Monday, September 24, 2012

Rewind: Duke vs. Memphis

Think about it: Duke gave the ball away four times and still won. Five years ago, that would have been unimaginable. But yesterday, despite Duke, as Brandon Connette put it, "shooting itself in the foot" the entire first half and on the opening drive of the second half, the Blue Devils ended up with a 38-14 win over Memphis.

The Blue Devils were happy after the game. Head coach David Cutcliffe attributed this to the fact that the team got better as the game went on, and not so much because Duke is 3-1 for the first time since 2008 (and, before that 1994).

Here's a look back:

The epigraph:

"Duke thoroughly dominated us - their defense versus our offense, it's pretty evident. It's just hard to win when you get handled like that on one side of the ball." --Memphis head coach Justin Fuente

What we learned:

Duke is not a fire-and-brimstone bunch

Did we know this already? If so, Saturday's events just confirm that fact. Let's review what happened in the first half:

*On Duke's opening drive Josh Snead, for the first time in his career, fumbled in the red zone, negating a successful fake punt and another fourth-down conversion after Memphis jumped offsides

*After the defense limited the Tigers' first drive to 14 yards, Lee Butler muffed a punt, giving Memphis the ball right back at the Duke 23-yard line

*When Butler avoided the next Memphis punt, the ball was downed at the 3-yard line, and Sean Renfree promptly threw an interception to Memphis's Wynton McManis, who easily scored

*Special teams gave up a 95-yard kickoff return to Bobby McCain, who, by the way, was caught from behind by Issac Blakeney. This was my featured matchup in the game preview. Just saying.

*The running game started off with two yards after nine carries. Take out the 58-yard run by Jela Duncan, and the rushing game had netted four yards on 11 carries.

*The score at halftime was 17-14 Duke. The Blue Devils were favored by 23.5 points.

So, what happened at halftime? Here's three different takes:

DE Kenny Anunike: "We went into the locker room and we all knew what to do. We went in there and there wasn't too much hootin' and hollerin'. We knew that we had to come out and show them that this is our house."

WR Conner Vernon: "He (Cutcliffe) was basically like, 'just go out there and work, execute and have fun. Let the game come to you."

Cutcliffe: "I wasn't just chewing people at halftime. I just pointed out some things. I called myself out in the process of doing that. I didn't have to say a whole lot."

So, there doesn't appear to have been a "check your manhood," Larry Fedora-type speech in the locker room. Apparently, Duke didn't need one to spark the turnaround. Every team is different.

Duke may have found an answer for the running game

And his name is Jela Duncan. The true freshman came into the game in the second quarter (his first apperance in the first half this year) and instantly took a pitch on a left sweep 58 yards. He also caught an "ill-advised" (Cutcliffe's words) swing pass that was thrown behind him on third-and-5 and took it 14 yards for on the first drive of the third quarter.

"We've got to try and get the running game started so we can feed off the passing game," Duncan said. "Coach stressed that we have to get the ball downhill, keep on running it outside whenever we could. We just tried to establish the run."

Duncan finished with nine carries for 88 yards. That's the most productive night for a freshman running back since Desmond Scott rushed for 100 against NC Central in 2008.

Brandon Connette is still the preferred red zone option

Before Connette switched positions, most of his action as backup quarterback came in the red zone, when he would replace Renfree under center. Now that Connette can line up at WR, TE or RB, Renfree stays in the game, but most of the snaps still go to Connette in a wildcat formation.

Duke took 18 snaps in the red zone. Connette received seven of those, rushing six times and throwing once (he also caught a touchdown pass from Renfree). A running back received seven of the remaining snaps, and, when you subtract out the fumble that wasn't given to any one player, that left three red zone snaps for Renfree. He completed all three passes, and two resulted in touchdowns.

Just a hunch, but I bet there's not another team in a traditional passing offense that has a starting quarterback who only took three of 18 red zone snaps.

By the numbers

1 missed third-down conversion for Duke in the second half (8-of-9). The Blue Devils were 1-of-17 in the previous three halves

6 more catches needed by Conner Vernon to set a new ACC career-high for receptions

12 sacks for the defense in four games

17 sacks for the 2011 defense in 12 games

151 points for the offense so far this season. That's the third-highest mark in Duke history (behind the Duke teams in 1945 (162) and 1943 (156))

Quick slants

Thumbs up: The defense held Memphis to zero passing yards in the second quarter. The 152 total offensive yards by the Tigers was the lowest for a Duke opponent in the Cutcliffe era. It was also the fourth time in the past five years Duke has held an opponent to under 200 yards of total offense  (170 yards, Maryland 2010; 196 yards, Virginia 2009; 181 yards, NC Central 2009)

Thumbs down: Four turnovers won't cut it against Wake Forest next week, which is for all intensive purposes Duke's Super Bowl. Beat the Deacs, bowl hopes stay alive. Lose, and their all-but mathematically gone.

Game Ball

QB Sean Renfree

Duncan is tempting, but Renfree drew higher praise than normal from Cutcliffe after the game.

"19 [Renfree] played with a little edge that we want to see," Cutcliffe said. How about him with a run at a critical time for a conversion (25 yards on third-and-11in the fourth quarter) and a big play on a drive we needed to score a touchdown. He can do those things and I liked the edge. I liked it a lot."

Renfree finished 26-of-37 for 314 yards and four touchdowns (against one interception). The four scores tie a career-high.

The epilogue

"It just goes to show the depth and talent on this team and the will to fight. Nobody was ready to back down or lay down. Nobody's head was hanging in the locker room. We knew how good we were." --Vernon

-- Laura Keeley


Anonymous said...

PLEASE beat Wake. Sick of losing to them by 1 point every year...

become a bookmaker said...

I think that Memphis has a much better team than Duke and I am not a Memphis supporter as you may think, I am just being honest