One less game, but perhaps one more step towards a grim repeat of last year’s tragedy.
However, there is no need to panic just yet as a bright future for this Duke football season is still within reach. Although it will require breaking out of this darkness permeated with turnovers, lackluster defense and lack of initiative, and leaning into the running game.
Last week’s loss to Charlotte was best summed up as big plays and big mistakes. Head coach David Cutcliffe admitted it, putting it better in his pre-game interview – “six games defensively gave up 218 yards. He addressed their wasted opportunities both offensively and defensively, which will need to be seized for a win on their home debut at Wallace Wade Stadium at 8pm Friday night.
On paper, it may seem like tackling wasn’t too much of a concern against Charlotte as Duke finished with 41, comparable to Charlotte’s 48. However, watching the game it became clear that this is, without a doubt, an issue that needs to be addressed. cleaned up. There have been far too many instances of Blue Devil players slipping through running backs attempting tackles, leading to big plays.
The first came minutes after the start of the game (just under the nine-minute mark) when Charlotte gave a play pass to wide receiver Grant DuBose who not only caught him but slipped by two Duke side defenders for a touchdown and a fast forward. Another missed tackle came in the fourth quarter with four and a half minutes to go, when a Charlotte receiver caught a pass to Duke’s 30-yard line with a defender right next to him, but he then lost the tackle of the Blue Devil and another shortly after to gain 15 additional meters.
A few plays later, the same receiver started again and propelled three Duke tackles for a touchdown that gave them back the lead. Then finally, most critical of all, in the third and third with 40 seconds left, two Duke defenders missed tackles to give up a touchdown that sealed the game.
Time and time again, the Blue Devils have had the chance to impose their will and get back into the game, but they regained momentum with a missed tackle. This wasn’t just a problem in the high school, as the passer had plenty of opportunities to take control of the game as well by sacking quarterback Chris Reynolds, although he continually escaped and made big plays.
The same cannot happen against North Carolina A&T who are just as hungry as Charlotte had just lost her first game. Cutcliffe emphasized that during his interview, saying, “So that’s a key part right now for our team is being able to reach a quarterback and take him down.” Aggie’s quarterback is even bigger and stronger, so the Duke forward will have to work even harder to improve from the single sack they had in the last game.
Keep the offense off the field
There are two ways to keep an opponent’s attack off the field. They are done by avoiding turnovers in attack and forcing them in defense. The Blue Devils didn’t do either last week, which ultimately decided the game. Not only were the defense unable to create additional possessions, the offense also dropped the ball twice, one of which was infamous on the goal line.
Cutcliffe was blamed for the critical error, saying he had not trained enough in ball safety.
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“I hadn’t coached well enough… I told the whole team about it this Saturday,” said Cutcliffe.
In order not to repeat last Friday’s results, ball safety will have to tighten. This is a lingering problem with last year’s squad which lost a total of 20 fumbles to their opponents ’11 while throwing 19 interceptions on their opponents’ nine. It’s also about the defense of being more aggressive. The tackles need to start releasing the balls and the defensive backs need to be prepared to make those swing-shifting choices. Duke’s last dominant win a year ago came against a team from Charlotte who they forced two fumbles against and did not give up either. A similar performance could be what will give them their next dominant exposure.
If it is not broke, do not fix it
Last week hasn’t been all that bad for the Blue Devils, as their running backs have shown, especially their superstar Mataeo Durant who finished with a school record of 255 rushing yards on 29 carries for three touchdowns. Charlotte had absolutely no answer for him and North Carolina A&T probably won’t either. Especially if their last meeting in 2019 was any indication, as Duke rushed for 210 yards en route to a 32-point victory over a team of Aggies who finished 9-3.
However, as last week’s results show, teams can change dramatically between seasons. Nonetheless, Durant has proven to be a force no matter who he confronts. North Carolina A & T’s defense did not prove to be formidable against the run, surrendering 125 yards to their opponent’s 71 in their opener against Furman. So the overall game plan should be simple, hit the ball and build on this devastating running game.
Even Duke’s secondary rusher at Jordan Waters is nothing to laugh at and a game changer in his own right. In just five carries, he rushed for 65 yards for an incredible 13 yards per carry. He also showed his versatility, as he had received 40 yards, including the only other touchdown. There are some threats to this offense that make it very dangerous and if the little mistakes are patched up, its explosiveness will shine.
Spotlight under the center
Much of the talk leading up to Duke’s opener against Charlotte revolved around new starting quarterback Gunnar Holmberg. There were a lot of questions then, and now before the home opener, those same questions persist. Will he be able to elevate this Duke team to where they want to be? He showed sparks of greatness against the 49ers, throwing in handsome pennies to finish with 228 yards on a 20 for 29 completion rate. Cutcliffe applauded his performance but addressed areas in need of improvement.
“What I would like him to do, there were four or five situations where you have to measure the down and know the down and know on the third down, if we’re going to play for that on the fourth down and figure out the circumstances in which you can’t afford to suffer a loss, ”Cutcliffe said.
Holmberg played with poise and errors, but given this was his first start and in an away game, mishaps aren’t too much of a concern just yet. He has the opportunity to allay a lot of doubts against a North Carolina A&T team that allowed 362 passing yards and three touchdowns against their opponent last week. Now he’s home with a chip on his shoulder, and with much of the defensive focus on Durant, he’s ready for a dazzling performance.
Back to Wallace Wade Stadium
Speaking of being at home, it needs to be emphasized a bit more that the Blue Devils are back at Wallace Wade. Not only is this their first home game of the season, but it is their first home game with fans in attendance since 2019. Before the start of the school year, Cutcliffe asked the students to pack Wallace Stadium. Wade this season so the team can run out of tunnel in a roaring crowd.
The home crowd was an advantage that was lacking last week and will surely boost the team this week. If the Blue Devils light it up in front of a passionate crowd, this home game could set the tone for the entire season.