Up by 10 in the third quarter, things were looking great for Duke. A Homecoming crowd was set to see David Cutcliffe’s first signature win and I was wondering if the press would spin the win as Duke’s arrival to or Miami’s departure from the national stage.
Saturday even marked the return of the “Back Duke or Back Off” sign.
Yes, my friends, New Duke was looking great. Then Old Duke came back. And it came back ugly. As Head Dude indicated below, a punt changed the course of the game, and Duke returned to its old ways: dropped passes, poorly timed penalties, and missed tackles. As I thought about how to write my weekly report, I really struggled. To be honest, I still have a hard time figuring out what happened. All I know is we had them pinned back, on one play just missed both a safety and an interception for a TD, were winning in score and field position, then their punter booted a monster, our guy couldn’t quite get there, then it rolled forever. On the ensuing possession Riley dropped two passed and a chop block call erased a huge run play, and suddenly Miami has the great field position and Duke can no longer tackle.
Coach Cut: “The big thing was when the field position flipped. That was a tough punt and I’m not going to blame Donovan [Varner], but you’d like to catch that punt and do something with it. But that’s a very difficult catch and the ball got caught up in the wind. The field got flipped and we got a big penalty on a run that was broken and from there it went downhill. I don’t know if would have been any different, but I certainly liked our chances most of this game until it just got away from us.”
Thirty-five unanswered points later, and Homecoming welcomed back another familiar sight… deserted bleachers in the midst of a blowout.
Riley’s Heisman campaign suffered nearly as big a blow as Duke’s Bowl hopes; his hand has been injured and he did not play in the fourth, but he had some opportunities on wide open catches that he just plain dropped.
Again, Coach Cut: “I can’t change what happened in this game, but we can’t play like that. Our guy that is our leader, Eron [Riley], struggled. I don’t think his confidence will be hurt. He’s been hurt with his hand and maybe that’s in his head. Maybe that’s the case, but he’s been catching the ball great in practice, so it certainly shouldn’t happen in a ball game. You don’t just say we’re going back to work. We work hard and we prepare hard. We had a really good plan going into this game and a lot of that was displayed in the first half. We’re going to look at everything we’re doing to see what we can do. This is unacceptable and I told them that after the ball game. We didn’t run out of juice, it wasn’t that we got this or got that, we just did not play well in the second half.”
And while I don't think a poorly timed song can impact a football game, as things began to turn for the worse, Duke debuted the new football theme song, as voted on by the students: Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." But Duke did let me down, it did run around and desert me, it did make me cry, and while I'll never say goodbye, it did hurt me. And Duke, we have known each other so long, but it's not your heart that's been aching, it's mine, and I'm not too shy to say it. But one thing Rick Astley and I agree on, Duke Football, is I'm Never Gonna Give You Up!
**One amusing side note… I had numerous friends in town to watch the game, and at halftime one of them pointed to Bid Daddy and asked, “Is your friend 2 or 3 years older than us?” “Yes.” “Is there any chance he’s the ‘Ricky Time’ guy?” “Yeah, that’s him.” “Are you sure?” “Yeah, I’m pretty sure, why?” Disbelief and questions followed, but as it turns out, two of my buddies spent much of their freshman year watching Big Daddy in Cameron and LOVED the Ricky Time cheer. Today my buddy was so excited he proclaimed it his favorite cheer from freshman year, called Big Daddy a hero, and had to text his roommate to hurry back from concessions so they could talk with the legend. Then sadly they waited an entire quarter trying to get up the courage to talk to him.
They were also mad that I had known him all this time and never thought to mention it. Who knew?