In an age of advanced analytics, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said only one football statistic means much to him.
“PPG,” Cutcliffe said. “The only one that matters is ‘points per game.’ Period.”
That may sound like an old offensive coordinator’s speaking, but Cutcliffe is on point. College football has taken on a score-as-many-as-you-can tone and approach, and fast-paced, high-scoring games have become more the norm.
A week ago, Duke beat Notre Dame 38-35 and North Carolina edged Pittsburgh 37-36. Virginia, which faces Duke on Saturday, outscored Central Michigan 49-35.
Louisville laid 63 points on Florida State a few weeks ago. Alabama, never lacking defensive talent, beat Ole Miss 48-43.
Forty-eight to 43? What in the name of Bear Bryant is going on here?
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall points to a rule change and more dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks as part of the scoring surge.
“College football is changing,” Mendenhall said at his weekly press conference. “There is one rule in particular that is driving a substantial amount of this, and it’s the offensive linemen being able to go downfield. And that in and of itself creates what are called RPOs, run/pass options, which means the offense can basically block a play like it’s a running play with, linemen, even though it’s supposed to be three yards downfield, regularly downfield five to six yards. And then, if the run doesn’t look exactly right, can throw the ball, as well.”
The Xs and Os covered, Mendenhall added, “I don’t think the rule is good for college football but it is good for entertainment.”
The ACC game Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium matches Cutcliffe, an offensive guy, and Mendenhall, a defensive guy. The two coaches are friends, and Mendenhall spent some time visiting Cutcliffe and Duke a few years ago while the head coach at BYU.
Mendenhall, new to the ACC, said he needed to see only one series of Duke’s offense on game video to get a feel for what to expect.
“The design is good within the players that they have and the scheme they use and how it’s been implemented to make the most of the program at Duke,” he said.
Cutcliffe said he simplified things a bit for quarterback Daniel Jones at Notre Dame, taking away some of the pre-snap decisions the redshirt freshman had been making.
“You’ve got to have a good plan before the ball is ever snapped and you’ve got to see, and he’s seeing pretty well right now,” Cutcliffe said. “That light will continue to come on.”
Jones was quicker with his delivery, looked more comfortable, made the right plays. He was 24-of-32 passing for 290 yards and three touchdowns, and Duke also had 208 yards rushing, although running back Jela Duncan injured a leg and will miss the Virginia game.
“I did get rid of the ball quicker but in some of the dropback situations I had plenty of time,” Jones said. “The offensive line did a phenomenal job, both pass protection and running the ball.”
Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert, the transfer from East Carolina, threw for a school-record 421 yards and five TD throws against the Chippewas, including an 82-yarder to Olamide Zaccheaus.
“I think the trick defensively has become red-zone success, where you force field goals or get stops,” Cutcliffe said. “People tend to move the ball up and down the field. … I’ve talked with defensive coaches. It’s a fun challenge to figure out how to win the ‘PPG’ game.”
Virginia and Duke locked up in a 42-34 game last season, the Cavaliers winning in Charlottesville, Va. It could be another “PPG game” Saturday.
Virginia at Duke
When: 12:30 p.m., Saturday,
Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham
TV/Radio: ACC Network Extra, 99.3-WDNC, 620-WDNC