Blue Devils: "Bye" and Large Lots of Work Left For Improving Duke Football Team

Mike KlineAnalyst IOctober 15, 2009

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

It may be a bye week for the Duke Football team but it is by no means down-time for the Blue Devils.

Coach David Cutcliffe  made it clear, on his weekly radio show, that while the Blue Devils are hoping to get healthy and rested this week, there is still much work to be done, and they are going to get after each other in practice.

Duke may have momentum and confidence going into this off week, but the fragile nature of the football program doesn't allow for the Blue Devils to rest on their laurels.

There are still quite a few things Duke must improve on to continue the progress they've made in their last two games against Virginia Tech and NC State.

And while the upcoming three games are definitely winnable, they could as easily be losses.

After all, this is still Duke Football we are talking about and the Blue Devils are in no position to overlook the local Pop Warner team much less a conference rival.

Still, there is real reason to be optimistic that Duke is no longer the Duke of old. 

And how they perform after this bye week will go a long way toward determining if this year’s team makes that large step forward many predicted at the beginning of the year.

So of all the things they need to work on here are the Top Five.

Pass Defense 

Duke's pass defense has at least to me been a little suspect and at risk of being exposed all year.

Kansas did that and I was fully expecting NC State to do the same especially with a quarterback as good as Russell Wilson.

At first it looked like that was exactly what would happen but they did a much better job in the second half against Wilson and the Pack. That was due large in part to the improved pass rush.

Duke is going to need to get the most out of their defensive backs as they are undersized. They will need to continue to play aggressively, yet smart, to avoid looking as bad as NC State's defensive backfield did against the Blue Devils.

Offensive Line

The offensive line coming into this season was easily the most inexperienced group on the team.

While they have started to grow up a little as the year has gone on, there is still work to be done.

For the most part, they kept the solid pass rushes of two very good conference foes, Tech and State, off of quarterback Thad Lewis. But they haven't been able to open holes for the running game.

As long as they can continue to improve and avoid significant injuries, the Duke's offense should continue to be full steam ahead, at least in the passing game, as the season progresses.

Special Teams

When Cutcliffe arrived in Durham, Duke had arguably the worst special teams in the country.

The kicking was horrible; the coverage teams were almost as bad.

Cutcliffe promised to improve that area and has delivered. Yet, as much progress as they've made, there is still room for improvement.

State took a kickoff back for a touchdown and quite honestly every kickoff can be a nail biting experience from a Duke perspective.

Against Virginia Tech, Duke pretty much gave the Hokies the ball on the 40 by either kicking the ball out of bounds or squib kicking the ball at inadvisable times.

In the end, failing to alleviate those special teams blunders will cost Duke as it has in the past.

Linebacker play

It isn't that Duke's linebackers have played all that bad, they haven't. But Duke is going to need a lot more out of them.

Vincent Rey has been a stud stepping in for the now departed Michael Tauillili. But I'd like to see more back field pressure from the other backers as well as an improvement in filling the gaps on run plays.

They also, hopefully, will work on their own pass coverage and help the defensive backs with shorter routes across the middle of the field.

Duke's linebackers need to make opposing receivers fearful of going across the middle.

If they can dial up some pressure on opposing quarterbacks, put a little fear in the hearts of opposing receivers, and knock around opposing running backs, the whole defense of unit will be the better for it.

Running Game

Last but certainly not least, Duke must improve its ability to run the football.

It has been the biggest problem all year long and regardless of how many yards Lewis can throw for, if he is ever shut down there needs to be another option.

Right now there isn't one.

There was a lot of optimism surrounding the running backs with the return of redshirt senior Re'quan Boyette, however he has been banged up and ineffective.

Desmond Scott has looked the best thus far and Jay Hollingsworth, who is also banged up hasn't looked too bad either.

Cutcliffe said in his radio show that they were going to put in some new schemes to get the ground game up and running. Let’s hope those schemes prove successful.

If the Blue Devils are to continue to show improvements on offense, it will need to be able to generate at the very least 100 to 150 yards rushing per game every night. And right now they are nowhere near that.

If Duke can make these improvements over their bye week then they should be able to do some more damage in the ACC. If not expect a roller coaster second half of the season.


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