Duke at Memphis: When Anthony Boone was hurt, what worked, what needs work, what's next

lkeeley@newsobserver.comSeptember 9, 2013 

— Here's a Monday morning Duke update.

First, the latest on Anthony Boone: his broken collarbone won't require surgery, although there is still no timetable for his return. Head coach David Cutcliffe said he talked to Duke's doctors and did some of his own online research trying to learn more about Boone's injury. Part of Boone's recovery will depend on him limiting all movement of his right shoulder—that will make schoolwork and sleeping much more difficult. That's what the collarbone needs to heal, though—absolutely no movement.

Cutcliffe also broke down the play that broke Boone's collarbone. It was at the 11:32 mark of the second quarter on third-and-4 form the Memphis 40-yard line. I went back and watched the play, filling in the names in parenthesis.

"He had a read on, and he kept the ball inside," Cutcliffe said of Boone. "They had a corner blitz on. There was a really hard line stunt moving up front. One of their guys (DL Terry Redden) kind of beat our tackle (Perry Simmons) slightly inside. As Anthony was going in, there was a nice hole, but the guy barely trips him, and Anthony falls. One of their players (DE Corey Jones was coming hard at him, and Anthony was on the ground with his right shoulder down, and the guy kind of raked across him.

"It was a big guy, about 260, 265 and his body weight, as he went over Anthony, hit Anthony hard. It was one of those classic collarbone breaks. He wasn’t hit on it, but it was a collapse-type thing, when you get a heavy force.

"He tried to go over him, but he ened up landing on him."

Brandon Connette did an admirable job filling in, leading Duke to victory (more on that below), but, the reality is, Duke will miss Boone—"no ifs, ands of buts about it," Cutcliffe said.

Connette, a physical runner by nature, will take over as the starter. The Blue Devils will play to his strengths, Cutcliffe said (physical running) while trying to dial up blocking schemes designed to minimized the risk involved.

Now, more on the game:

What worked: Duke's defense was strong again this weekend, giving up just one touchdown (the other was scored on a 75-yard interception return). The Tigers were limited to 237 yards of total offense (148 passing and 89 rushing) and went an abismal 2-for-17 on third- and fourth-down conversions. Memphis went 0-for-4 on its fourth down attempts, losing two fumbles in the process as well. Both starting cornerbacks, Ross Cockrell and Garrett Patterson, played well, coming up with a key key pass breakups in one-on-one coverage.

Cockrell game up big on two pass plays during the Memphis series in between Duke's two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Blue Devils had just taked a 21-14 lead with 9:50 to go, thanks to a 22-yard pass from Brandon Connette to Issac Blakeney. The Tigers tried a longer pass play from Tevin Jones on first down that was knocked away by Cockrell. After completing a two-yard pass that was snuffed out by Jeremy Cash, Memphis again tried to get it to Jones, and, again, Cockrell was there to break it up.

"(Defensive backs coach Derek) Jones figured out what they were doing, where they were attacking us, and got Ross in the right position to make plays," David Cutcliffe said.

The goal was to get Cockrell matched up on Jones, Memphis's main target. Jones was talking a lot out there, Cockrell said, but it was Cockrell's play that got the last word.

Offensively, Duke ran the ball effectively, posting 173 yards of rushing offense (senior Juwan Thompson led with 67 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries). Connette posted 31 yards on 14 carries (15 yards were wiped out by sacks), Jela Duncan rushed for 31 yards on seven carries and Josh Snead collected 25 yards on six carries. No carries for Shaq Powell—in the close game, Duke's running back rotation tightened up.

Once Connette came in at quarterback, the offensive line was prepared to do more run blocking, senior guard Dave Harding said.

"We had some senior guys across the offensive line that knew that we really needed to step it up and just make plays," he said.

Punter Will Monday was effective as well, averaging 49.6 yards per punt with a long of 66 yards.

What needs work: With Boone out indefinitely with a broken collarbone (no surgery will be needed), the offense will need to get used to having Connette running the show. Connette was slow in his decision making initially, taking three sacks and sometimes picking the wrong read, like handing off to a running back with a defender bearing down on him. A few of his throws missed the mark, but that improved as the game went on. Cutcliffe said he graded him an A-plus, and his final line was impressive: 14-of-21 for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

While the hot, humid conditions made the ball slippery—and the broken air conditioning in the locker room not helping matters—the Blue Devils must do better holding onto the football. Jamison Crowder muffed a few punts, losing one, and Braxton Deaver fumbled a catch after gaining first-down yardage. There were enough dropped balls by the receivers to fire up coach Scottie Montgomery. The whole offense needs to be sharper and execute better.

After Boone went down, Cutcliffe and several of the players felt like some guys on offense were trying to do too much. The message at halftime was to calm down and let the game come to then, which the Blue Devils did much better in the second half (minus Deaver's fumble on the opening drive of the final half).

"We knew that we were a much better offense than we were displaying on the field," Crowder said. "Once we were able to move the ball a couple of times for big games, I felt like the whole offense, it boosted our confidence."

Duke amassed 294 yards of total offense (112 rushing and 182 passing) in the second half.

The Blue Devils were flagged six times for 52 yards—that number needs to go down, as procedural penalties like false starts need to be eliminated.

Coverage on punts and kicks needs to be better, too, as there were a few touchdown-saving tackles (including one by kicker Ross Martin on Saturday.)

What's next: Georgia Tech and its option offense come to town, beginning Duke's ACC season. The Yellow Jackets (1-0) ran Elon off the field with a 70-0 win in Week 1—literally, there was a running clock—and had an open date last weekend.

Memphis game story

Game notes, including QB depth chart, weather conditions and defensive studs

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