Okay, Duke is 2-1. But it isn’t a great 2-1. They had a 1-AA patsy and struggled with Memphis before being trucked by Georgia Tech. Possibly the most humiliating aspect of being beaten by GT 38-14. The Yellowjackets scored four of their five touchdowns in the air. That’s right a Paul Johnson, option team that wants to run the ball found itself passing for touchdowns in and around the red zone. Georgia Tech only had 125 yards, but 66 yards came as touchdown passes.
Duke only managed 254 yards that day. About the only positive they had was that they had no turnovers.
So it is no surprise that the Blue Devils are looking to improve after that. Primarily — and this shouldn’t be a surprise with Dave Cutcliffe as the head coach — on offense.
The Blue Devils must be sharper on offense. Cutcliffe said Duke left too many yards on the field through hesitant decision making and missed reads. The wide receivers need to play better—improve their spacing, splits and ball catching—to help out quarterback Brandon Connette. And Connette needs to relax and play to his strengths, leaving the pocket and running more.
“I want to see him cut himself loose,” Cutcliffe said. “He needs to probably relax a little bit, and when he runs, cut himself loose and run. Don’t stop, trust your speed, etcetera, etcetera.”
As Cutcliffe pointed out, Connette doesn’t have much experience in third-down situations, especially third-and-long. That was a major struggle for the Blue Devils, as they went 3-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts.
Two of the conversions came in the first quarter on third-and-1 plays: a Duncan rush and then a checkdown to Issac Blakeney that went for 20 yards after he broke the initial tackle. The protection on that throw was great, as Connette had time to roll to his left and then back to his right. Then Duke went 1-of-11 the rest of the way.
“He had to learn getting his eyes right, vision, but, in fairness to him, it wasn’t just him and accuracy, it was just not the crisp execution that we get all over the place,” Cutcliffe said of Connette. “When that happens, and you’ve got a new guy, it’s never going to be good. It was a little shocking in that regard because we execute better than that 99 out of 100 times.”
Duke seems to be taking solace in only trailing 10-7 after the first quarter. As if it was just that because the offense couldn’t get going the defense lost ground.
That lack of offensive execution took its toll.
“As we lost steam on offense and clearly didn’t execute well, I think Georgia tech wore on our defense a little. Overall I thought our defense fought hard under the circumstance of being back on the field so quickly so often,” Cutcliffe said. “I think we left a lot of yards on the field offensively. Certainly had too many penalties.”
Of course they were down 24-7 at the half and did not score again until the 4th quarter. So either the defense got worn down really fast, or Coach Cutcliffe is trying to stay positive.
There isn’t a lot of shame in losing to Georgia Tech but Cutcliffe doesn’t feel that the way they lost should be used to judge the Blue Devils as he still is confident he has a good team.
“They’re a good football team. They played well as a team,” Cutcliffe said. “I don’t think it is an indication of talent. I know it’s not an indication of how good we can play. I know if we don’t like it we’ve got to go get something done about it.”
Yeah, I’m going with trying to stay positive.
Now to be fair they are running with their back-up QB in Brandon Connette. So it seems the entire team is trying to stay positive and speak of stepping up to help him.
The receivers, in particular, have been the subject of criticism over the past few weeks. Jamison Crowder, Duke’s No. 1 option, said the group hasn’t been pleased with any of their three performances. And their shortcomings have made it difficult for Connette, who took over the starting role for the injured Anthony Boone in the second quarter at Memphis.
“With him stepping in at the quarterback position and expecting us to be at a certain position on the field as far as running routes, and we’re not there, it’s definitely putting him in a bind and definitely throwing off the timing of the offense,” Crowder said. “That’s things that we are working on cleaning up this week.”
The receivers have also spent more time running RVAs – routes versus air – to fine-tune their timing with Connette. As a group, they’re aiming to do everything they can to make Connette’s job easier.
“A quarterback stepping in, I can’t even imagine, there’s so many things going through your head, making reads, zone reads, where to throw the ball, I can’t imagine doing that,” receiver Brandon Braxton said. “Just getting his confidence up and making him feel confident in what he’s doing is the biggest thing.”
If they are looking for positive vibes, then the best thing Pitt can do is stymie any early success. This is a chance — if we are talking about confidence — for the Pitt secondary to get some swagger back. They were abused by Florida State. New Mexico hardly counts as a test when the Lobos total passing yards was 57. No interceptions yet by Pitt. I’m sure the secondary would like to show they have made progress.