Lack of negative plays is a positive for Duke offense

Dec. 02, 2013 @ 11:35 PM

No. 20 Duke’s route to a school-record 10 wins and a chance to win the ACC championship has been navigated by an offense that knows how to keep things moving in the right direction.

The Blue Devils have averaged a healthy 33.7 points per game while leading the ACC with the fewest number of plays resulting in negative yardage.

Heading into the ACC championship game against No. 1 Florida State at Charlotte on Saturday (8 p.m., WTVD), opponents have recorded less than four tackles for loss per game against Duke this season.

Duke’s per game average (3.83) is No. 7 in the country, one spot ahead of two-time defending national champion Alabama (4.08).

Florida State, by comparison, has allowed six per game, although the majority of them have happened against the Seminoles reserves when they were well ahead in the second halves of games.

“You always want to stay on schedule offensively, and by that I mean getting some good yardage on first down, so you’re not sitting at third down and long,” Duke left guard Dave Harding said. “Those are tough situations to convert. Having success and gaining positive yardage has been huge, and a lot of that is a testament to how well our running backs run the ball. They’re just such downhill runners and get behind their pads and are always making at least two yards after contact. They’ve done a great job of taking that challenge to heart and have proven to be a major winning edge for this team.”

While Harding gives credit to Duke’s stable of running backs, Duke coach David Cutcliffe is quick to say the whole offense is making good things happen most of the time.

“That always points to your offensive line,” Cutcliffe said. “Lack of penetration. It’s certainly the running backs, but it’s the quarterback managing the line of scrimmage himself.”

Quite simply, Cutcliffe said, it helps that Duke (10-2) is an experienced team. The Blue Devils’ offense is filled with players who had started games prior to this season – from the offensive line that returned four of five starters, to wide receivers Jamison Crowder and Brandon Braxton to running backs Josh Snead, Jela Duncan and Juwan Thompson.

Even quarterback Anthony Boone started one game last season before posting wins in all nine games he’s started this season.

“It is experience, certainly,” Cutcliffe said. “We were able to make decisions at the line of scrimmage to keep you out of bad plays, and it’s good play called by (offensive coordinator) Kurt Roper, so it really is a combination of things. But an experienced offensive line and an experienced football team always helps that, and I think it’s one of the critical factors in winning, so we make a huge emphasis of that as we start spring practice. We don’t wait. I mean, that’s a spring practice item that we really focus on on  offense.”

As Duke’s football profile has grown to national status this season, its fine play is gaining attention. Roper was named one of five finalists Monday for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach.

For the first time in Duke history, the Blue Devils have posted more than 20 rushing touchdowns and more than 20 passing touchdowns in the same season. Only four ACC teams have accomplished that feat this season.

With Duke carrying an eight-game winning streak into the ACC championship game, Boone is thriving right along with the offense. On Monday he was named the ACC’s co-offensive back of the week for his performance against in the 27-25 win over North Carolina on Saturday.

In Duke’s last two games, in an offensive that continually produces positive yardage plays, Boone has completed 75 percent of his passes for 530 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

“That’s just a testament to the players around me,” Boone said, “the offensive line doing a great job of pass protecting and running the ball and being able to have our two headed monster with me and Brandon (Connette). Just the guys around me really helped me with the success that we’re having and that I’m having.”