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Parity reigns in rare down year

(02/16/10 10:00am)

With ACC play more than halfway in the books, it is a good chance to take a step back and look at that the way things have unfolded from a more removed perspective. While certain developments—such as North Carolina struggling near the bottom of the conference—will catch the casual observer’s eye, a bigger development is the level of parity that has taken hold of the league.

Making the Grade: Maryland Terrapins

(10/27/09 8:00am)

Exam No. 7: The Maryland Terrapins Offense: B Pass:I t was more of the same from the Blue Devil rushing attack that failed to average even a yard per carry on the ground. Interestingly enough, the coaching staff never made an attempt to establish a traditional run game as quarterback Thaddeus Lewis carried on 14 of Duke’s 28 rushing attempts. While it is tough to be too critical of the backs when their chances are so limited, it is clear that pounding the football won’t be a focal point for the offense the rest of the way. Rush: Lewis continued his stellar play as he posted another game with more than 350 yards through the air. He was also efficient as he completed 30-of-43 passes and got six different receivers involved in the action. These statistics are even more impressive when one considers the torrential downpour that was making it even tougher on the aerial attack. Receivers Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon deserve credit for their ability to turn short catches into big plays. X's and O's: In getting its second consecutive ACC victory, Duke’s offense really had a field day in terms of moving the football against a pretty stingy Maryland defense. However, repetitive penalties and turnovers in Terrapin territory prevented long drives from resulting in points on more than one occasion. To beat better teams, this efficiency must improve. Defense: A Pass: The Duke front seven was terrific Saturday as the unit was swarming in the backfield all day and held the Maryland rushing attack to just 67 yards. Given the wet conditions and the expected difficulty in the passing game, the coaches allowed safety Matt Daniels to be aggressive up in the box, and he rewarded this confidence with a team-high nine tackles. Linebackers Vincent Rey and Damian Thornton were also active in recording eight stops apiece, several of which were for losses. Rush: With the exception of the blown coverage that resulted in a 67-yard touchdown reception for Terrapin tailback Davin Meggett, the Duke secondary turned in arguably its best performance of the year, with the exception of the Army game. The weather conditions certainly favored the defense, but the Blue Devils allowed just 182 passing yards. Rey’s key interception late in the game sealed the deal and was a good sign for an increasingly ballhawking bunch. X's and O's: The defense was flocking to the football throughout the game and prevented Maryland from sustaining any consistent drives. Perhaps most impressive was the number of plays that Duke ended in the Terrapin backfield. Also significant was the defense stepping up in key spots: a stop on fourth-and-1, holding Maryland to a field goal after a turnover in Duke territory and allowing no fourth-quarter points.

Tight ends sub in for ground game

(10/22/09 8:00am)

After the offensive explosion in Duke’s last game against N.C. State in which the Blue Devils totaled 502 yards en route to scoring 42 points—the special teams scored another seven—it would appear to the casual observer that the offense is firing on all cylinders. However, that is not exactly the reality, as the rushing attack failed to get going and netted just 43 yards on the ground.

Miller pushes Duke to pair of wins

(08/31/09 8:00am)

Early in the first overtime period of Sunday’s final of the Champions Challenge, senior defenseman Lauren Miller was one-on-one in a penalty stroke situation with Michigan State goalie Elissa Unger. Knowing what an important spot she was in, the senior responded by beating Unger and lifting the No. 10 Blue Devils (2-0) to a 3-2 win over the eighth-ranked Spartans. “This was a really big game for us. It was personal for us to show that we have worked so hard,” Miller said. “To have the game riding on that stroke, it’s an honor to be a captain and step up there. I had all that on my mind and just wanted to do it for the girls.” The game-winning penalty stroke was set up when sophomore midfielder Tara Jennings burst through Michigan State’s back line only to be denied near the top of the scoring area by a sliding Unger. A fight for the loose ball ensued, and Rhian Jones was able to get a shot off that was blocked by a Michigan State violation  in the circle that set up the penalty stroke. The overtime goal was Miller’s third in two games--she scored two of Duke’s goals in Saturday’s 3-0 win over No. 13 Louisville (1-2). Starting off the season with consecutive wins and a tournament victory is a terrific start for a young Blue Devil team that hadn’t won their opener since Miller’s freshman year. “I know we were ranked sixth in the ACC preseason, but if you look at our youth, that’s where I’d expect to be ranked,” head coach Beth Bozman. “I expect this team to do something this year.” Although Bozman picked up her 100th win as head coach at Duke with the victory, that accomplishment looked anything but certain in the first half. The period was marred by sloppy passing and several turnovers in Duke’s own zone that gave the Spartans easy scoring opportunities. In the game’s third minute, Michigan State (1-1) capitalized on one of those chances when Jantine Steinmetz flipped one into the top corner of the cage. The Blue Devil offense started out sluggishly and was unable to get a shot on goal until 15 minutes into the action. While the play would pick up through the end of the half, the Blue Devils entered the locker room down a score, but the coaching staff was pleased with the way the team reverted back to the game plan in overcoming the slow start. “The second half of the first half we really played our game but just couldn’t get the ball in,” Bozman said. “We penetrated the circle and knew that if we stuck to the game plan we would be able to pull this game off.” Yet things got worse before they got better when Steinmetz opened the second half by slipping a shot into the bottom left corner of the goal, putting the Spartans up, 2-0. From that point on, however, the scoring would be all Duke. Just six minutes later, junior tri-captain Sarah Schoffstall took a pass from Miller and converted it into the first Blue Devil score. The team would build on this momentum and knot the game at 2-2 just minutes later when forward Susan Ferger turned a Jennings pass into the game-tying goal that would force overtime, in large part due to the stellar play of netminder Samantha Nelson. Nelson recorded four saves on the day, several of which occurred in tough one-on-one situations with a Spartan on a breakaway. In front of Nelson, the rest of the defense came up big, even helping to hold Michigan State scoreless during overtime’s first 11 minutes with Jennings sidelined after receiving a yellow card.  “Samantha was excellent this weekend,” Bozman said. “I can’t tell you how hard she’s worked since last November for moments like these.” Still, without Miller’s game-deciding penalty stroke, the Blue Devils wouldn’t be heading to Philadelphia next weekend to take on Drexel with a 2-0 mark in the standings or tournament hardware back in their locker room.

Miller pushes Duke to pair of wins

(08/31/09 7:00am)

Early in the first overtime period of Sunday's final of the Champions Challenge, senior defenseman Lauren Miller was one-on-one in a penalty stroke situation with Michigan State goalie Elissa Unger. Knowing what an important spot she was in, the senior responded by beating Unger and lifting the No. 10 Blue Devils (2-0) to a 3-2 win over the eighth-ranked Spartans.