When Duke starting quarterback Thomas Sirk was in full pads warming up, the assumption was that he was going to play.
But after observing the warmup, coach David Cutcliffe decided that backup Parker Boehme was going to make his first start.
The blame for the 31-13 loss to Pitt at home certainly could not be laid at the feet of Boehme, the redshirt sophomore who had attempted just 17 passes entering the game Saturday.
In the first half, which ended in a 10-10 tie, Boehme was 13-for-20 (65 percent) for 168 yards and no turnovers. He didn’t hesitate to go through his progressions and throw the ball downfield. He also broke loose for a 77 yard run.
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“Parker is great,” tight end Braxton Deaver said. “I was really, really, really proud of how he played today. Parker has a presence about him in the huddle, and just the persona and charisma that I really, really like. It’s one of those things where I’m really excited. The sky is the limit for him, he has a great arm, and he threw some great passes today.”
In the second half, though, as the Blue Devils’ defense imploded, the pressure mounted on the offense to score on every possession. Duke moved to its two-minute, quick-strike offense, and Boehme’s numbers predictably suffered. He threw an interception into two-deep coverage, staring down one side of the field. And he fumbled away a ball that he was holding too low in the pocket.
“In a game where the time of possession is flipped on you in the second half and the score is flipped on you in the second half, it’s hard to play quarterback,” Cutcliffe said. “I thought Parker played well.”
With 3:28 left in the third quarter, Pittsburgh had run 19 plays for 155 yards and 14 points. Duke had run just three plays for one yard and no points. That’s on the defense’s inability to get off the field, putting the offense in the unenviable position of executing perfectly.
“They made a bunch of plays, and we made plays, but we needed to make all the plays that we should have,” Deaver said. “The premium needs to be on execution. We need to hit, and we need to be the Duke football team that showed up in August getting ready for this season.”
It’s more than just practicing well, Cutcliffe said Sunday. The Blue Devils have to perform well when it counts. According to Duke’s coach and players, there haven’t been any issues in preparation. But come the last three Saturdays, the level of execution necessary to win games has not been there.
“Things have to change,” Cutcliffe said. “We have to get better. ... We can’t have penalties, we can’t have explosive plays, we can’t pass up scoring opportunities.”
Sirk was able to make progress to work a little bit in practice toward the end of last week. If he continues that upward trajectory, he will retake his starting role.
Boehme could work more into the gameplan, Cutcliffe said. But right now, Duke’s issues are much deeper than who is taking snaps in the shotgun.