Tri-partisan

It's 'run the ball' or basketball time for Duke

Posted October 4

If Friday’s game against Miami was a “program game” for Duke, Saturday’s trip to Charlottesville is a Groundhog Day game. A win means six more weeks of football, and a loss effectively turns the calendar from football season to basketball season.

Most of the doom and gloom in Durham is warranted. Duke failed to score a touchdown for only the second time in the past eight seasons (they actually won the game the other time that happened), and any hope of controlling its own destiny towards a second Coastal Championship disappeared with Daniel Jones’ 21-42, 166-yard performance.

But even the most optimistic of projections had Duke winning eight games with either Baylor or Northwestern, Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech as the likely losses, and there were enough positives from the Miami game to think that Duke could match, or even eclipse, that win total.

For that to happen, the Blue Devils need to figure out who they really are.

Duke ran the ball 46 times for 183 yards against the Hurricanes, which should have been good enough to win the game, but only 19 of those runs came from the regular rotation running backs (41 percent of the attempts) even though they accounted for 111 of the yardage (61 percent). Even worse, only 10 of the 24 first-down plays that Duke ran were handoffs to the running backs, even though those plays averaged over 5 yards.

Only twice did Duke have possessions where it involved their running backs on consecutive plays. Brittain Brown had consecutive runs of 7, 8, 8 and 11 yards on Duke’s first possession of the second quarter, and Shaun Wilson had back to back runs of 11 and 13 yards in Duke’s first drive of the second half. Both drives crossed midfield. Neither ended in points. Both ended after negative plays in the passing game.

The 19 times Brown and Wilson ran the ball, Duke averaged 6 yards per play. On all other plays, they averaged 3.5 yards. Running back rushing attempts following running back rushing attempts averaged 10 yards per play. Passing plays following running back rushing attempts averaged 1 yard.

The most frustrating aspect of Duke’s inability to commit to what worked on offense is that the defense played well enough to win the game. Through five games, it’s time to recognize that Duke’s defense is likely going to play well enough to win ANY game with any type of scoring support. They’re 24th nationally in scoring defense, 14th in total defense, sixth against the run, fifth in sacks, and in the top 50 (25th out of Power 5 schools) against the pass.

Friday night was the rare case under Cutcliffe where the offense completely let the defense down, and the answer to avoid doing it all over again is clearly to run the football. Duke has a “face of the program” quarterback, and while that’s the identity that Cutcliffe and staff would like to have, it’s time to come to terms with Duke being a defense and running game first football team.

If Duke doesn’t commit to the run against Virginia, the biggest event on campus next week is going to be the open basketball practice before the Florida State game. If Brittain Brown and Shaun Wilson get to have their say, Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley will have to wait a while for their turn in the spotlight.

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