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Observations from Duke’s Loss to Virginia Tech

Credit:Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech is one that left Duke fans scratching their heads.  Every possible mistake that could be made was made by the Blue Devils.  Fumbles, interceptions, penalties, missed field goals, all of those mistakes added up to a one point loss for the Blue Devils.  The cold November day served as a a bit of a wake up call for a Duke team that was riding high after an 8-1 start and, until Saturday, were in firm control of the Coastal Division.  After a dominant first quarter the Blue Devil offense completely fell apart.  The Duke defense did all they could, but the offense and special teams simply could not get it done.

Key Observations:

Before looking at what went wrong for Duke, the defense deserves a ton of credit.  Once again the Blue Devils were stout on the defensive side of the ball.  Duke held the Hokies to just 2-15 on third down and 0-2 on fourth down.  They limited Virginia Tech to just 148 passing yards and just 3.0 yards per carry on the ground.  The defensive line played their best game of the season, making a habit of getting into the backfield for tackles for a loss and a few sacks, as well.  Jeremy Cash had another great all around game and Breon Borders made another highlight worthy interception.  The Blue Devil offense and special teams lost three turnovers and the Duke defense held strong and still only allowed 17 points.

Over the past couple seasons Duke has been defined by their mistake free football and having a knack for making big plays when they needed them the most.  It was like a different Duke team showed up to play Virginia Tech.  Anthony Boone has been criticized for plenty of throws this season, but the fact is he was playing mistake free football for the most part.  Against Virginia Tech Boone was not even close to the level he needs to be for Duke.  Boone was an appalling 18-40 for just 181 yards and 2 interceptions.  The first was a well under thrown ball on a wheel route that wasn’t even close to open that cost the Blue Devils points.  Boone did well enough in the running game, as he has all season, but when Duke needed him to make things happen in the passing game and find a rhythm, he couldn’t do it.  It wasn’t all his fault.  There were drops and some questionable play calling, but the quarterback bears a lot of the responsibility for the offense and Saturday was not a memorable day for Boone.

Ross Martin has been one of the best kickers in college football.  With a chance to give Duke the lead late in the fourth quarter, Martin missed the kind of kick we have grown to expect him to make.  Martin went 3-5 on the day, scoring points when Duke needed them to stay afloat, but the potential game winning miss is what will be remembered from this game.  It was very uncharacteristic for Martin, and not something I expect to be an issue going forward.  Duke has one of the best special teams units in the country.  From a field position perspective they continued to their strong play, but the misses by Martin and the fumbled kickoff by DeVon Edwards proved too much for the team to handle on Saturday.

The Duke running game has been the cause for plenty of excitement this season.  With a stable of backs showcasing a wide array of abilities, the Duke offense has plenty of options in the backfield.  It appeared that Duke came out with a gameplan of pounding away at the Virginia Tech front and controlling the ball.  The first quarter backed that up.  Duke racked up 121 rushing yards in just the first quarter.  But something changed after that.  Duke managed just 20 rushing yards the rest of the game.  Despite being in a close game for the remaining three quarters, Duke elected to throw the ball 40 times instead on leaning on their strength.  Certainly the Hokies made adjustments after the first quarter and did a great job stacking the box and forcing Boone to throw, something he could not do consistently on Saturday.  It just seems that after so much ineptitude through the air, Duke would have at least tried to get more on the ground.

Additional News and Notes:

Duke will have to win their last two games against UNC and Wake Forest to repeat as Coastal Division Champions.  Georgia Tech is done with conference play and sits at 6-2.  Duke owns the head to head tiebreaker over the Yellow Jackets.

The loss snapped an 8 game home winning streak.  Duke had not lost at Wallace Wade Stadium since 9/21/2013 against Pitt.

Saturday was the first time that Duke has held an opponent to under 20 points and lost since 10/29/2011, against Virginia Tech