Duke suffered another frustrating loss to a beatable opponent yesterday. The penalties and turnovers continued, and while the offensive line play was better, it still wasnt consistent enough. For the second straight game special teams play was as bad as it could be and the players and coaches couldn’t come up with any answers to right the ship.
There’s always going to be some growing pains with a freshman quarterback, and Daniel Jones is dealing with some of those. Jones has shown a ton of potential. He can make all the throws and, for the most part, is making pretty good decisions. But Jones had 2 turnovers in Saturday’s loss giving Duke 10 turnovers in just 3 games this season. Jones was intercepted in the first half on a pass across the middle. It was his fumble in the early part of the third quarter and ended a really nice drive that swung the game in the Wildcats favor. The Blue Devils were never able to recover. The offense was out of synch for the rest of the game. The mental toughness required to prevent and overcome these kinds of mistakes has been a trait of recent Duke teams, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this year. The youth and inexperience has really shown early in the season.
Specials teams play has been a highlight for Duke recently also, but so far in 2016 it’s been a black eye for the team. Freshman punter Austin Parker fumbled a snap on a punt attempt for the second time this season. Both fumbles have been recovered by the opposing team. Freshman kicker AJ Reed missed another field goal attempt, making him 0 for 3 this season and missed an extra point attempt late in the game. So much of kicking is mental and it appears Reed’s confidence has been completely shattered. Some of the blame for the kicking struggles can be placed on the coaching staff. Their decision to not recruit a kicker or punter until the class of 2016 was a bold move. Ross Martin and Will Monday were the exception not the rule and its impossible to expect Reed and Parker would be able to come in as true freshmen and pick up where they left off.
We are only 3 games into the season, but any hopes of Duke playing in a bowl game for the fifth straight season are practically gone. That’s not to say everything is lost. There are some very talented players on this Duke roster. The experience the young guys are gaining this year will pay dividends in the future. The defensive line and done a much better job and generating pressure and there are some real receiving threats, and a good QB taking snaps. This season will be a long one it seems, but there are brighter days ahead.