When training for a marathon, not every run is 26.2 miles, and not every run is at a sub-seven-minute pace (or sub-eight,etc.). There’s a master plan, with one workout building on the progress of the former. And, after many weeks, thanks to the sum total of the training effort, a runner is ready to perform at his or her peak.
Think of Duke’s season like a marathon. The Blue Devils aren’t going to clobber nonconference opponents 100-0 with seven sacks and eight interceptions on defense to boot. But each week, the Blue Devils should progress forward with training, becoming a little stronger week by week until they reach their first major milestone: the start of conference play (Sept. 27 at Miami). So, don’t focus on the final score from Saturday’s 34-17 win at Troy. Look more at the means than at the end.
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What worked: The Blue Devils were able to put aside a quarter to forget and outscore the Trojans 31-3 over the final three quarters. Quarterback Anthony Boone started making more accurate throws and reads on option plays, including both his touchdown runs (30 yards in the second quarter, thanks to a nice block from Shaquille Powell, and 5 yards in the third).
Boone’s three primary targets— Jamison Crowder, Issac Blakeney and Max McCaffrey—did a nice job getting open and hauling in balls when they were off-target. Blakeney was particularly impressive on his 49-yard touchdown pass, during which he beat Troy cornerback Jacquez Young and made a nice adjustment back to the ball. Head coach David Cutcliffe also praised McCaffrey’s blocking effort and overall play on every snap.
The defense also settled in gave up just 195 yards after the first quarter (not counting the yardage on Troy’s final drive, which came when the outcome was no longer in doubt). And the Blue Devils’ defense won nearly every critical snap—most notably, both fourth-down attempts by Troy in the second quarter (both were detailed in the game story) and the back-to-back sacks by Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo on the opening drive of the third quarter. And after starting 4-for-4 on third down on their first two drives, the Trojans finished the game 4-for-13 on that key down.
Duke continued to work younger players into the game on both sides of the ball. Redshirt freshman Chris Holmes made his first career start at linebacker—remember he from safety to linebacker just last spring—and true freshman Zavier Carmichael earned meaningful playing time as well. Now, Duke will need more production out of the Will (or weakside) linebacker spot as the season goes on—Holmes finished with three tackles (two solo) and Carmichael with six (four solo)—but, for now, the most important thing is that the pair are given meaningful snaps, allowing them to get better. Cutcliffe said he saw plenty of rookie mistakes from the two, but both made plays in space and became more decisive later in the game.
True freshman running back Shaun Wilson has pretty clearly jumped redshirt freshman Joe Ajeigbe on the depth chart. That makes Wilson the third option behind Powell and Josh Snead, but he should get more opportunities as the season progresses. Saturday, Wilson rushed for 18 yards on three attempts and caught one pass for eight yards.
What needs work: Playing just three quarters won’t be enough to win many ACC games. After recording just two penalties all game last week, the Blue Devils had two in the first three snaps. Left guard Lucas Patrick and right guard Laken Tomlinson were both penalized twice—Tomlinson for two false starts and Patrick for a false start and a hold. Sunday night, Cutcliffe suggested part of the fault with the false starts is on Boone, who needs to do a better job with the offensive cadence.
Regardless of whose fault it is, the offensive line needs to be a strength for the Blue Devils.
Speaking of Boone, he was too inaccurate in the first quarter, particularly, for a senior quarterback. He should have thrown his first interception of the year—on Duke’s first third down of the game, he threw a pass intended for Crowder that so far off the mark it ended up bouncing off the chest of a Troy defender. Other throws were too high or too low, robbing receivers of any chance at yards after the catch. The coaches had hoped Boone had those kinds of ruts out of his system this year—so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
To his credit, Boone acknowledged after the game that the offense needed to sharpen a few things up. His overall assessment was, "not too bad."
On the defensive side of the ball, Troy averaged 6.7 yards per rush in the first quarter.
That’s not good.
In addition to finding large holes up the middle—Duke’s front six wasn’t able to get off of blocks and generate any pressure in the backfield—the Trojans successfully deployed screen passes to spread the Blue Devils thin horizontally as well.
"We need to work on stopping the run more, work on stopping those stretch plays more," DeWalt-Ondijo said. "They kind of gashed us a little bit at the beginning of the game."
He predicted drills in practice this week where the defense has to run to the ball, all the way to the sideline.
What’s next: Another nonconference game, this time at home with lowly Kansas. The Jayhawks have lost 24 straight road games, a streak that dates back to Sept. 12, 2009 (a 34-7 win at UTEP).
Kansas had an open date to start the season and was able to beat Southeast Missouri State, and FCS school, 34-28.
On Big 12 call, Weis reiterates that KU got complacent after 24-0 start: "Our guys were a little caught off guard that things went so well."— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) September 8, 2014
The Blue Devils opened as a 20-point favorite with the bookkeepers in Las Vegas. That’s currently down to 17. Honestly, I still liked Duke at 20, but put money on my opinions at your own risk.
Short personal aside, once, when I was an intern at Bloomberg News, I wrote a story about this arcane series of Citigroup preferred stock, and someone bought $250,000 of it after reading my article. He made a nice little profit quite quickly, he said in his email. Still, my coworkers and I got a pretty good laugh out of the 21-year-old English major being used as a financial advisor.