Three key takeaways:
1. Duke crashes and burns in second half
It’s easy to look at yesterday’s final score and conclude that Boston College overwhelmed the Blue Devils at every turn. However, the score was 7-6 at halftime, and Duke had more total yards of offense. Despite the Eagles scoring a touchdown on their first drive, Duke was largely dictating the flow of the game for the first half. The offense struggled a bit at first in finding their groove, but after a beautiful 49-yard rush from Mataeo Durant to nearly tie the game, things were looking up. The penultimate drive of the half saw some well-executed passes and good overall chemistry to carry the Blue Devils to a first-and-goal, though the opportunity was fumbled away at the four yard line. With that momentum, it looked like Duke might be able to take the lead and win the game.
However, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before, the second half was a mess. The defense pretty much collapsed, giving Boston College the space to make some stellar plays and score two more touchdowns and two field goals. Duke, on the other hand, made it within 20 yards of the endzone twice. The first time ended in a failed field goal attempt, and the second ended with Chase Brice fumbling the ball to the Eagles. Any other offensive attempts were either squashed by Boston College’s defense or hampered by the Blue Devils’ own mistakes. To win football games you have to maintain consistency through all four quarters, something that Duke is sure to work on for the future.
2. Mistakes abound
Of all the frustrating things about yesterday’s match up, one of the more frustrating aspects was what felt like constant turnovers, and perhaps the most frustrating was that two of them happened in the red zone. Two fumbles in particular had even the cardboard cutouts in the seats of Wallace Wade looking for the exits: one from running back Deon Jackson at the four-yard-line on a first-and-goal, and one from quarterback Chase Brice at the 14. Rounding out the list of excruciating turnovers were another fumble and two interceptions. To fix this, the Blue Devils have to go back to the basics and focus on smart, clean passes and catches. Clearing out space for the offense to work will also be crucial.
It wasn’t just turnovers, though. A string of penalties and bad passes led to a combined loss of 36 yards, taking the team from a first-and-10 to a third-and-46 in less than a minute of possession, not to mention all the incomplete passes and bad decisions made throughout the game. Additionally, kicker Charlie Ham, one of the highlights of the Notre Dame game last week, missed his only field goal attempt and missed the extra point on the Blue Devils’ lone touchdown. Was it a curse? Who knows, but these kinds of silly mistakes can cripple the team against mediocre teams, let alone good ones. Mistakes happen, yes, but they can’t happen with this frequency if Duke wants to generate any sort of momentum.
3. Offense struggles to find a rhythm
Expectations for this season’s offense were high. With Chase Brice at quarterback, having transferred from Clemson, and head coach David Cutcliffe himself calling the plays, there was hope on the horizon for the kind of explosive offense not seen from a Duke football team in a long time. Those hopes aren’t gone yet, but this game definitely at least clouded them. Plays weren’t coming together, and the offense floundered for most of the game to make a difference. Most of Cutcliffe’s calls were good ideas in theory, but only once did they pan out for a touchdown. The few times plays actually came together, the opportunity was squandered by mistakes. There’s a lot of new pieces this season, so it’s understandable that it’s taking Cutcliffe time to adjust, especially since he’s filling a new role this season.
One thing that will go a long way in cleaning up the offense is getting Cutcliffe and Brice on the same page. While sparks of chemistry were there, most of the game found Brice in an odd spot trying to force a play that wasn’t there. Part of that falls on Brice, and part falls on the plays Cutcliffe is calling. The shortened preseason definitely didn’t help them find their groove, but hopefully, they’ll figure out how to make the offense click with some more games under their belt.
Three key stats:
1. 351 yards of offense, one touchdown
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In what’s quickly becoming a habit, Duke trailed Boston College by only 33 yards of offense yet finished with 20 less points after four quarters, just like last week’s game that saw 332 yards of offense and only one touchdown. Since last season, the Blue Devils’ offensive yardage has improved, but wins and points haven’t. Actually making that push into the endzone has clearly been a struggle for the team, and figuring out why that’s happening—whether it’s the players’ foundational skills, the play calling from Cutcliffe, or Brice cracking under pressure—is one of many steps the team has to take to build a competitive football team.
2. 162 receiving yards for Eagles’ Zay Flowers
Boston College sophomore Zay Flowers absolutely dominated in yesterday’s game, leading his team in receiving yards and being part of some huge plays. Most notably, he caught a 61-yard touchdown pass; Duke’s defense was nowhere to be seen. Credit where credit is due, Flowers had a phenomenal game. In fact, his stats alone were higher than the receiving yards of Duke’s top three receivers combined. Factor in Hunter Long’s additional 93 yards, and you’ve got a recipe for an Eagles win. The season is still in its infancy, but so far Duke has done a respectable job of shutting down rushing attempts. However, we saw it last week against Notre Dame, and we saw it again yesterday: the Blue Devils have no idea what to do against a good receiver. That much was obvious when Flowers practically strolled into the endzone in the third quarter since he had so much space. If Duke wants any chance of winning against the talented teams coming up on the schedule, they have to learn how to stop these passing plays that inevitably become touchdowns.
3. 3.5 sacks for Victor Dimukeje
A lot of things went wrong in this game, but one thing that went right was Victor Dimukeje. With 3.5 sacks, Dimukeje was just a half sack away from tying a team record for sacks in a game set in 1949. While this impressive showing has a lot to do with Dimukeje himself—after all, he’s on the watch list for top defensive player of the year—it has equally to do with the strength of the entire defensive line. Chris Rumph II had 7 tackles, Drew Jordan had 5 tackles, and both tallied a sack. All three men improved on their performances from last week, and, as a whole, the defensive line is really starting to click. Hopefully the rest of the team can match the level of Dimukeje and the rest of the defensive line moving further into the season.
This loss is going to sting. Like last week, the ingredients for a successful team were there in the first half only to disappear in the second. It will obviously frustrate both the players and the coaching staff. However, they have a week to wipe the slate clean and regroup in preparation for an away game against Virginia next Saturday. The Cavaliers haven’t played a game yet this season, but they finished first in the ACC Coastal last season. Only time will tell if Duke can pull itself together fast enough to cobble together a winning season.