The Duke Blue Devils trotted out their All American field goal kicker Will Snyderwine with five seconds on the clock down 23-21 to Richmond. As a 60 yard attempt fell short, you could feel the collective wind leave Wallace Wade Stadium for the final time. Most fans felt Duke would pull out a win on an evening when one never seemed certain and escape a third consecutive upset to the Richmond Spiders, ranked 19th in the FCS top 25. But just four minutes earlier Snyderwine pushed the ball right on a 28 yard chip shot and that was but one of four major miscues one could point to as the culprit for a frustrating if not depressing loss to open the 2011 season.
A Crushing and frustrating loss for fans
Duke fans did not expect to lose to Richmond, an FCS school for a third straight time on their own home field. Duke started the season slow last year and they are now facing a 0-3 start with powerful Stanford coming in and a road game at Boston College on the horizon. Even if Duke rights the ship and gains some wins, this game will haunt the season if they approach five wins. Every ACC school but Duke handled their FCS opponent with ease and some of those teams were much better than Richmond. There is always renewed hope when a new season kicks off as well as anticipation and excitement for the fan base. Last evenings loss hit Duke fans hard and put the Blue Devils in an 0-1 hole right out of the gate. The mere mention of "Richmond," will make Duke Football fans cringe for a long time to come.
Duke pretty much gave the game away
Another point of frustration is the kicking game and more specifically the leg of Will Snyderwine who missed a mere 28 yard FG that would have saved the day wide right. Then there was the curious last play of the first half when Duke had the ball at the 19 yard line closing out the half. With ten ticks on the clock and no timeouts (one wasted earlier), Duke decided to take one more shot. The problem is that the pass went to Brandon Braxton who was far short of being near the goal line and worse, he clearly had a DB draped over him. Time ran out and Duke missed a golden opportunity for a score. The call was likely designed to be aggressive in nature, but Renfree should have been aware of the clock and where Braxton was as well and threw the ball to the ground to save an opportunity for a field goal attempt. And those fumbles! Both Duke drops led to incredibly short fields for Richmond who scored on both. And let's not forget another aggressive call to go for it on their own 35 yard line in the first quarter. The Duke defense saved the day on that one as Duke failed to gain the yard they needed. Richmond flat out lucked out and dodged a bullet in that they made just enough plays to allow the Blue Devils mistakes to let them win.
There are some positives ...
Duke ran the ball well going for 178 yard on 35 carries. Juwan Thompson led Duke with 86 yards and Desmond Scott added 82 yards and a 29 yard touchdown scamper. Renfree went 22 of 33 for 201 yards and no interceptions which translated into better decision making. Kelby Brown also led Duke in tackles and he seems to be back to normal and a true leader on the defense as a young, true sophomore. Matt Daniels tied a Duke record breaking up several passes and making some solid hits to knock the ball loose from wideouts hands on what looked to be sure catches. The two Duke backup quarterbacks, Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone both scored on rushing touchdowns. Duke has 5 seniors on there two deep roster, so they truly are once again, young which hopefully bodes well for the future. Sadly, the afforementioned Desmond Scott was injured and could not return to the game and by games end, Juwan Thomson was in the same boat forcing Duke to go way into their depth chart with Jay Hollingsworth.
More yards does not mean a win
In 2009 Richmond rolled into Wallace Wade Stadium and defeated Duke 24-16 but the Blue Devils outgained the Spiders 369-282 yards. Last evening, Duke was once again upset by the Spiders yet outgained them 379-288 yards. You might notice that there is but 16 yards difference between the two games. So what does this stat say? I'll admit that I am stumpped considering the results.
The Black Uniforms
There are a superstitious bunch of fans out there that actually pointed to wearing the black uniforms as being a bad omen. It's hard to measure the psychological effect of breaking out in outlaw black but there is little doubt that it has some effect. When Coach K and Duke first broke out their black duds years ago, he made his early teams earn the right to wear them knowing it could well pump up the other team in that it is a brazen statement of confidence. It's sometimes fun to listen to those who've had a bit to drink after a game as they leave the stadium. One fan snarled, "It all started with those "expletive" black uniforms." One thing is certain, as good as the uniforms looked, Duke fans have probably had their feel of them for they left them feeling "blue." Oh, the irony.
Duke promotions gave a valiant effort and filled Wallace Wade for the opener. And the students turned out as well before many scurried away just after a nice fireworks display. Many fans stay until the bitter end to suport their Blue Devils and it's ashamed that Duke couldn't get it done on the field to have made it a memorable evening. It was an opportunity squandered.
Some might think I've been a bit harsh in this recap, but there comes a time when you have to be objective in order to keep credibility. The bottom line is that Duke fans in no way should be okay with losing to Richmond. As they say in the south, "You can talk improvements until the cows come in, but in the end, only wins cure ills." Duke was a better football team than Richmond, yet they found a way to lose. Duke is an ACC school and Richmond is an FCS power, but it's time to beat the Spiders if the team is truly beggining to go in the right direction. Now, what do you do for bad spider bites?
In closing, I still think David Cutcliffe is the best man to get the job at Duke, but it is time to take a look at why they can't win games they are supposed to. The sun always rises the day after but had the Blue Devils pulled out the win, it would seem a whole lot brighter.