Duke’s offense finds consistency against Army

Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk (1) throws a pass against Army during the first half in West Point, N.Y. Duke won the game 44-3.
Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk (1) throws a pass against Army during the first half in West Point, N.Y. Duke won the game 44-3. AP

Quarterback Thomas Sirk’s first and only roommate at Duke has been wide receiver Anthony Nash. So whenever Sirk wanted to get a quick throwing session in late at night, Nash has been his go-to guy. Same thing when others were gone for the summer, and same thing whenever Sirk has been struck with an urge to talk football at home.

But as Sirk moved up from backup to starting quarterback, Nash stayed on the sideline behind multiple other receivers. A hamstring injury limited him in preseason camp this year, too. But in the past few weeks, as Duke has lacked consistency at the wide receiver position, Nash started to deliver in practice. And in the 44-3 win at Army Saturday, he translated his practice production to game results.

"We've put in the time together," Sirk said. "I just continued to press him and tell him that he's got to continue to press forward and don't get down on himself."

Nash was Duke’s leading receiver, catching five passes for 57 yards. And three of those catches in the first half, a major part of Duke’s 6-for-9 third-down conversion rate and 27-0 halftime lead.

Consistency has been elusive this year, but it wasn’t a problem at West Point on Saturday. The 41-point margin of victory was the largest under head coach David Cutcliffe and the largest for the Blue Devils since a 41-0 win at North Carolina in 1989.

"The difference was that we converted on third downs," Cutcliffe said. "That's what we hadn't been doing, going three-and-out or not getting the ball in good field position, so that is execution. That's the consistently that we've been talking about, and that's something to build off of."

Now, of course, proper context for Duke’s big offensive day is needed. After facing two of the nation’s top-five defenses in the past three weeks, the Duke offense took advantage of the more favorable matchup with Army. The Blue Devils scored on eight of their nine drives (and ran out the clock on the 10th). It was the first time this year Duke scored on its first drive of the game, too.That execution is commendable, against any opponent, and Cutcliffe called the first half the most consistent Duke has been all year.

Both Northwestern and Boston College rank in the top five nationally in terms of scoring and total defense, and the Blue Devils managed just 19 combined points against those two opponents. Army (1-5) is not a Power Five team and subsequently does not have Power-Five talent. So Duke’s offense, to its credit, took advantage, looking more like the unit that put up 37 points against Tulane and 55 against FCS N.C. Central to open the season.

"Going out and executing and throwing the ball well and having an effective run game that sets up passing, that definitely gives us a lot of confidence," said Thomas Sirk, who completed 63 percent of his passes (17-for-27) for 197 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Sirk added 53 yards on the ground as well, part of 215 rushing yards on the day for the Blue Devils.

It was a performance Sirk and the rest of the offense can build on—that’s certainly the hope for the unit as a whole, and for individuals like Nash, too.

"It's just catching it consistently and being the route runner," Cutcliffe said of Nash. "This has got to be a growth day, which means you don't take a step back. You get better come Monday."

The Blue Devils will work Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before getting some off days on their open weekend. The injuries have started to pile up—tight end Braxton Deaver (back muscles), and wide receiver T.J. Ramming (leg) were injured in practice this week and did not play, and starting defensive tackle Carlos Wray (hand), safety Deondre Singleton (leg) and defensive end Kyler Brown (leg) left the game with injuries. That has created opportunities for players like Nash. And a team can never have too many capable contributors.

"The offense, it was a hard week of practice for them," They put in the time that it takes to come out here and perform."

Nash, a redshirt junior has been working years for a breakthrough moment like Saturday. Now it’s just a matter producing those results again and again.

"This year it has just been my year," he said. "I’m very confident and I'm glad I'm getting the opportunity."

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