Explosive. With former Clemson Tiger Chase Brice transferring in and David Cutcliffe assuming play-calling duties, that was the word that was supposed to define Duke’s offense this season.
But it was Boston College’s aerial attack that provided the spark Saturday afternoon en route to a 26-6 Eagles win at Wallace Wade Stadium.
“One of the things that hit me throughout was not being able to generate explosive plays to match theirs,” Cutcliffe said. “Explosive plays, big plays ignite players. So that’s in addition to obviously the turnovers and a couple of inopportune penalties that should be avoided—that’s how it all comes together for Boston College.”
The Eagles’ game-clinching run started late in the third quarter, with Boston College clinging onto a 10-6 lead and sitting at its own 20-yard-line.
On the first play of the drive, quarterback Phil Jurkovec found sophomore wide receiver Zay Flowers off play-action for a 27-yard gain. Then, he found tight end Hunter Long for a 17-yard connection down to the Duke 36-yard-line.
Another 27-yard pass to Flowers handed the Eagles first-and-goal, with Jurkovec finding Long once again for the nine-yard touchdown. Four plays, 80 yards and Boston College quickly shot out to a 16-6 advantage.
Duke’s offense handed the ball right back to the Eagles with one of the quickest three-and-outs you’ll ever see, and it didn’t take long for Jurkovec to take advantage.
The transfer from Notre Dame immediately threw deep over the middle to a completely wide open Flowers, who trotted in for the 61-yard score to hand Boston College a commanding 23-6 edge.
Within a mere 73 seconds, a four-point contest became a blowout. First-year head coach Jeff Hafley constantly let his quarterback air it out down the field, a far cry from the run-first offense Boston College has produced in years past.
“[Jurkovec] was a good quarterback—we tried to get pressure on him, tried to get sacks on him,” senior defensive lineman Victor Dimukeje said. “But he did a great job avoiding [that] pressure.”
Jurkovec finished the day 17-of-23 passing for 300 yards, with Flowers hauling in five catches for 162 yards, the Eagles’ first 100-yard receiver in two years.
The Blue Devils’ offense, on the other hand, appeared stagnant—Chase Brice totaled 217 yards on 23-of-42 passing, a paltry average of 5.2 yards per attempt.
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But it wasn’t the fear of trying the big play that was the issue for the Blue Devils this time around. Instead, it was Brice trying to force plays that weren’t there, leading to two interceptions and a lost fumble.
“[I've] got to put [Brice] in a better position,” Cutcliffe said. “I think the temptation that he’s got to resist is trying to force the plays. You can make plays, and he’s a playmaker, but you can’t force plays.”
Furthermore, whenever Duke did find an opportunity for a spark downfield, the Blue Devils failed to execute. Whether it was a Brice pass that sailed over the head of his intended target or a perfectly-placed over-the-shoulder lob that fell through the hands of the receiver, the home team’s offense just never seemed to be in rhythm.
One potential reason for that lack of execution was the quiet afternoon from Jalon Calhoun. The sophomore wideout entered the season as the Blue Devils’ No. 1 receiver, and was expected to be a big part of Duke’s aggressive offense. But Saturday, he finished with just a single catch for three yards.
“[Boston College] played a lot more zone—played a little differently than what we anticipated,” Cutcliffe said. “You don’t have a game, going into this game, to study. So that’s hard on the players.”
Duke will look to rebound next Saturday when it takes on Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. But before then, the Blue Devils will have to figure out exactly what went wrong in their home-opener.
“I’ve got to look at myself, I’ve got to look at what we’re calling, I’ve got to look at every little thing we’re doing there,” Cutcliffe said. “No time to punch a panic button, but you have to respond. Players expect some form of response to put our offense back on track to do things that we believe in. All of us, players, coaches—a belief system is critical in offensive football.”