Why Duke’s wide receivers were so wide open against NC Central

Duke running back Shaun Wilson, middle, stiff-arms NC Central defensive back Alden McClellon on Saturday.
Duke running back Shaun Wilson, middle, stiff-arms NC Central defensive back Alden McClellon on Saturday. Getty Images

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones completed 19 passes and 13 different receivers caught at least one ball Saturday night during the Blue Devils 60-7 blowout win over North Carolina Central.

More times than not, those receivers caught the ball without an NCCU defender nearby. When Jones hit Duke sophomore wide receiver Aaron Young for a 45-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, Eagles’ junior cornerback De’Mario Evans was 10 yards behind Young, whose touchdown gave the Blue Devils a 40-0 lead in the second quarter.

The breakdowns in the N.C. Central defense made it easy for Jones to play pitch and catch with his guys. Jones, a redshirt sophomore, finished with 213 yards passing as Duke averaged 10.8 yards per pass play.

So what was the problem, and more importantly, how do the Eagles fix it heading into their game Saturday against Shaw?

Trust the eyes

N.C. Central coach Jerry Mack and junior safety Davanta Reynolds each used the same phrase when asked what was the main issue with the secondary: “Eye discipline.”

Reynolds, who had seven tackles against Duke, said too many times he and his teammates weren’t making the proper pre-snap checks. Reynolds said worrying about, or looking at the wrong things, spelled disaster for the secondary on big passing plays. Sometimes guys were peeking into the backfield at the quarterback, allowing the Blue Devils to run routes without much resistance. A big quarterback like Jones (6-5, 215 pounds) was able to take advantage.

“Sometimes the moment is just too big and you get caught up in a lot of things when you should be just looking at your man or your zone,” Reynolds said. “A team like Duke, they are going to capitalize. Jones, he sees everything. You have to be in your zone or gap to be successful against Duke.”


Duke, like most teams in college football, doesn’t use a huddle. That didn’t catch N.C. Central by surprise, but the Blue Devils’ tempo may have. You can’t simulate game speed during training camp, no matter how hard you try.

“The first time we played another team and the speed and tempo and other things you might take for granted in practice,” Mack said. “When you go out there and play an opponent like Duke, you see you can’t take that for granted.”

The Blue Devils ran 82 plays against N.C. Central. On their nine scoring drives, Duke’s average time of possession was 2:17, a whirlwind pace for the first game of the year. That touchdown pass from Jones to Young capped off a three-play drive that lasted just 50 seconds.

New faces in the secondary

The Eagles’ secondary had three new starters against Duke. Reynolds (23 career-starts) and junior Alden McClellon (19 appearances, 11 starts) are the leaders. Cornerbacks Evans, Alphonso Carter, a senior, and senior free safety Ruben Saunders, were playing for the first time together. According to Reynolds, that caused some communication issues during the game.

“It’s always a communication thing because sometimes the stadium is so loud and they are so locked in on their technique or their man that they don’t hear the coverage,” Reynolds said. “We’re going to keep going forward and try to communicate with them both. We are looking for them to make plays on the ball and help in the run game. We’re still good, though.”

Reynolds wasn’t above calling himself out, saying he may have made the wrong call and put the secondary in a bad situation.

“As soon as the offense comes out (defensive coordinator Granville Eastman) expects me and Alden to check the coverage right away,” Reynolds said. “That makes it so hard sometimes because you don’t see the formation and you slip up and make the wrong call, and then the next thing you know we’re in the wrong defense because you weren’t paying attention.”

Mack agreed that having new players in the secondary didn’t help, but after watching film, the mistakes were correctable.

“They have to learn to move forward and grow from the experience,” Mack said. “I think they did a great job of coming in here on Monday and watching film, trying to prepare for our opponent this week.”

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV

Shaw at N.C. Central

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, Durham

Radio: NCCU Sports Network

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