Duke focused on offensive improvements

Nov. 10, 2013 @ 11:09 PM

A winning season is ensured and an improbable ACC Coastal Division championship is but three more wins from belonging to Duke as well.

What’s even more improbable, though, is the last two wins in the Blue Devils’ current five-game winning streak came while their vaunted offense has stumbled.

With No. 24 Miami coming to Wallace Wade Stadium for a key ACC game on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPNU), Duke has thrown seven interceptions over the last two games.

The Blue Devils (7-2, 3-2 in ACC) have won anyway, vanquishing Virginia Tech 13-10 and, on Saturday, N.C. State 38-20.

Starting quarterback Anthony Boone has thrown all seven of the interceptions. Reserve Brandon Connette entered the game in the second half against N.C. State, rushing for a fourth-quarter touchdown that put the Blue Devils up for good.

On Sunday, Duke coach David Cutcliffe admitted the obvious that Duke’s offense must improve for the team to maintain its success.

“Offensively it was just a matter again of inconsistencies,” Cutcliffe said. “That set us back. I didn’t think we played as well offensively (against N.C. State) as we did against Virginia Tech. It’s all things we can address and will have to keep being successful.”

As for which quarterback can best help Duke improve its play on offense, Cutcliffe wasn’t ready to say. He did say the answer isn’t just one name.

“It’s going to take both of those guys for us to win,” Cutcliffe said. “You will see both of them.”

Cutcliffe met with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper on Sunday and the two discussed what to do in preparation for Miami (7-2, 3-2).

“We haven’t made any decision nor are we overly concerned about the starter,” Cutcliffe said. “Overall, to find their rhythm and our rhythm, we are going to be need both of them to get us where we want to be.”

Neither Duke quarterback threw a touchdown pass in the win over N.C. State. Both Boone and Connette ran for touchdowns.

Boone completed a 75-yard pass to wide receiver Jamison Crowder in the first quarter that set up his touchdown run. But the Blue Devils had a difficult offensive day overall, recording just 12 first downs while gaining 321 yards.

Duke surpassed the 400-yard plateau in total offense in six of their first seven games. Despite winning, the Blue Devils had only 198 yards against Virginia Tech.

Cutcliffe said the quarterback play isn’t the only area of concern on that side of the ball. Duke rushed for 123 yards against N.C. State, its second-lowest rushing output of the season.

The worst? The 91 yards Duke gained in the win at Virginia Tech.

Cutcliffe said N.C. State’s defense routinely employed defensive sets designed to slow the running game. In the spirit of taking what the defense allows, Duke attempted to pass.

But Cutcliffe said establishing the run remains important for the Blue Devils.

“Our team seems to play better when we get into the rhythm of running the football and we have got to find a way to address it,” Cutcliffe said. “We cannot let people talk us out of running the football.”

In spite of a struggling offense, Duke can win the Coastal Division for the first time if it wins its final three regular-season games while Georgia Tech loses at Clemson on Thursday night. After the Miami game, which is Duke’s final home game of the season, the Blue Devils play at Wake Forest (Nov. 23) and at North Carolina (Nov. 30).

Miami, riding a two-game losing streak following Saturday night’s 42-24 home loss to Virginia Tech, can eliminate Duke from the Coastal race with a win this Saturday.

On Sunday, Miami coach Al Golden said his struggling team can’t think about any Coastal Division championship scenarios.

“To me it’s all one-game seasons,” Golden said. “The biggest thing for now is for us to learn from this and get ready for Duke. Obviously Duke is playing well. It’s going to be a big challenge for us and move forward.”

National award for Edwards

Duke redshirt freshman DeVon Edwards was named the National Defensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation on Sunday.

Edwards won for his performance in Saturday’s 38-20 win over N.C. State when he returned two interceptions for touchdowns in addition to bringing a kickoff back for a touchdown.

Edwards also had 10 tackles against the Wolfpack.

He set Duke freshmen single-game records longest kickoff return (100 yards), total points (18), highest kickoff return average (49.33 on three returns) and most interception returns for touchdowns (two).