A good September preceded a rough October for Duke football and, on Saturday night, November arrived to smack the Blue Devils when they were down.
No. 15 Notre Dame outclassed Duke, extending the Blue Devils’ losing streak to three games, with a 38-7 triumph at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The losing streak has erased all momentum the Blue Devils (4-5) garnered with their three-game September winning streak. Losers of four of five games since then, Duke’s bowl hopes are in jeopardy with three games to play.
Simply put, the regression of Duke’s offense during this losing streak makes it clear the Blue Devils won’t need to practice after the regular season ends unless that unit turns things around in a hurry.
The lack of production against Notre Dame means Duke has scored only five touchdowns over its last 14 quarters, dating back to halftime of its 41-24 win over Georgia Tech on Oct. 12.
That win gave Duke a 4-2 record and extended its streak of games scoring at least 30 points to five in a row.
Duke hasn’t even reached 20 points in any game during the losing streak, which has the coaching staff and the players trying to find anything that might work so they can build off of it.
“I’m concerned,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Saturday night. “I’m concerned with where we are with a rhythm, what we have confidence in, or not, the execution level.”
Turnovers have short-circuited Duke throughout this season. The Blue Devils entered Saturday night with 17 in four losses and two in four wins.
Duke had two turnovers against Notre Dame, with both coming in the second half after the Irish had built a 21-0 lead to take control of the game. While the interception Quentin Harris threw in the third quarter with Duke down 21-7 and driving in Notre Dame territory hurt, it didn’t cost the Blue Devils the game.
That happened in the first half when the inability of Duke’s offense to generate anything productive played a major role in Notre Dame building a 21-0 lead..
Duke’s five possessions featured four three-and-out drives. The Blue Devils gained 13 yards on those four possessions.
After the Blue Devils gained 10 yards on their first play from scrimmage in the game, their next 15 plays netted 21 yards.
“Lost yardage plays and getting behind the chains a little bit,” Duke quarterback Quentin Harris said. “Forced into some tough situations on third and long. That’s something we can’t do. We have to have a profit on each play and really try to play more consistently throughout the entire game but especially on those drives that stalled out.”
Duke entered averaging 362 yards of total offense per game, 13th in the 14 team ACC, and proceeded to gain a season-low 197 against Notre Dame.
Over the first three quarters, Duke’s offense converted just 2 of 13 third downs into first downs while going 1 of 2 on fourth downs.
The Blue Devils finished a paltry 3 of 16 on third downs and 1 of 3 on fourth-down attempts. That’s 4 of 19 on key plays where possession of the ball was at stake.
Duke entered Saturday No. 8 in the ACC on third down conversions at 36.8. The poor showing against Notre Dame on those plays drops Duke to No. 10 in the league at 36.3
That’s not a recipe for winning football which is why Duke finds itself below the .500 mark with three games to play.
Syracuse is up next following by Wake Forest and Miami. Duke needs to win at least two of them to get to six games and qualify for a bowl game.
Harris thinks back to September, when Duke beat Virginia Tech 45-10 with an explosive offense, to know his unit can turn things around. But that change has to happen sooner rather than later.
“We know what we are capable of when we are operating at our best,” Harris said. “We’ve had some good games this year and even in this game we were moving the ball well. We just have to put together consistent drives and I think it will come.”