Sometimes statistics can be misleading while other times they concisely tell the tale. In Saturday’s 35-21 loss to the Army Black Knights one needs to look no further than the five Blue Devil turnovers to understand the outcome. Sean Renfree threw interceptions on two of Duke’s first three possessions, which resulted in the Cadets jumping all over the Blue Devils early and never looking back.
Duke lost fumbles on their first two possessions of the second half and Army pushed their lead to 35-7 by converting Duke’s turnovers into touchdowns. With five turnovers on Saturday, the Blue Devils saw their turnover plus/minus fall to minus four for the season, which is last in the ACC.
On the positive side, wide receiver Conner Vernon had eight receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. Vernon has three touchdown receptions so far this season and all have been on receptions greater than 50 yards.
Vernon leads the ACC in Receiving Yards per Game (112.1) and Receptions per Game (7). Those numbers result in a national ranking of seven and 14 respectively. In post game comments, Coach Cutcliffe described Vernon as, “…one of the toughest young men that you will ever come across…he can be a great football player.”
As good a game as Vernon had, he was responsible for one of the turnovers when he fumbled while fighting for extra yards on a reception early in the second half.
Donovan Varner is tied for fourth in the ACC, with Florida State’s Bert Reed, in Receptions per game with 5.8, while Austin Kelly is number eight with 4.8 receptions per game. With three of the league’s top eight receivers, Duke’s receiving corps is living up to its reputation as the most talented in the ACC.
Sean Renfree’s seven interceptions this season are troublesome; however, he still leads the ACC in Passing Yards per Game at 278.2 yards and he has thrown nine touchdowns. Renfree seemed to be a bit out of sync against Army so he needs to have a good week in practice and reacquire the razor sharp edge he has previously displayed.
Duke continues to display an ability to run the ball by rushing 24 times for 111 yards against the Black Knights. Duke is averaging 144.5 yards per game, on the season, which is ninth in the ACC and number 72 in the nation. Duke has rushed for over 100 yards in all four games this season after accomplishing the benchmark only once in 12 games in 2009. The one occurrence in 2009 was against FCS opponent North Carolina Central University.
This season Desmond Scott (277 yards), Josh Snead (158 yards) and Brandon Connette (118 yards) all have the potential to breakout on a long run. Their long runs on the season are 63, 27 and 48 yards, respectively.
On the defensive side of the ball true freshman linebacker Kelby Brown recorded six solo tackles and was credited with four assists for a total of 10 tackles. Senior Abraham Kromah was responsible for a total of 13 tackles with four being solo. Safeties Matt Daniels and Walt Canty were credited with nine and eight tackles respectively.
Kromah is tied for ninth in the ACC at 7.8 tackles per game while Daniels is tied for 12th with 7.5.
Two worrisome defensive statistical categories are Sacks and Tackles for Loss. Duke does not have a single player who breaks out amongst the 20 listed by the ACC in these two categories. Duke is tied with Boston College for last place in the ACC in sacks.
Here is how Duke stands in the ACC and NCAA in 10 statistical categories:
1. Total offense: dropped to number four in the ACC and number 38 in the nation. Offensive yardage dropped from 443.7 to 425.8 yards per game. Duke was number three and 27 last week.
2. Time of possession: dropped from number one in the ACC to number six as Army dominated this statistic. Duke’s time of possession fell from 32 minutes and 27 to 29 minutes and 21 seconds per game.
3. Third down conversions: Duke was 1 – 8 on third down against Army, which lowered their success rate to 42.9% resulting in Duke falling to number six in the ACC and number 48 in the nation.
4. Red zone offense: Duke remains at 100 percent success in the red zone scoring nine touchdowns and four field goals in 13 opportunities.
5. First downs: fell from number one in the ACC to number three with 87 first downs. The Blue Devils have rushed for 29, passed for 52, and been awarded six via penalties. These numbers result in Duke falling from being tied with Notre Dame at number 16 in the nation last week to being number 37 this week.
6. Total defense: improved to number 11 in the ACC and number 110 in the nation as they decreased total yards allowed to 466.2 from 510.7 yards of offense per game.
7. Scoring defense: Duke remains last in the ACC giving up an average 44.5 points per game down from 47.7 points per game. Those numbers still rank number 118 in the nation. The 35 points given up to Army can be partially attributed to the Blue Devils turnover issues.
8. Opponent first downs: improved to number 11 in the ACC and number 106 in the nation by giving up 92 first downs. Opponents have rushed for 47, passed for 39 and been awarded six via penalty.
9. Red zone defense: Opponents have scored on Duke in 16 out of 18 red zone opportunities. Duke improved to being tied with Clemson for number nine in the ACC and number 91 in the nation.
10. Turnover margin: Last but definitely not least, Duke now has a minus four (-4) in turnover margin, which is last in the ACC and tied for number 100 in the nation. Last week the Blue Devils were ranked number five in the ACC and number 33 in the nation.
Turnover margin is the one statistic Duke must turn around in a hurry if they are to win ball games. Turnovers played a crucial role in the losses to Wake Forest and Army. Without the turnovers, Duke could arguably be sporting a 3-1 record. Teams cannot win ball games against an evenly matched opponent when they turn the ball over. Saturday’s game against Maryland is a game the Blue Devils are capable of winning if they take care of the football and force the Terps to cough it up once or twice.