Duke football notebook: screen passes and punts aplenty

No play was run more often Saturday than the screen pass.

That was basically the Orange’s only option in the passing game – Syracuse’s longest completion on the day went for 19 yards, and that was a surprise throw on a drive full of option runs. Duke, though, went that route by choice, in an attempt to counter Syracuse’s plan to stop the run.

“The numbers are saying you better throw it out there,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We get one block; we may take it to the house. They’re pressuring, they’re coming with everybody they’ve got, six, seven people to stop the run. And they did a good job of that. So your answer is to have to get the ball outside quickly. And those battles were won by them, unfortunately.

We made some yards. But I thought there would be a chance for big yards. We’ll learn from it. But they committed a lot of people to stopping the run.”

Duke’s 254 yards of offense was its lowest output of the season, even fewer than in the 22-10 loss at Miami on Sept. 27. The Blue Devils averaged just 3.0 yards per rush (33 runs, 98 yards) and 4.9 yards per pass attempt (Anthony Boone finished 15-of-33 for 161 yards).

“They do a lot of defense,” Cutcliffe said. “Whether it was rushing the quarterback and pressuring us, run blitzes, do a good job keeping the ball in front of them for the most part in the secondary.”

Of course, the Orange’s offense was even more ineffective than Duke’s averaging 3.3 yards per play compared to the Blue Devils’ 4.9

“If the offense is struggling, the defense has to step up,” said Duke safety Jeremy Cash. “We’re a team, at the end of the day.”

Punting clinic

Both punters, Syracuse’s Riley Dixon and Duke’s Will Monday, gave their team chances to win. Dixon punted nine times, and six of his boots went more than 50 yards. Monday landed three of his seven attempts inside the Syracuse 20-yard line, including one that was downed by DeVon Edwards at the 1-yard line, essentially dooming the Orange’s ineffective offense on that possession.

“I don’t view a punt as a negative play,” Cutcliffe said. “When we choose to punt, we’re going to be aggressive with it. Hopefully we can gain 40-plus yards, net. I don’t have a play in the offense that is going to gain 40 yards a play.”

Odds and ends

Duke has won eight games in back-to-back years for the first time since the 1938 and 1939 seasons ... the Blue Devils are 6-0 in their past six November games, quite the turnaround from the 1-19 mark under Cutcliffe in his first five years ... With the win Saturday, Anthony Boone became Duke’s winningest starting quarterback, with an 18-3 record.

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