Runnin' with the Devils, once rare, now strength

Sep. 28, 2013 @ 10:30 PM

Five games into the college football season, Duke’s offense has displayed enough firepower to be considered potent.

For a change, the Blue Devils’ running game is a big part of that sustained success.

Duke amassed 190 rushing yards in Saturday’s 38-31 win over Troy at Wallace Wade Stadium.

That total nearly matched the season average Duke produced over the first four games, when the Blue Devils ran for 193.8 yards per game. That average had Duke, which managed an ACC-worst 94 rushing yards per game as recently as 2011, sixth in the 14-team ACC in rushing offense.

Duke’s season average this season is the most since the Blue Devils averaged 198.6 rushing yards per game back in 1977.

On Saturday, redshirt junior running back Josh Snead was the main ground-gainer with 108 yards.

“Josh Snead was amazing today,” said Duke quarterback Brandon Connette, who rushed for two touchdowns himself. “It’s nice as a quarterback when you hand off the ball and you see the hole that he is running through. Even if there is one guy there, I would say most times today that first guy wasn’t tackling him. He was getting past him.”

One week earlier, against Pittsburgh, Connette led Duke with 101 rushing yards.

One week earlier against Georgia Tech, sophomore Jela Duncan led Duke with 89 yards.

Four different players, with senior running back Juwan Thompson also included, have led the Blue Devils (3-2) in rushing in a game this season.

Even though Connette is capable in the passing game — as evidenced by his back-to-back games throwing for more than 300 yards — Duke coach David Cutcliffe gives him some credit for the running game’s success as well.

“He made good solid decisions,” Cutcliffe said. “There were a lot of decisions made in our run game and he managed that well.”

Duncan entered the Troy game leading Duke with 220 rushing yards, an average of 55 per game. He gained 27 yards on eight first-half carries against the Trojans before he suffered an upper-body injury on his right side.

He returned to the game to catch a 9-yard touchdown pass from Connette with 7:55 left in the first half. But he left the game for treatment and didn’t return.

“You hate to see Jela go down early,” Connette said. “But we had Snead step up and take over. He’s an explosive back that really loves to play.”

Cutcliffe said it was too soon to know how long Duncan might be unavailable.

“I don’t know how long Jela is going to be or what the circumstances surrounding that one yet are,” Cutcliffe said.

The Blue Devils don’t play next Saturday. Their next game is Oct. 12, at home, with Navy. After that Duke plays back-to-back ACC road games at Virginia on Oct. 19 and Virginia Tech on Oct. 26.

Even if Duncan is out, Cutcliffe has confidence in his deep stable of running backs. Snead’s play on Saturday against Troy drove that point home.

“I (also) have great confidence in Juwan Thompson and I have great confidence in Shaquille Powell, if need be,” Cutcliffe said.

After years of meager production from the running game, that confidence in that area of the offense is a welcomed change to Cutcliffe.