It's a trap... every... single... time...
A Duke team gets a shot in front of the home crowd at Wallace Wade Stadium to take down a historic program for a statement win, yet falls short of the goal.
But this isn't 2006. The Blue Devils aren't winless and No. 15 Notre Dame coming to Durham was far from a David vs. Goliath matchup. Duke had the tools to beat the Fighting Irish.
That's why for a team that spent two weeks giving it all to prepare for a chance at the program's biggest win in some time, it is simply unacceptable that the Blue Devils were confined to an offensive game plan aimed at playing it safe over taking a real shot at one of the most historic teams in college football history. A three-week span of screen passes, draws from the shotgun on 4th-and-short and much more have made it that much clearer—it's time for the head coach to step in on offense and call plays.
In 2016, a subpar Blue Devils team confidently stepped up to beat a likewise underwhelming Notre Dame squad in South Bend, Ind., however, times have changed. Duke is no longer a program constructed with scrappy two-star players who are simply no physical match for elite programs. Head coach David Cutcliffe has recruited serious talent to Durham in recent years, making it even more baffling why the Blue Devils felt the need to play it safe against the Fighting Irish, who were struggling over the last two weeks.
The offense seemed to be limited between the line of scrimmage and the first down marker for much of the first half Saturday night, with the longest pass play in the first 27 minutes of the game coming on, you guessed it, a screen pass for 10 yards. It wasn't until after six Duke possessions ended in punts when offensive coordinator Zac Roper decided to let Blue Devil quarterback Quentin Harris look deep, ending in a 29-yard touchdown for their only points of the contest.
According to stats on teamrankings.com, Duke has thrown the ball on just over 50 percent of its plays over the last three games, good enough for No. 43 nationally. The problem? The Blue Devils rank 115th in passing yards over that same span. One of Harris' best assets is his deep ball, something he showed by racking up four 20-plus-yard touchdowns against North Carolina A&T and tormenting Middle Tennessee on fourth down with impressive touch down the field. Sure, the opponents are better, but at some point you have to let your redshirt-senior captain take shots more than two yards past the line of scrimmage.
Roper gave Harris the freedom earlier in the season to extend the field and air the ball out, and whenever he decided to take in those reigns, Duke's season started to go downhill. After scoring at least 30 points in five consecutive games after facing Alabama, the Blue Devils have combined for 38 points during their current three-game skid.
No, this isn't a call for Roper to lose his job, but facing three winnable games and needing two of them to salvage the season, there needs to be some sort of change and that is turning the play sheet over to the quarterback guru himself—Cutcliffe.
This isn't unfamiliar territory for the program either. After starting the 2017 campaign off 4-0, Duke's offense under Daniel Jones faltered and the team lost six straight games, scoring 17 points or fewer in five of them. Then some magic occurred, and whether it was through Roper's improvement or Cutcliffe taking over the helm, the Blue Devils averaged more than 36 points in their remaining three games to win out and bring another bowl championship trophy to Durham.
Though Duke is a solid favorite at home against Syracuse next week, one of the two remaining games against Wake Forest, who was ranked last week, and Miami, who consistently brings in top recruiting talent, will also have to end up as a Blue Devil victory.
The team can watch the last three games of Harris' career wind down, not make any adjustments and look towards the future, or the head coach with over 40 years of coaching experience can step in to lead the offense and salvage the season.
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