Bowl-bound Duke can learn a lot from Miami loss
Posted November 24, 2012
Durham, N.C. — When Duke head coach David Cutcliffe came out of the halftime locker room Saturday, facing a 28-10 deficit, he was visibly upset and made that known to the interviewing reporter on the broadcast. It was one of the most outward displays of frustration many have seen from the generally even-mannered Blue Devils head coach.
His points were valid. The team was not holding blocks, staying true to assignments, making key reads or really much of anything right.
Cutcliffe's staff was equally to blame, though, and he knew that as well. At halftime the stat sheet was essentially equal for the two teams, but a failed fake punt and a failed on-side kick attempt were virtual alley-oops for Miami's offense. Slideshow: Duke rally falls short in 52-45 loss to Miami
In response to their leader’s emotion, the Duke players responded – and then fell apart – and then responded again. After spotting Miami a 14-0 lead, Duke pulled within one score four different times, but fell behind by three scores twice and could not so much as draw even in a 52-45 loss at Wallace-Wade Stadium.
The adage, whether you buy into it or not, states that, ‘More can be learned from a loss than a win.’ I don’t know if Saturday is entirely at that level, but many things were visible for Duke that should help them in their impending bowl game and into the future.
First off, team speed is an issue. This is something that the Hurricanes were able to expose time and time again. Five Hurricanes scoring drives were four plays or less and three of those ended with touchdown plays of 65 yards or greater.
When your team is not as fast as your opponent, two fundamental things need to happen: coaches need to call plays that don’t allow for the other team to get behind the last level and players cannot miss the initial tackle. Looking at Stephen Morris’ 14.8 yards per completion and seeing the back-to-back touchdowns by Duke Johnson and Mike James of 65 and 72 yards, respectively, neither of those two things happened.
A second lesson learned: just because you have fallen behind does not mean you need to abandon the run.
Yes, Sean Renfree threw the ball an eye-popping 59 times Saturday and was effective with 432 yards and four touchdowns. However, one of the biggest plays of the game was a 37-yard Jela Duncan run in the third quarter. That was a momentum play that preceded a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder and pulled Duke within a touchdown.
In all, Duke ran the ball 32 times - roughly one-third of their 94 plays that register in the box score – and put up 151 yards.
Of course, that all changes when the deficit is three scores, but when Duke was hanging around, their balance proved to be effective.
And speaking of balance, the Blue Devils found balance among their wide receivers that, moving forward, should be a nice recipe for success. More Duke Stories
Step one: get Connor Vernon involved early. The all-time ACC leader in receptions and yards made seven of his 11 receptions in the first half – four of those were either third or fourth down conversions. The rest of the team accounted for just two third-down conversions through the air and caught a combined 11 balls in the first two quarters.
Step two: once Vernon has drawn the attention of the opposition, get Crowder involved. In the second half, Crowder caught six balls, including a 99-yard touchdown reception where the closest defender was 15 yards away. Crowder finished with 203 receiving yards and two touchdowns on the game – only 10 of those yards came in the first half.
Step three: with the wide outs creating havoc, get the backs and underneath receivers involved. On Duke’s final scoring drive that covered 70 yards in less than three minutes, Desmond Scott, David Reeves, Duncan and Juwan Thompson all had at least one catch. That group combined to have six fourth-quarter receptions.
There are more problems with Duke than these few items and there are more bright spots too. Now Duke, who has lost four in a row and five of their last six, will have a month to examine all of them as they prepare for their first bowl game since 1994.