After six weeks of games, Duke football has crossed their midseason point with a record of 1-5. With the majority of the year in the rear-view mirror, we can look back at what has transpired and what may be to come.
My one word to describe the season so far: disappointing.
Coming into this year, expectations were flying high. With Chase Brice (my preseason pick to start at quarterback) fresh out of the transfer portal, Duke looked to be fielding in a team that combined old, homegrown talent with new, raw talent. And yet, nothing has come to fruition.
Prior to this season, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the Blue Devils' ceiling. With All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert returning from injury, NFL Draft prospect Chris Rumph II leading the defensive line, a physical receiving core headlined by tight end Noah Gray and wideout Jalon Calhoun and a name brand quarterback, many people rightfully expected a lot from this group.
But now six games in, Duke has only one win to their name and are now sitting in the basement of the ACC as the only team with five losses. Many of those five losses could have been wins, but the Blue Devils have struggles to put together four, strong quarters of football all season.
In the first game of the season, Duke held football powerhouse Notre Dame scoreless through the first quarter, but managed to lose by double digits. They were shutout for the final three quarters against Boston College. They had a 10-0 lead and a 20-17 lead before getting outscored 21-0 in the fourth quarter against Virginia. And they had a 20-14 lead versus N.C. State before getting shutout in the second half.
One of the two bright spots of the season came, of course, in their only win against Syracuse when the team accounted for 645 yards of total offense and only trailed for nine minutes en route to a two-touchdown victory. The other came the week prior versus Virginia Tech and despite the loss, Duke battled for the entire 60 minutes, mounting a fourth quarter comeback that fell just seven points short.
One of the team’s consistent issues that plagues morale from top to bottom is turnover count, specifically fumbles. Despite Brice having thrown 11 picks and Calhoun tacking on one more, it is the fumbling issue that bothers me the most.
The expression “ball security is job security” clearly hasn’t made its way to Duke yet because the Blue Devils have put the ball on the ground 13 times this season, losing 10. That’s more than two per game and Brice is responsible for a large handful of them. New York Giants quarterback and former Duke star Daniel Jones has dropped the ball a league-leading 23 times in his 20 career games, which only furthers the questions surrounding if coaching is to blame.
On the other side of this mess, there are two players who have really risen above and outperformed on all levels: defensive end Victor Dimukeje and running back Deon Jackson. Both guys have been consistently good over their time at Duke, but this year the senior pair have pushed themselves to be great.
Dimukeje ranks second in the nation in sacks with 6.5, only half a sack behind the leader. He also has a forced fumble, fumble recovery and pass defended. The Baltimore, MD product has been a leader and energizer for the defensive squad and deserves to be respected at the same level as Rumph.
On offense, Jackson has outshone the rest of the unit by a considerable measure. His 446 rushing yards rank 21st in the country. He had a career game versus Syracuse where he rushed for a career-high 169 yards on 5.6 yards per carry. He’s yet to become a factor in the passing game, a place he excelled in his sophomore and junior seasons, but defenses have to constantly be aware of when he is on the field due to his explosive abilities.
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Looking ahead, the Blue Devils have five remaining games against the Charlotte, No.14 North Carolina, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Florida State. Although the season started poorly, there is still room for Duke to finish strong. There will be a lot to work on before next season, but I believe they have the foundation for what could be an exciting team next year.