Making the Grade: Duke's First Quarter Report Card

Mike KlineAnalyst ISeptember 28, 2009

DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 13:  Head coach David Cutcliffe of the Duke Blue Devils talks to his defense against the Navy Midshipmen during the game at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 13, 2008 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Now that Duke is a quarter of the way through the season it is time to see how this group of Blue Devils has done so far.

While grading a football team's performance can be a fairly arbitrary and subjective process, there is generally plenty of data to base your grading on.

So far this team hasn't lived up to preseason expectations, but there is still hope for this Duke squad to have some moderate success this year.

Offense: D+

Duke's offensive unit has been inconsistent all year. They have failed to find any balance with the exception of their most recent game against North Carolina Central.

The Blue Devils' running game has been nonexistent and prior to the aforementioned performance this past week, Duke had one rushing touch down and zero 100 yard rushing performances.

Most of the offensive responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of quarterback Thad Lewis and his able backup Sean Renfree. While both have put up respectable numbers at times, Lewis has struggled from having to deal with constant pressure or injury/illness.

Which ever the case, from the opening loss to Richmond to the shellacking from Kansas, Duke's quarterbacks have had to do it all.

One would think that a quarterback guru like Coach David Cutcliffe wouldn't mind that so much, however, even he would most likely admit that the rushing game has been a disappointment.

With the return of redshirt senior running back Re'quan Boyette and sophomore Jay Hollingsworth, Duke was anticipating a pretty effective one-two punch from their backfield.

That hasn't happened. 

Hollingsworth put up the most impressive performances but both are hurt and their status as of Monday is still unknown. 

Enter freshman running backs Desmond Scott and Patrick Kurunwune who added a nice spark against the Central Eagles.

Granted the Eagles aren't the likes of Kansas or even Army, but it was a welcome sight to see Duke run the ball down another team’s throat for a change.

Part of the problem is Duke's inexperienced offensive line. Cutcliffe knew coming into the season that was a weakness and other teams have exposed that weakness game in and game out.

If Duke can't sure up that unit by season's end expect more anemic performances. Also Duke may not end up with any healthy running backs, or quarterbacks for that matter.

The best part of the offensive unit so far has got to be the receivers. In multiple games, the Duke quarterbacks have hit multiple receivers who are making catches.

Duke is lacking the big play capability of Eron Riley; however, the group of wide receivers they returned have done a commendable job in his stead.

Defense: C-

The Devil's defensive unit has by far been the best part of this team, but not by much.

Duke boasted the return of defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase who has played well in the first two games but has missed the last two with a leg injury.

They will definitely need the big guy back by the time conference play starts this week.

Still, the defensive line has not created as much pressure on opponents as Cutcliffe was hoping for at the beginning year.

They haven't been bad but they gave pass happy Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing enough time to throw for more than 300 yards two weeks ago. It could only get worse with Miami, NC State, and Virginia Tech still on the schedule.

Duke's secondary, or at the least senior corner Leon Wright, had one impressive game against a team not known for throwing the ball. In every other game they've been unable to keep opposing receivers from making the big plays down field.

Even against an undersized and undermanned NCCU, Duke's secondary got torched a couple of times in the first half alone.

They will really be tested when their conference foes start coming to town.

As for the linebacking crew, other than Vincent Rey and Abraham Kromah, there hasn't been much to talk about. The two backers have been racking up on tackles, and Rey has a fumble return for a touchdown.

However, there hasn't been much pressure from the backers to speak of and sack numbers are low on the season.

Duke will need to get some pressure on their ACC opponents if they want to derail some of these high powered offenses.

Special Teams: C+

Normally the weakest part of Duke's past teams, Cutcliffe made a commitment to the special teams and they in turn have delivered.

It hasn't always been pretty, or even good, as evidenced by the poor field goal kicking in the season opener against Richmond. However, kicker Nick Maggio has made all of his PATs on the season.

The coverage teams still look vulnerable to potential breakdowns and consequently big returns, however they haven't given up any scores yet. That is something to be very mindful of when Virginia Tech comes to Wallace Wade on Saturday.

There hasn't been much excitement from Duke's return units either. But the addition of speedy freshman Scott has made the prospect of big returns a little more realistic, at least from this point forward.

Overall Grade: C-

Overall Duke hasn't been the horrible team that they have so often been in the past several decades. They haven't been good either, but there are reasons to be optimistic for the future—as long as the current players continue to improve and Cutcliffe can continue to bring in better recruits.

Cutcliffe will have to be a fabulous salesman to get even better talent in to push Duke up the ladder in the ACC. But as of now there aren't many legitimate reasons they can't be moderately successful year in, year out.

This year's team had hopes of going to a bowl, and while I don't think they will—based on what I have seen—they could get two if not three more wins in their remaining games.

If they somehow get four or more wins then that will be a bonus, and more of a sign they are closer to respectability. Otherwise, it is still wait until next year and hope they continue to get better.

Either way, they will be a better team in the long run.


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