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The Devil's in the details: Duke's passing attack struggles against the Crimson Tide

<p>Quentin Harris averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt against Alabama.</p>

Quentin Harris averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt against Alabama.

They say the devil is in the details. But in Durham, the Blue Devils are in the details—and numbers.  

Each week, the Blue Zone will dissect five key numbers from last week's action in Duke sports, whether they be historic or underwhelming. This week, let the numbers take you inside football’s offensive struggles, men’s soccer’s Nike Invitational championship and field hockey's hot start.


It’s difficult to decide which statistic best describes Duke’s complete inability to throw the football Saturday against Alabama. I could’ve gone with Harris’ 97 total passing yards or his 23.3 QBR, but with those two numbers comes another that seems even more problematic: 4.4 yards per attempt.

What causes further concern is that this value is largely inflated by two outliers—a 37-yard heave to wide receiver Scott Bracey and a 20-yard connection with tight end Noah Gray, who did a majority of the work after the catch. Other than that, the Wilton, Conn. native totaled just 40 passing yards on his remaining 20 attempts. Yes, the Blue Devils will not face a defense as tough as the Crimson Tide for the rest of the year, but the aerial attack still needs improvement if Duke wants a winning record by season's end.


One positive to take away from Saturday’s contest is that Duke’s defense seems like the real deal. A final score of 42-3 in the opposition’s favor won’t impress anyone, but the Blue Devils held Alabama to just 14 points in the first half and zero points in the first quarter. The key to that defense? Stopping the run.

The Crimson Tide managed just 3.5 yards per rush Saturday, a remarkable feat for the Blue Devils considering Alabama’s bevy of four- and five-star recruits at the running back position. Now it’s time to see if that defense can keep that kind of intensity up all year long.

Football wasn’t the only Duke sport underway this past weekend, with men’s soccer matching up against Furman on Friday before taking on Cal State Bakersfield two days later as part of the John Rennie Nike Invitational. The 10th-ranked Blue Devils went undefeated in their two contests, bringing home the program’s fourth consecutive Nike Invitational championship. Senior Hassan Pinto brought home tournament MVP honors after notching the lone goal in a 1-0 win over the Paladins Friday night. Duke now prepares for a pair of Ivy League matchups in Harvard and Princeton next Friday and Sunday.

Women’s soccer, meanwhile, has not had an easy beginning to its schedule. The 10th-ranked Blue Devils took on their third consecutive top-20 opponent Saturday, defeating No. 19 Santa Clara 3-2 in overtime. Duke’s victory came just three days after a 0-0 tie against No. 13 Georgetown and six days following an excruciating 2-0 loss to No. 2 North Carolina. The Blue Devils now enter their longest break of the season—four days—before matching up with UNLV this Thursday.


Field hockey has enjoyed a hot start to its 2019 campaign, dispatching No. 9 Penn State and No. 25 William & Mary by a combined 8-1 margin. In comparison, the Blue Devils totaled just two goals in their two NCAA tournament games at the end of last season. Three different players—Olivia Sahaydak, Leah Crouse and Haley Schleicher—have already tallied multiple goals this year for No. 3 Duke, an impressively balanced offensive attack. 

Next, the Blue Devils take on No. 15 Northwestern and No. 2 Maryland this coming weekend in the Big Ten/ACC Cup. Then-No. 3 Duke defeated the then-No. 12 Wildcats in last year’s edition before losing to the then-No. 4 Terrapins in a 4-3 heartbreaker.


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