blue Devils off the field in the first quarter. The Hurricane offense moved up and down the field with relative ease, putting together back-to-back scoring drives to build an early 9-0 lead.

Midway through the first quarter, the Blue Devils (4-1, 0-1) found their footing defensively, limiting the Hurricanes to just one first down on their next four offensive possessions. Following the last of those four drives, Duke finally manufactured some offense and found its way into the scoring column with a 7-yard touchdown run by Shaquille Powell. With the score at 9-7 early in the second quarter, an ugly start for the Blue Devils on both sides of the ball was virtually erased.

Although Miami scored twice more to put the game away, they were highly methodical scoring drives. Duke's Issac Blakeney fumbled the ball away to give the Hurricanes a short field on the first drive of the third quarter. The Blue Devil defense held, but amid torrential rain and swirling winds Miami head coach Al Golden elected not to try a 45-yard field goal. Instead, he went for it on fourth-and-19 and had true freshman Brad Kaaya throw up a jump ball to wide receiver Herb Waters, who came down with it in the back of the end zone.

Miami's other score came at the expense of Duke sophomore cornerback Bryon Fields, who has been picked on by opposing defenses this season. It looked as though Fields was expecting safety help over the top when running back Joe Yearby beat him with a step to the outside. No safety was there, and the result was a 47-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the dagger.

Those two plays aside, the Blue Devil defense played about as well as it could have against a team that was by far the toughest competition it has seen this season. Duke allowed 20 or more points in five of its 10 wins a year ago—on most days, giving up 22 would have been enough.

Quarterback Anthony Boone and the Blue Devil offense could not have looked more out of sorts against the Hurricanes. In what was likely his team's worst offensive performance since Boone became a full-time starter a year ago, Duke managed to post just 10 points and 264 yards of offense. The redshirt senior signal-caller never looked truly comfortable placing his throws, finishing 22-of-51 for 179 yards and tossing two interceptions.

Despite these offensive woes, the Blue Devils had two chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter, trailing 16-10. Boone led Duke into Miami territory on the first drive before it stalled. On the second, he overthrew Blakeney and was picked off by cornerback Ladarius Gunter.

Four plays later, Yearby was waltzing into the end zone and the game was all but over.

After playing four incredibly weak nonconference opponents, nobody knew what to make of this Duke team heading into its ACC opener. Most assumed that the Blue Devil defense—which entered Saturday's game ranked seventh in the nation in scoring—was the unit feasting on weaker competition. The defense we saw Saturday was good enough to win any ACC game—turns out that Duke's offense is the group with more significant issues to work through.

Which in some ways, despite the fact that Saturday's game was largely painful to watch, makes this loss a best worst-case scenario for the Blue Devils. And with a bevy of issues to work out on the offensive side of the football, Duke's bye week couldn't be coming at a better time.


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