Welcome to the latest edition of Three and Out.
The Blue Devils are now 2-0, thanks to their 34-17 win at Troy last weekend. Of course, like in any game, some things worked and some things needed work.
***In the "things that worked" pile? DeVon Edwards and his career-high 14 tackles.
Edwards works closely with graduate assistant coach Matt Guerrieri, who coaches Duke’s safeties. Before week one, Guerrieri told Edwards to have patient feet and, in Edward’s words, "when I know, just go." While solid advice, it wasn’t the best mantra for Edwards to be turning over in his head.
"I was hesitating a lot in the first game," Edwards said. "This week I felt more comfortable with that I was supposed to do, so I stopped hesitating as much and just kind of pulled my trigger and just tried to do my job and not more than I was supposed to do."
Edwards credited Guerrieri with helping hone his instincts on when he should take risks and just take grass.
***A few people inquired as to why walk-on backup kicker Jack Willoughby handled the kickoffs against Troy, and why his kickoffs were consistently so short.
First, that’s not a new thing— Willoughby handled kickoff duties in the final three games of last season, against North Carolina, Florida State and Texas A&M. And, secondly, those short kicks are by design. Instead of blasting it into the end zone and having an opponent start at its 25-yard line, the Blue Devils think they can do better on that field position, forcing a team to field a punt and (ideally) tackling the returner before he reaches the 25.
"The timing of the return gets out of kilter when there is hang time," head coach David Cutcliffe said. "The other part of it is, and we have to get a lot better at this, is managing location. What you want to do is reduce the amount of field you are actually covering. They’re not just running down the field, although it looks like it. There are schemes for kickoff coverage, and we’ve been doing them for years and years and years. So, location and hang time allows our coverage schemes to work."
Willoughby is generating better hang time on his kickoffs than Martin does. So the job is his. And it’s a long season. If Willoughby can handle this and save Martin’s leg for field goals, it’s a plus.
Cutcliffe said he was pleased with four of Duke’s six kickoffs from Sunday. I’d bet the two he didn’t like were the only two where Troy started further upfield than its 25—the first kickoff of the second quarter, after Duke took the lead, which was fielded at the 6-yard line and returned 26 yards to the 32, and the one beginning the second half, which was returned 42 yards to the Troy 42.
***This Kansas game is the final game of a home-and-home series that began in 2009. The Jayhawks were ranked No. 22 nationally at that point and dispatched an overmatched Duke team 44-16 in Lawrence, Kansas.
Due to the giant puzzle that is scheduling, the games couldn’t be played in back-to-back years, so, now, five year later, the series will end.
Obviously, since that season, the programs have trended in opposite directions. Kansas finished 5-7 that year, and that brought the end of the Mark Mangino era—he was, remember, just two years removed from a 12-1 season and Orange Bowl win. Since then, though, the Jayhawks have gone through two coaches (Turner Gill for two years and Charlie Weis since 2012) with a record of 10-39. In that span, David Cutcliffe has gone 24-29, with the last two seasons major steps in the right direction.
"We’re a little better (now), so, that helps, no question," Cutcliffe said about the scheduling timing.
And while we’re peeking back at the past, here is a nice little bookend stat: before Cutcliffe showed up in 2007, it had taken Duke eight years to win 10 games. Now, the Blue Devils are currently 10-0 in their last 10 regular season games.