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FanTake: Duke Football Making Gains on the Ground and in the Standings

David CutcliffeDuke was considered one of the worst programs in the FBS division of college football during the 2007 season. The offense was horrible, the defense was even worse, and the coach at the time (Ted Roof) struggled to turn the Blue Devils into ACC contenders. Following a dismal 1-11 season, Roof was fired and in his place came David Cutcliffe – a man with big dreams for a program that hadn’t achieved success in quite some time (Duke won just 6 games under Roof in 4 seasons). Fast-forward to 2014, and the Blue Devils are finally getting the respect that they have so long desired.

Following a dream year in 2013, in which the team finished the regular season at 10-2 and made appearances in both the ACC Championship game and the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, GA, Duke is off to a relatively fast start in 2014 (current record of 4-1). Although they were rarely tested in their first 4 games, the Blue Devils were unable to pull out a win against their first difficult opponent, Miami. The inability to run the football was one of the major factors in the loss, but that got me thinking – the rushing game has certainly made strides under Cutcliffe, even in a losing performance.

During the years that the Blue Devils were looked down upon as one of the worst programs in the country, one area on the field, in particular, seemed to be considered their strong suit – the passing game (regardless of their opponent, Duke quarterbacks would put up massive numbers). Those stats didn’t matter, however, as opponents would lock down on the quarterbacks in the second half and leave the offense with no other option but to force the ball downfield – leading to costly errors.

With Cutcliffe at the helm, Duke’s offense has undergone a much-needed facelift. As faster and more athletic running backs have been recruited during the past few seasons, the Blue Devils have now incorporated a rushing attack that can rival any in the ACC. By running the ball more often and effectively, Duke’s quarterbacks (particularly Anthony Boone) are given more time in the pocket to look for wide receivers and set-up big plays through the air.

To put the Blue Devil’s improved running game into perspective, during the 2007 season (the last in which Roof served as head coach) the highest rushing output that the team had on the year was 145 yards. On September 13 of this season, freshman Shaun Wilson alone had 245 rushing yards – the team finished with an astounding 331 yards on the ground. Duke is actually ranked as the 25th best rushing team in the nation in 2014, averaging nearly 226 rushing yards per game.

Saying that the Blue Devil running backs have made gains over the past few seasons is an understatement – the coaching staff, under Cutcliffe, has redefined the offense as a dual-threat machine. Now, when opponents compile their scouting reports, they must take into account a balanced Duke offensive attack – causing headaches for opposing teams and leading the Blue Devils on a charge towards the top of the ACC standings.