Last season, Duke Football gained over 100 yards only 6 times. They ranked dead last in the Atlantic Coast Conference at just 94 yards per game on the ground. Since 2007, the Blue Devils have only averaged over 100 yards a game once in 2008 when they tallied 106 yards/game. Not coincidentally, they finished last in the league every year except that one.
The 2012 Blue Devils have been a different story, ranking 9th at 126 yards per contest. There are a number of reasons for this increase, not least of all that the Devils have had leads in nearly all of their games. But that is not the only explanation.
The offensive line is now bigger and more experienced than in any other year of Coach David Cutcliffe’s tenure
The stable of running backs is the most talented of the Cutcliffe era. Redshirt sophomore Josh Snead has experience and is often used as a change of pace back, offering speed. Redshirt senior Juwan Thompson thrived last year as Snead missed the year. He brings a power running style and excellent pass blocking skills. True freshman Jela Duncan brings a combination of power and speed and has proven difficult to tackle, especially in the red zone.
Duke is averaging 33 rushes per game this year, the most in that five year period.
One of the biggest improvements to the Duke running game has been true freshman Jela Duncan. His commitment to the Blue Devils on signing day was somewhat of a surprise, but one of the biggest reasons he decided to come to Duke was the expectation that he would get a lot of carries early on in his career. Duncan is ranked 6th in the ACC at 6.1 yards per carry. As his touches have increased, Duke’s yardage numbers have increased as well.
Jela's Rushing Stats Through UVA
Duke's Rushing Stats Through UVA
This year, Duke has already crossed the 100-yard threshold five times, compared to six the year before. That 5-game number is equal to the number of times Duke ran for 100 yards in 2008, the only year they didn’t finish last in the conference.
As Duke’s schedule gets tougher through the end of the year, things could go one of two ways. If they find themselves playing from behind, the Blue Devils may be forced to abandon the run in favor of quick points, where they have always been successful. However, with the defense playing at an elevated level (Duke is fourth in the ACC in total defense) this may not have as big of an effect as it would in other seasons. Remember too, that Duke’s defense has been banged up all year, missing up to 7 projected starters per game. They are starting to get healthy though and hopefully won’t see a big dropoff even as the competition gets more difficult. If Duke is able to get out to early leads, or at least avoid big deficits like they did against Stanford, the run should always be an option.
Under Cutcliffe, Duke will always rely on the pass to get the majority of their offense and set up the run. We should never expect to see the imbalance shown by Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense. However, as the offensive line and running back depth continues to expand, things should move closer to even than they have been since Cutcliffe arrived.
Through three game, Duke was operating at a 62-38% pass-run ratio. That has trended down as the season has gone on, and is now at 55% passes (244) to 45% runs (198). That is likely as close to an even split of playcalls as Duke fans should expect to see as long as David “Quarterbacks Guru” Cutcliffe is their head coach.
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