Duke Football: After a 1-4 Start, Blue Devils Need to Focus on Five Things
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Going into a bye week after one loss is bad, but after four straight it is down right torturous.
That is exactly what the Duke football team has had to do. After a promising start to the season that featured a 41-27 victory over FCS Elon, the Blue Devils have dropped all of their matchups with FBS level schools.
Granted one of those loses came at the hands of then No. 1 Alabama, but the rest were all games either deemed winnable or games Duke should have won.
Given its recent history of mediocrity, the Blue Devils were riding high after two consecutive years of showing significant improvement. The biggest contributor to that new found taste of success is coach David Cutcliffe.
Cutcliffe who went 4-8 in his first year and followed that up with a 5-7 record last season was poised to see his Blue Devils get to six or more wins this year and bowl eligibility.
But after the loss a week ago at Maryland, Duke is facing an uphill battle toward that goal. It starts this week when the Blue Devils will face what is sure to be an angry Miami team coming off a spanking at the hands of its bitter rival, Florida State.
Duke has the home-field advantage, but the Blue Devils have not done well against the Hurricanes since they joined the ACC, having never won. They also aren't likely to have much of a home-field advantage as many of the casual Duke Football fans have already turned their interests toward basketball season.
Still the Blue Devils have a chance to salvage the season. It may or may not include beating the likes of Miami, but it must include doing at least five things well.
Sean Renfree Must Again Find His Mark
Renfree, a first-year starter, looked primed to take over for all-time Duke great Thad Lewis this season. He had big passing efforts against Elon and Wake Forest but since then has fallen of his torrid early season pace.
Against Alabama, he appeared to telegraph a lot of throws or just threw them too high, too low, or too quickly.
Cutcliffe who has raved about what an intensely hard worker Renfree is needs to find a way to have his quarterback settle down and play with confidence again. By all appearances he is trying too hard to be perfect and needs to relax and let the game come to him.
If he can do that the Duke offense which has been sputtering should be able to get on track regardless of the opponent.
Eliminate Turnovers on Offense
Renfree has played a big part in this area having thrown nine interceptions over the first five games.
While a few of them were drops or tips that just went the wrong way, a few, especially of late, seem to be thrown in tight coverage or directly to the defender.
Duke's defense, which ranks 115th in points allowed (39.8 a game), isn't strong enough to defend a short field.
The Blue Devils must keep the ball out of the opposing team's hands as long as possible, and not giving the ball away would go a long way toward helping in that area.
Find Consistency Between the Running Game and Passing Game
Duke was dead last in rushing last season but very good with the pass. While the improvements so far this year in the running game have been pleasing, the discrepancy is still noticeable.
The Blue Devils rank 15th in passing yards per game but only 86th in rushing yards. Again while it is an improvement over 2009, the rushing game has appeared to stifle the once-potent passing attack.
Duke's offense has stalled more times than not, and they aren't converting third-down attempts. At times, it appears that the rushing game is forced, and the passing game has suffered.
Cutcliffe needs to have his team find a balance between the two for the Blue Devils to start finding success again.
Get Pressure on the Opposing Quarterback
Duke's defense is very young and inexperienced. As a result, the Blue Devils are giving up a ton of yardage and points.
Like any good defense, the Blue Devils need to get some pressure on the opposing team's quarterback or at the very least disrupt some plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Quarterbacks and running backs alike are having a field day against the Duke defensive front. For the Blue Devils to have any chance staying in games with a struggling offense, the defense needs to step up and get them more possessions.
It starts on defense, and it starts with disrupting the opposing team in the backfield.
Take the Ball Away
Duke's defense hasn't been stellar, and it hasn't been opportunistic. The Blue Devils have only forced seven turnovers. In comparison, the offense has given the ball up 12 times.
The Blue Devils have not forced a turnover in two games. Another way to get the offense more chances and keep the inexperienced defense off the field is to take the ball away.
If Duke can start doing that and being a bit more aggressive on offense with the increased opportunities, then the Blue Devils could still salvage the rest of the season.
The remaining schedule has enough games for Duke to be bowl eligible, but they must win at least five of their remaining seven games to get to six wins.
In those seven games, Duke will have to play the likes of Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and rival North Carolina. Not many opportunities but if they can improve on those areas above then a respectable record is still possible even if it falls short of a bowl season.
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