Column: Don't press the panic button on Duke football just yet

Chase Brice coughed up the ball three different times—two interceptions and one fumble—Saturday against Boston College.
Chase Brice coughed up the ball three different times—two interceptions and one fumble—Saturday against Boston College.

Everyone needs to take a step back and relax before they hit the panic button on Duke football's season. 

Let’s be realistic. The Blue Devils' opening matchup at Notre Dame went better than most predicted, and this loss to Boston College is not as big of a deal as many are making it out to be. The Eagles are way better than they have been given credit for, and the growing pains Duke is experiencing should have been exactly what was expected heading into this season. 

Boston College’s new head coach, Jeff Hafley, has had a number of coaching jobs. But most recently, he was the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, and the improvements he was hired to bring to the Eagles were apparent Saturday. Hafley’s defense was ball-hungry, schematically sound and flew around the football field all game, forcing five turnovers.

You can’t just chalk up the Blue Devils' giveaways to careless mistakes on their behalf, although some were. Credit needs to be given to the clever coverages called by Hafley and the standout individual efforts from several Eagles. 

Early in the second quarter, Boston College linebacker Isaiah McDuffie was brilliantly hidden in the hook and read Chase Brice’s eyes perfectly to jump the slant route for Brice’s first interception. 

Just after halftime, Eagle cornerback Josh DeBerry made a flat-out exceptional play when he ripped the football out of Damond Philyaw-Johnson's hands for the forced fumble.

Both of these two plays are avoidable, and Duke needs to spend extra time on ball security at practice this week, but all of the problems the team is having are exactly what should have been expected for a unit with this many new pieces and a shortened preseason.

Let’s recap the offseason.

Only a week before the Blue Devils’ season began, head coach David Cutcliffe named Brice the starting quarterback.

Brice didn't even get to participate in the limited spring practice Duke had because he was finishing his degree at Clemson, so he really only got to start getting familiar with his teammates when the Blue Devils returned to campus in July. Zoom can be a great tool, but let’s face it, learning a playbook over Zoom is not the same as being on the field.  

On top of that, it should be expected that it may have taken Brice a couple games to get acquainted with the starting quarterback role, as he has not started since high school. It’s clear that Brice is talented, and when he's found his groove, he's marched the offense down the field with ease.

Philyaw-Johnson, meanwhile, has posted eight career receptions over two seasons and is now being asked to step up and take a significant role in the passing game. While he is undoubtedly a gifted kick returner, it’s going to take him some time to get familiar with his additional duties as a receiver. 

The point is, a loss to a seasoned Notre Dame team and a Boston College team that has been rejuvenated with a new coach and player talent are not reasons to freak out.

It’s not going to be a year where Duke flirts with close to 10 wins, but this season can absolutely result in a bowl. 

Also, has it been forgotten that Cutcliffe has coached a couple quarterbacks that have gone on to have pretty successful NFL careers? Both his proteges, Peyton and Eli Manning, have spoken endlessly on how good Cutcliffe is at elevating his quarterback’s game. So as of now, I’m not concerned about Brice’s ability to lead Duke with Cutcliffe behind him. 

Brice had a bad game. It wasn’t the first bad game he's ever had and it won’t be his last. I expect him to get into the film room and do some extra throwing with his receivers this week to correct the passes he sailed moving forward. His chemistry with tight end Noah Gray is only getting better every week, and once he gets on the same page with speedster Jalon Calhoun, this offense is going to be much more dynamic.

This weekend was just a time for a tip of the cap to an opponent that outplayed you, and to move on to next week against Virginia.

Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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