Category Archives: Duke Football

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Five Keys to Victory

DSC_0098-002Duke makes the long road trip to Chapel Hill today looking to return home with the Victory Bell in tow, setting up a showdown with the Pitt Panthers next Saturday in Durham. North Carolina is a talented football team so the Blue Devils will need to play their very best in all three phases of the game to achieve the objective.

Skipping over the standard intangibles such as turnovers, in game injuries and bad calls by the officials (yes, I did just go there), how does Thomas Sirk, Jeremy Cash and company come away with the victory?

Here are the five keys to beating the North Carolina Tar Heels today on the road in Chapel Hill:

1. Win the Special Teams Battle
2. Stop Carolina's Run Game
3. Contain Quarterback Marquise Williams
4. Achieve Balance on Offense
5. Success on 3rd Down

Now that they've been listed, let's take a deeper look at the importance of each to the overall results which will unfold on the field this afternoon.

Win the Special Teams Battle

Let's not beat around the bush, Duke has been shaky at best on special teams at critical times this season. Northwestern running the 2nd half kick-off back for a touchdown, Will Monday shanking a punt that led to a Miami touchdown and 14-0 advantage last week, Ryan Smith fumbling a punt which denied Duke a final offensive possession in the loss to Northwestern and Ross Martin missing very makeable field goals the past two games being prime examples of miscues.

North Carolina has an excellent punt returner in Ryan Switzer so Duke's punt game will be especially important today. Duke's DeVon Edwards is one of the best kick return men in the country so Duke will need a strong game from him to provide good starting field position.

Achieving excellence on special teams is a precursor to winning the field position battle to set the team up for success.

Stop Carolina's Run Game

Elijah Hood is an elite running back who is averaging 6.2 yards per carry with eight rushing touchdowns. North Carolina will look to utilize Hood to execute a power running game to set up their passing attack. The Tar Heels have multiple excellent receivers who will exploit one-on-one coverage once the opponent commits an extra man, or two, to stopping Hood.

Duke must stop the Carolina run game without compromising pass defense. The Blue Devils defensive line has been very strong this season so in today's game they will need to bring their best effort and shutdown Hood and the Carolina run game.

Contain Quarterback Marquise Williams

Williams is extremely dangerous when allowed to extend plays. Duke must pressure him and keep him in the pocket forcing him to quickly pass the ball. When Williams scrambles he has the skill sets to hurt the opponent by running for 1st downs or finding receivers who have slipped open due to the extra seconds provided by Williams successfully eluding the pass rush.

Achieve Balance on Offense

Duke is at their best offensively when successfully running and passing the ball. Therefore it is important not to fall behind being forced to play catch-up. A primary objective for the North Carolina defense will be to turn Duke into a one dimensional offense.

Playing with a lead provides the offense with flexibility to mix up the play calling and keep the defense guessing. Duke will look to run and pass the ball to move the chains, while taking the occasional deep shot when down and distance is advantageous.

Quarterback Thomas Sirk has had limited success throwing deep so far this season due to overthrowing open receivers so today would be a great time for his timing to click. Carolina is yielding over 200 yards rushing per game so the opportunity to throw deep off of play action will certainly present itself.

Success on 3rd Down

This must take place on both sides of the ball! On defense, Duke must end possessions and get off the field. On offense, Duke must convert 1st downs to extend possessions and keep Carolina's offense on the sidelines. It sounds simple, but Carolina has the same two objectives. Whichever team is successful gains a significant advantage.

There it is folks, the five keys to Duke winning today's Rivalry Game and bringing the Victory Bell back to Durham.

Five Keys to Victory

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Duke in Refocus Mode for UNC Game

DSC_0125-001There will be no more talk of the officiating debacle which cost Duke a victory over Miami moving forward for the Blue Devils football team.  On Tuesday's media gathering it was clear that the Duke players and David Cutcliffe were in forward thinking mode focusing on the upcoming game with North Carolina.

Cutcliffe was already thinking ahead as any good coach does after the game with Miami.  He hinted less than an hour after the loss that his team would move on by Tuesday and that he hoped the media would respect that.  Cutcliffe knew then that there would be plenty of fall out from the game that ended in embarrassment for the ACC.  And he was already mapping out if not worrying that his players would lose two games instead of one from the result.

A season ago North Carolina had more than their way with the Blue Devils dominating the contest.  Adding insult to injury, some of the Tar Heels players left the Duke locker room with painted evidence.  Damage costs were sent to Chapel Hill where some over zealous celebration types painted the Victory Bell which the teams play for each season.

The rivalry returned as Cutcliffe and staff righted the ship where he has done something the Tar Heels have yet to experience.  That being, he has led Duke to a Coastal Division title.   But as has been said, that momentum was thwarted a season ago when Duke looked flat in the lop sided loss.

Should Duke come out flat this week in Chapel Hill, Cutliffe knows the game could again turn ugly.  North Carolina has the most potent offense that Duke will have faced to date.  Like Duke, they have circled this game on their calendar.  In fact, some of their players took to twitter stating that they were pulling for a Duke win.

What we should have are two ranked teams, each 7-1 going at it for the Coastal Division lead.  What we still have is a game of equal importance.  Duke has to win this game to realize their pre season goal of playing in the ACC Championship game.  And a loss would actually hurl them back into a crowded pack.

So yes, David Cutcliffe knows his team has to move on.  "I'm not looking for any rah-rah stuff, but focus," stated Cutcliffe on Sunday.  In a game where Duke has been tabbed an 8.5 point underdog it will take said focus and a solid effort for dreams to be realized.

Face it, the one way to put the Miami game truly behind them is to win and take care of the business at hand.  Should Duke reclaim the Victory Bell on Saturday, their goals are still in tact.  Quite simply Duke has to put in the work to get anything done.

The interest in the game will provide a standing room crowd only not only for the fans but for media.  Just this morning a warning of overflow media was sent out by the UNC SID Department, meaning that some will be relegated to the photo area.

What this all means is this is a big game.  A really big game.  Both Duke and North Carolina need the win and both programs want the win.   By 4:00 or so on Saturday another team will be feeling the blues.  The only way Duke can prevent that from happening again is let the past be just that.  There is an opportunity at hand and that and that alone should be the focus.

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ACC Suspends Officiating Crew

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Atlantic Coast Conference has announced the suspension of the on-field officiating crew as well as the replay official and communicator following the Miami at Duke game on Saturday, October 31.

The announcement follows the league’s weekly review of game footage, as well as reports and interviews with officials and administrators.

The series of errors during the final play of the game will result in the suspension of the entire crew for two ACC games.

The errors that occurred during the last play of the game are:

  • The replay official erred in not overturning the ruling on the field that the Miami player had released the ball prior to his knee being down. If called, this would have ended the game.
  • The on-field officials erred by failing to penalize Miami for an illegal block in the back at the Miami 16-yard line. If called, the ball would have been placed at the Miami 8-yard line and the game would have been extended for an untimed down.
  • A block in the back foul was called at the Duke 26-yard line. After the officials conferred, which is appropriate, they correctly determined that the block was from the side, which resulted in the flag being picked up. The replay official was not involved in the decision to pick up the flag; however, the referee did not effectively manage communication and properly explain why the flag was picked up.
  • In addition, the on-field crew failed to penalize a Miami player for leaving the bench area and entering the field prior to the end of the play. This foul would not have negated the touchdown because it would have been enforced as a dead ball foul.

“The quality of our officiating program is of the highest importance to the league and its schools, and the last play of the game was not handled appropriately,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. “Officiating is an extraordinarily difficult job but our players, coaches, programs and fans deserve the best that can be offered. We will continue to strive to meet that standard.”

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Trying to make sense of Duke vs Miami

untitledIt should be no surprise that social media and much of the nation exploded with emotion after last evenings controversial Miami win over Duke.  In what was perhaps the most bizarre play in recent memory, the Hurricanes used seven laterals and 40 plus seconds to find their way into the end zone.  There is much to be discussed, so let's take a look back and ahead -

Replays show some missed calls ...

If one is to look at the replay of the play which will live in history, they will clearly see two blocks in the back, a downed knee on a tackle and a player entering the field of play before the final touchdown.  It's mind-boggling that we see this many errors on a single play which was important in many ways for Duke who is competing for the Coastal Division crown.  To make matters worse, the officials gathered for what seemed like an eternity.  Once they were set to announce their decision, they balked again only after the explanation had started.  They finally made the announcement to a stunned Wallace Wade Stadium.  And that's when everything started.  Social media was ablaze with rife.

Objective observers were befuddled ...

It didn't take long for many in the media room at Wallace Wade to see multiple missed calls which in their view should have ended the game with a Duke win.  We are not talking homer-media here but those who cover varying teams on the ACC football circuit.  Even celebrity Dean Cain, of Superman fame, tweeted Duke got robbed.  And then the less objective, Rob Lowe, whose son attends Duke chimed in.  The bottom line is that almost everyone in attendance realized that this was to be a black eye on ACC officiating.

Answers have yet to come

A bewildered David Cutliffe told the media that no explanation was given to him and that the officials all quickly left the field after the announcement.  He mentioned the flag on the field and how it was there for a long time.  Oddly, it would seem that the ACC decided to pick up the flag, actually saying that they reviewed one block in the back and changed the call.  The problem with that is it is not customary for this to happen.  "The ACC has some explaining to do to Duke and to others,"  said Mike Pereira, Former NFL Vice President of officiating.  He continued, "So the crew used replay to pick up the flag. The block, btw, was legal. But, the block at the 15 back up field was a flagrant block in the back. Shortly thereafter Pereira added, "Replay does have a rule that says replay can correct egregious errors excluding fouls that are not reviewable. Blocks in the back are not.  More importantly, they used replay to decide to pick up the flag for the block at the 25. Replay is not allowed to review a call for that."

untitledA picture speaks volumes ...

Not only were there replays showing several missed calls on the controversial play to win the game, there were stills.  Multiple pictures are starting to appear, and the one to the right is perhaps one of the best examples of a tackle being made.  Oddly, the ESPN replay shows an official on top of this play but there was no whistle.  I mean, a play that takes 46 seconds to happen with a team that had been racking up penalties like they were candy on Halloween is a bit concerning.  The reason being that the chances of there not being infractions on such a long developing play are not favored by the odds.  With six seconds on the clock, ESPN had the probability of a win at less than one percent on a later graph which appeared on the site.

Black magic?

Only magicians should be able to make two blocks in the back, a knee down, a flag on the field andthe 12th man, entering the field of play and a Duke win disappear.  Look!  It wasn't a conspiracy, but just missed calls.  But those calls have folks talking of the snafu instead of the upcoming Duke at UNC game.  A Duke win may well have brought ESPN Game Day to Chapel Hill where both teams would be  ranked and with gaudy 7-1 records.  Even UNC standout Ryan Switzer tweeted that he wanted to see Duke pull this game out.  One would think the ACC would have liked a scenario where Duke had earned the win.

ESPN click bait

ESPN was pushing the replay on social media and hard, saying the play was an instant classic.  However, their announcers on Sports Center on three separate shows said that the officiating was a mess and cost Duke the win.  Cutliffe and Duke in no way want to see this play earn as ESPY award n that it was a tainted play.  Instead of people talking about a Duke win, we have folks trying to justify this as one of the greatest plays in history.  It would have been, had it been clean and an asterisk should be present when accompanying the replay which will live on.

Cutcliffe and Duke seek answers

The Duke coach had to ward off emotion during last evenings post game press conference.   He had no answers for his team in that nobody gave him any.  Duke had played their hearts out to get back in a game where they had dug themselves a hole.  It is also fair to say that Miami played very well, save their penalties and put themselves in position to win.  Duke could have played better but it still appeared as if they righted the ship and played well enough to have deserved the win.  I cannot even begin to provide all the words which objective media used to describe the officiating on that last play which was being openly discussed.  And we could not print what Cutcliffe was likely saying to himself as he tried not to go too far with his comments out of respect to the league and their rules on such things.

We are bound the hear more ...

We are bound to hear more on the from the ACC in time.  It was just way to controversial the way this game ended with flags picked u in decision by the crew, etc.  It is a potential black eye and brings to earlier calls in other games which came to the forefront as asides in so many folks bewilderment.  This call cost a team a win and that's a big deal and  story bigger than just Duke vs Miami.

Duke will move on in time

In his opening statement Cutliffe said he knew the media wanted answers and said he would talk about it today on his call in show.  But he also said that by the Tuesday media gathering at Duke, he wanted to move forward.  "They're smart kids and will move on," said Cutcliffe.

The game vs UNC is still a big one

Duke controls its destiny to a certain degree.  The game at UNC which kicks off  noon is still a big match up.  Perhaps, Duke will be even more focused or pumped up after the controversial loss.  While it is possible the call could be reversed in some way, it almost assuredly will not.  There is one choice in the situation, that being one must move on.

Some silver linings exist ...

It's hard to see positives at this time for Duke and their fan base, but social media brought many together.  Fans came out of the woodwork and were up in arms showing togetherness, laced with outrage but more importantly support. Duke Football needed that in some ways and the hope is that fan interest continues to grow.

Breaking News

The ACC has suspended the members of the on-field officiating crew and the replay officials involved in last nights game,  “The quality of our officiating program is of the highest importance to the league and its schools, and the last play of the game was not handled appropriately,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in the statement just released. “Officiating is an extraordinarily difficult job but our players, coaches, programs and fans deserve the best that can be offered. We will continue to strive to meet that standard.”

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Game Day Preview – Miami at Duke

_DSC7299-001The Duke Blue Devils will look to keep pace in the heated Coastal Division race when they face Miami.  The game will kick off shortly after 7:00 and be televised by ESPNU.

Who knows what to expect ...

Sure, Miami is coming off their worst defeat in program history and yes they fired their head coach shortly thereafter.  Firstly, Clemson is pretty darn good and can make anybody look bad.  The next intangible to point to is the fact that sometimes teams circle the wagons under adversity and play their best.  One loss does not make the Hurricanes a bad team.  Miami is still 4-3 on the season and well entrenched for a bowl bid with two more wins.  Last week, everything went wrong that could go wrongs, but that rarely happens two weeks in a row.  One only has to look right down the road in the NFL, where the Dolphins came out and played well with a coaching team, save last night against the New England Patriots.  More often than not teams have a new found focus and desire when coaches change, so this is something to keep an eye on come Saturday.

Will Brad Kayya play?

A season ago, Miami quarterback Brad Kayya was a chief reason the Hurricanes pulled away from Duke.  He is listed as questionable.  According to the Miami Herald, he may not make the trip to Durham but we'll see.  The Hurricanes will be wearing their all white uniforms against Duke.

Enter Larry Scott

Larry Scott will take over for the departed Al Golden.  “We love coach Scott,” said Miami safety Dallas Crawford. “We’ve always respected him. We’ll do anything for him. He keeps it real. He’s 100. He’ll praise you when you need to be praised and he’ll tell you about yourself when you need to pick it up.”  Scott decided to keep the current Miami staff in place.

Duke must take care of Duke

Coach David Cutliffe and his players do a good job of taking their opponents one game at a time.  Duke will not get caught up in the Miami situation and having played them year in and out, the team knows they possess talent.  Duke must take care of Duke and what they do to have success in this game.  The program will be featured in prime time and it is pretty much a must win game to remain in the Coastal Division race.  Quite simply, the team cannot get caught looking ahead to a game with their arch rival.

Sirk will seek more growth

Thomas Sirk grew up a in the Blue Devils overtime win over Virginia Tech. Sirk led his team to an overtime win and he will look to build on that this week.  Duke must protect Brooks Field for continued success and they will tray and do so on Halloween Night.  While Duke will seek to run the ball often, Sirk's passing may well be the key to a win.

Defense must limit big plays

The Duke defense will perhaps be facing an offense with more speed than any other opponent to date,  The key for the defenders will be to limit explosive plays and not get caught in over pursuit with their aggressive defensive schemes.  Jeremy Cash has been the leader and most feel he will be the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year.  But he's had plenty of help this season and the continued growth into roles of younger Blue Devils remains vital for success.

Miami will win if ...

Miami will win if they are pumped out of their minds with program pride where they seek to show a change is good.  If they make explosive plays it will bode well for them.

Duke will win if ...

They control the line of scrimmage and make no special teams mistakes while having a balanced offensive attack.

Who will win ...

This is a new era where Duke has become a perennial Coastal Division leader.  Coach David Cutliffe and his team have just two more games in Wallace Wade Stadium and they will look to the crowd to lift them on Halloween eve.  Miami is plenty dangerous, but Duke will be ready.  Duke 31  Miami 17

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Blue Devils Must Remain Resilient

DSC_0098-002There is a lot of buzz surrounding the Duke Football program after their four overtime victory over Virginia Tech this past Saturday.  Some are pointing to missed opportunities in the passing and kicking game where balls were overthrown and kicks were off the mark that would have sealed a win in regulation.   But the team showed one thing which is important to  championship runs, that being resilience against adversity.

Yes, there were opportunities for Duke to build on a lead with a connected deep pass or two or win the game on the foot of Ross Martin.  But the Blue Devils were able to chalk that up as a learning experience in the film room while still remaining in a hotly contested race for the Coastal Division with Pitt and North Carolina by never giving up.

This was the first ever four overtime affair in ACC Football since the rules were changed and Duke showed a never quit ability that could serve them well moving into the meat of their schedule.  A lot of teams fold under the pressure, but not Duke.

Thomas Sirk had missed on a couple of wide open deep  wide  outs earlier, but he showed the ability to shake it off and move forward.  By doing  so, he grew as a player and leader and his overtime exploits helped Duke pull out a stressful and emotional victory.

Duke fans will not soon forget Sirk barreling into the end zone on a two point conversion.  Sirk had just completed a touchdown pass on the first play of the Blue Devils fourth possession.  Then he took the ball out wide to spread the Hokies defense only to then will his way into over the goal line with q determined run.  As for Ross Martin, he shook off two missed field goals to make them when they counted keeping Duke in a tense battle.

The victory came against a Virginia Tech team playing for program pride.  After some sluggish moments, the Hokies turned a long third down conversion into major momentum.  They became physical to the point of being hard to stop and the Duke defense had to reach deep under the leadership of Jeremy Cash to make a late stop in overtime.

The bottom line is Duke got the Hokies very best shot and they survived it in front of a raucous Blacksburg crowd which tried to will their team to a win.  While Virginia Tech has struggled a bit this season, they still have a lot of talented players and are the same program that beat the currently number one ranked Ohio State team a year ago.  On a given day, they can compete and beat anyone, so don't think this wasn't a big win for the Blue Devils and David Cutcliffe.

The win vaulted the Blue Devils to the #18 position in the Coaches Poll, ahead of some of college football's royalty programs.  And the win served notice that Duke Football is to be reckoned with and losing seasons are a thing of the past.

The Blue Devils are now bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season under David Cutcliffe and his staff.  They are winning on and off the field with character and a family togetherness few others can emulate.  They are vying to break more and more records where they have turned the corner with rebuilding efforts to have a system in place which is attracting better and better prospects on the recruiting trail.

There are changes a plenty still happening.  While not complete, stadium renovations have been a success.  Duke is providing a better game day experience and learning to refine things as time goes on.

The Blue Devils have just two home games left on their schedule this season.  And the team deserves a solid turn out for the Miami game this week.  Oddly, some have complained about the 7:00 kickoff on Halloween evening.  But folks, that time slot is what teams play for in that it is prime time where more of the nation has eyes are on the game.

The Blue Devils have earned their shot at a Coastal Division title but there are some major hurdles ahead.  A novice fan may only see that Miami fired Al Golden after the worst loss in program history to #3 ranked Clemson as being an advantage.  But one only has to look down the road in the NFL to see how a coaching change can fire a talented team up in the Miami Dolphins.

The Hurricanes, like the Hokies this past weekend will be playing for program pride.  And Miami is certainly still in the bowl talk with a 4-3 mark.  You will see an all out effort from Miami and they will not play as they did a week ago.

This means Duke Football will face another challenge.  It will be a tough game and it will require Duke to take another step in learning how to protect their home field and take a teams best shot.

It should be a fun night where some fans are sure to dress up for Halloween,. What will make the evening ghoulish like more fun is if the crowd can help push the Blue Devils to a 7-1 mark by evenings end.  It will take a win to remain atop the competitive Coastal Division and Coach Cut hopes for more resilience where his team takes the challenge head on.