Thoughts and observations from Duke’s 24-14 loss Friday at Louisville:
▪ Duke coach David Cutcliffe says he likes road games and there are more to come this year. The Blue Devils beat Notre Dame and doggedly put themselves in position Friday for a much bigger road upset at Louisville. This Duke team, while 3-4, has some grit to it.
▪ There are no good injuries but an injury to a fifth-year senior is the worst. Duke has had its share, starting with quarterback Thomas Sirk just before the season opener. That was a blow. DeVon Edwards’ knee injury against Notre Dame was another big one. Cutcliffe said after Friday’s game that wide receiver Anthony Nash has a broken clavicle. Those are big hits, for any football team, and tough to handle emotionally.
▪ Jeremy Smith’s 80-yard touchdown run for Louisville should have been a 30-yarder. Duke’s Alonzo Saxton II and Deondre Singleton were in position to hem in Smith and make the tackle on the sideline but Smith stiff-armed Saxton and ran by Singleton. Touchdown.
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▪ Duke’s ball-control offense, and a well-conceived game plan, gave the Blue Devils a chance. Duke had the ball for 37 minutes and did it with just 13 first downs and 239 yards in total offense. Converting 8 of 16 third-down plays got it done.
▪ After the game, Cutcliffe said, “I don’t think people know who we are.” Coachspeak translation: Even after all the wins the past few years, the respect factor isn’t fully there for Duke football. The Blue Devils were 34-point underdogs, which was a joke. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino knew. Among his postgame comments: “That was a day of work right there.” Yes.
▪ There was a lot of talk about the Cardinals being flat or not having enough focus or whatever. But the fact is, Louisville was averaging 58 points and scored 24, and the Cards’ last TD came after a roughing-the-kicker call against Duke.
▪ When Pat Dye was coaching at East Carolina and Auburn eons ago, he’d often drawl, “Let me tell you, the kicking game can kill you, just kill you.” It could have cost Louisville the game — the Cardinals had a punt return for a touchdown called back for blocking in the back — and ended Duke’s chances when Breon Borders drew the flag for roughing the kicker on a late field-goal try by Evan O’Hara.
▪ Cutcliffe defended Borders after the game, saying Borders “did exactly what he’s coached to do.” But Borders did veer slightly to the left, toward O’Hara. Borders might have gotten a nudge from a Louisville blocker, but he made contact with O’Hara’s leg.
▪ Another question about the roughing penalty. Why risk it? It was a 46-yard attempt. Worst case, O’Hara makes, Duke trails by 6 and has the ball with two minutes left. But Borders did rush and did dive, there was contact and … what was it Pat Dye used to say?
▪ Great time for a bye week. The Blue Devils need time to heal.