Duke falls to UNC in season finale 37-21

CHAPLE HILL - The Duke Blue Devils fell to arch rival North Carolina and in the process ended the season with a disappointing 3-9 record.  The Blue Devils made key mistakes when they were in scoring position and the season long bugaboo, letting up big plays, once again doomed their hopes of pulling an upset.

In fairness, the Blue Devils limped into the game having sustained a myriad of injuries to key players.  The Tar Heels also knocked Sean Renfree out of the game and Conner Vernon returned after his injury but was never the same after a high ankle sprain.  On the other side of the ball, Giovani Bernard ran shredded the Duke defense with 165 yards rushing, including a 48 yard scamper right up the gut for a touchdown to give the Tar Heels a 20-7 lead.

Duke would cut the margin to 6 before half time with Renfree connecting with Jamison Crowder for a 45 yard score.  As mentioned, Renfree injured his hand early int he first half and Anthony Boone came off the bench to give Duke a spark of hope, leading his team to 11 play 75 yard drive and cutting the lead to 23-21.

North Carolina wasted little time answering with a 11 play 75 yard drive of their own giving them  30-21 lead and they never looked back.  The Tar Heels then went on a another long drive for a score making the final margin 37-31.  The Tar Heels ended their season at 7-5 with the victory.

It was the final game for a few key seniors on the Blue Devils squad, including likely All ACC 1st team Matt Daniels.  Other seniors that will be missed next season include Donovan Varner, Cooper Helfet and Charlie Hatcher.  Daniels had an amazing 18 tackles in the game, a career high and Duke will be hard pressed to replace that kind of production, but almost the entire team beyond these young men return next season.

After the game Duke Coach David Cutcliffe was clearly disappointed and vowed to hit the road running in recruiting and said that he challenged his team to make the plays necessary in the coming season to win the close ball games.  Duke could have been in a bowl game had they closed on a few close games this season but a they say, so close, yet so far away.

The Blue Devils will need to work hard in the off season and get bigger across the fronts to turn the corner but it's a challenge Cutcliffe seems to want to take on.  Only time will tell if Duke will be better next year but with the returning cast of players and redshirt freshman ready to play, there is reason for optimism.  But then again, there was reason for that this season as well.

We'll recap the season in the coming week and take a look ahead, so check back in with BDN.

Duke at UNC Game Notes – GTHC!

Stadium: Kenan Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Capacity: 60,000
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network; Sirius XM Radio (Channels 94 & 193)
TV: RSN - Rich Waltz (Play-by-play), Keith Jones (Analyst) and Jenn Hildreth (Sideline)
Internet: GoDuke.com; theACC.com
Tickets: 1-877-375-DUKE
Series: North Carolina leads, 57-36-4
Last Time: North Carolina amassed 519 yards of total offense and held off a late Duke rally to post a 24-19 win over the Blue Devils in Durham. QBs T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree threw for 264 and 242 yards, respectively.

Duke Closes 2011 at North Carolina
• The Blue Devils will close out the 2011 schedule this week by travelling to face rival North Carolina.
• Duke is 3-8 overall and 1-6 in ACC play following its 38-31 loss to Georgia Tech last week. The Tar Heels stand at 6-5 overall and 2-5 in league play after losing to Virginia Tech, 24-21, last Thursday.
• Saturday’s game will mark the 98th on the gridiron between the two schools, with North Carolina holding a 57-36-4 all-time series advantage.
• The Tar Heels have won seven straight and 20 of the past 21 meetings including last year’s 24-19 decision in Durham.

Victory Bell
• The battle for the Victory Bell began in 1948 with North Carolina earning possession with a 20-0 win in Chapel Hill. Duke head cheerleader Loring Jones and North Carolina head cheerleader Norman Spear decided on the idea of the Victory Bell.
• Jones designed the model while Spear obtained a bell from an old railroad train. Red Lewis, Duke’s business manager for athletics, agreed to find money in the budget to pay for the bell.

Record Book Watch
• With one and four pass receptions respectively, WRs Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon will become just the sixth and seventh players in ACC history with 200 career catches. The current group includes Clemson’s Aaron Kelly (232), Wake Forest’s Desmond Clark (216), Virginia’s Billy McMullen (210), Florida State’s Peter Warrick (207) and N.C. State’s Jerricho Cotchery (200).
• With 53 catches in 2011, Varner is seven receptions away from becoming the first player in ACC history to post three seasons with 60+ grabs. He is one of 13 players in league history with two campaigns with 60+ catches, a list that includes teammate Vernon.
• With 68 catches on the year, Vernon is six grabs shy of the Duke single-season record of 74 set by Wes Chesson in 1970. Vernon fell one reception short of the standard last season with 73 catches.
• With a nine-reception outing last week versus Georgia Tech, Vernon matched the school’s single-season record for most games with 5+ catches with nine. Vernon, who also had nine games with five of more catches last year, shares the standard with Chesson (1970) and Roger Boone (1987).
• With 2,738 passing yards this season, QB Sean Renfree is 262 yards shy of reaching 3,000 for the season. Renfree topped the 3,000-yard barrier last year (3,131) to join Ben Bennett (1982-83), Anthony Dilweg (1988) and Thaddeus Lewis (2009) as Blue Devils to accomplish the feat at least once.
• Having completed 65.0 percent (269-of-414) of his pass attempts through 11 games, Renfree is on pace to break the school’s single-season record for pass completion percentage, a mark currently held by Bennett (.640 [300-of-469] in 1983).
• With 14 pass breakups this fall, S Matt Daniels is one PBU shy of matching the Duke single-season record of 15 set by Erwin Sampson in 1989.
• Duke has 19 rushing touchdowns through 11 games this season — matching last year’s total for the most since 1994 (21). Sophomore RB Juwan Thompson has seven rushing scores — the highest total by a Duke running back since 2005 when Justin Boyle scored nine times on the ground.

BDN College Football Picks – The Final Week!

Well, we took one on the collective chin last week as it was upset city in the top 25. With rivalry week upon us, anything can happen and the coveted BDN inaugural pick'em championship is still up for grabs.

1. Andrew
2. Bob -1
3. Patrick -3
T-4. Mark -6
T-4. Guest -6

With the Victory Bell at stake this week, we welcome in former Duke lineman Brandon Harper, who knows what it's like to face the Tar Heel pass rush. Thanks for joining us, Brandon!

Mark - A handful of seniors will play their last game for Duke as they travel to North Carolina to take on the Tar Heels. If Duke were healthy, I think they could pull off a win but the team is battered at this time. Still, I expect Duke to play with a lot of heart and give the home team all they want only to come up just short in the end. UNC 28, Duke 24

Bob - Duke can salvage a disappointing season by knocking off Carolina and returning to Durham with the Victory Bell. This game like all games will be decided by which team controls the line of scrimmage, wins the turnover battle and executes without making mistakes. Duke must achieve balance on offense by successfully running the ball and I'm still waiting for the special teams to make a huge play such as a blocked punt or return for a touchdown. Tomorrow would be a great time for something special to happen.
Duke 28, UNC 26

Patrick - The Blue Devils are desperate for a win to build momentum for the program into 2012. Duke's seniors led a strong effort a week ago against Georgia Tech, and they'll have one last chance to ring the Victory Bell on Saturday. It's Duke vs. North Carolina and anything can happen, but I think Matt Daniels and Donovan Varner will find a way to win this game against their rivals. Duke 28, UNC 27

Andrew - Although Coach Cutcliffe has brought a level of respectability and stability to the Blue Devils, Duke is looking to end the extensive losing streak to arch rival, North Carolina. The last two weeks have brought promise in frustratingly close games to quality opponents. If they can accomplish the and defeat the ethically challenged Tar heels, it would generate momentum for next year's squad and show a clear sign of progress for in-state recruiting. Unfortunately, a chance to ring the victory bell is likely at least a year away. UNC 31, Duke 21(unfortunately)

Brandon - Rivalry Week, lots of emotions will be left on the field this week. For the Blue Devils to achieve their desired outcome they must come together and play their most consistent game of this half of the season. History tells us this is always a close game; this year will be no different. With both teams ability to rally in the second half, it will be interesting to see how this one turns out. I think the Defense will continue to feed off senior safety Matt Daniels and give the Carolina offense some trouble. If QB Sean Renfree and the Duke offense can start where they left off last weekend against Georgia Tech, the high powered offense could potentially lead them to a win. I see Duke coming out playing with their backs to the wall, feeding off adrenaline from rivalry of this game and the seniors especially Senior Offensive lineman Kyle Hill who's season ended early, Duke takes this one and rings the bell Duke 31, UNC 28

Thanks to all who followed along with us this season, and a big thanks to all who participated. Please send your feedback for our inaugural college football pick'em to patrick@bluedevilnation.net. Happy Thanksgiving!