Jela Duncan kept running after a defender twisted off his helmet. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
Duke’s 34-27 victory over Wake Forest did a few things:
*Ended a 12-game losing streak against the Demon Deacons that dated back to 1999
*Gave the 4-1 Blue Devils more wins already than they collected in each of the previous two seasons
*Set Duke off on its best start since 1994, the last year Duke went to a bowl
“Things” is also the word the head coach David Cutcliffe used to describe the intangible benefits from finally ending the streak. Check out his epigraph along with the rest of the look back:
“It’s a win that we felt like we’ve needed to have happen. We just continued, in this game, to be in a position to win it and not. And you try not to let those things become things, but if you’re not careful they will. Each game has its own personality, but everybody is human. You just didn’t want one of those things in the end where you said, ‘oh my, here we go again.’ We fought it off.” —David Cutcliffe
What we learned:
Duke has a legitimate shot to earn a bowl bid
With a win over Wake Forest, Duke has officially beaten a good team. And the Blue Devils played well, employing a nice mix of runs, screens and downfield passes and generating turnovers with strong tackling and a heavy pass rush. The Blue Devils will need to beat two more ACC opponents—I hesitate to use the word “good” to describe Virginia and possibly Georgia Tech—to reach the six-win plateau. For Monday’s paper, I ranked the remaining schedule based on the degree of difficulty. From my perspective, there are at least two more wins on the schedule.
Last week in my preview, I said the winner of this game would go to a bowl. I still feel that way.
The injury situation has reached a critical point
Amazingly, up until the Wake Forest game, the Blue Devils had been able to successfully plug holes created by injuries with minimal negative effects. This is a huge testament to the depth and talent level of the squad (side note: It should have Duke fans salivating at the team’s 2013 prospects). There is now, though, a noticeable soft spot in the defense.
True freshman Dwayne Norman had played well through the first four games of the season, appearing on the field for 96 snaps and recording six tackles. But against Wake Forest, he was forced to play a safety position he had only started learning last week in practice, and he looked lost at times. This isn’t so much a knock on Norman as it is a commentary on the fact that Duke has run out of decent backup plans in its quest to patch together a lineup.
Speaking of injuries, Cutcliffe didn’t have any updates on S Brandon Braxton, LB David Helton or CB Lee Butler, the three defensive starters that left and did not return against the Demon Deacons. And, of course, Duke was already down LB Kelby Brown, NG Jamal Bruce, DE Justin Foxx, as far as starters go, and key backups S Chris Tavarez and S Corbin McCarthy. Yeesh.
And in non-injury related losses, Cutcliffe announced Sunday that S August Campbell, who started the first two games this year, left the team for personal reasons.
Anthony Boone is game ready
Lost a bit in a game with so many notable storylines is the fact that it was Boone who led the Blue Devils on their go-ahead and winning touchdown drives. After Sean Renfree was injured late in the third quarter, Boone came in and went 8-for-11 for 54 yards in the air and added 10 yards on three rushes.
“Boone had to step up, and that’s what he did,” Jela Duncan said.
When I arrived back home after finishing the drive down I-40, I flipped on the TV just in time to see South Florida’s backup quarterback come in for one play and fumble, thus giving Florida State a momentum-changing score. It made Boone’s performance appear that much more impressive.
I would doubt we will know before Saturday whether Renfree or Boone will start. Cutcliffe said Sunday that Renfree was day-to-day with an injury to his throwing elbow. An MRI revealed no major damage.
By the numbers
percent of third downs successfully converted by Duke against FIU, Stanford, NC Central and in the first half against Memphis (9-of-50)
Percent of third downs successfully converted by Duke in the second half against Memphis and against Wake Forest (18-of-26)
Thumbs up: The kicking game. Freshmen Will Monday and Ross Martin could have joined a long list of Duke special who have chocked against the Demon Deacons. But both played well, with Martin going 2-for-2 on field goals (including a career-long from 35 yards) and Monday pinning two of his five punts inside the 20-yard line.
Thumbs down: Takoby Cofield. The left tackle was flagged for holding twice, and one of the infractions negated a 45-yard pass play from Renfree to Jamison Crowder.
WR Desmond Scott
Scott set a new career-high for receiving yards with 134 off of 11 catches. Three of those were on huge third-and-long situations: third-and-27 in the first quarter, third-and-19 in the third and third-and-19 in the fourth. Each time, he caught the ball in the middle of the field and added a healthy number of yards after the catch.
“Desmond did a great job of finding a seam,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s learning there, finding those holes in zone coverage. Big, big plays in those circumstances.”
“It’s the biggest win. I can’t describe how big it was for our program and how good we all feel inside. We executed for four quarters. We had a few mistakes, but we kept going, kept going, kept fighting. This is a really good team, and I can’t wait to see how far we can go.” —Anthony Boone