Saturday, November 28, 2009

Duke - Wake: The Battle for Mediocrity

Words would fail to do justice to the careers of this senior class, so instead I present to you a photo essay chronicling the quest for .500.

Vince Oghobaase can't quite get to Riley Skinner. Overshadowed by Thad's swan song, The Big O also played his last game for Duke Saturday. When as a high school stud he turned down football powers to ink with the Blue Devils, it was supposed to mark a change in Duke recruiting. It's hard to say what impact he's had on that end of things, but I don't think he ever quite reached that potential. He hurt his knee before his first season, and this year missed a handful of games due to injury. Still, he was always a factor up front, and we should be seeing him on Sundays.

I'm not sure what the Blue Devil is doing to that man, but the Hall of Fame Bowl plaque will not be getting any company this year.

Please ignore the awkward tilt of the camera, but the point of this picture is that no Blue Devils were cropped out of the frame. Too often Duke failed to put any pressure on Skinner and too often our defensive backs were nowhere to be seen. This was an easy TD, and there were a few more like it. Later in the game Wake scored its 35th point of the game on a simple post when the receiver just blew past Leon Wright.

Thad led his offense for a final time this afternoon. What can we say about Thad? He passed 10,000 career passing yards, just the second man in ACC history to do that. He's shattered every Duke passing record. And after just one win in his first two seasons, he finished with four last year and five this year. In the postgame, he said he left Duke in a better place than he found it, and for that, we must all salute him. Thad truly is Rad.

Apparently bored with the game, the Blue Devil attacks his own shadow.

Although the running game has been pretty terrible this year, Desmond Scott and the other Duke running backs had some holes to run through today. The final numbers aren't staggering, but Duke was playing catch-up for most of the second half. Overall, one of the stronger running days for Duke.

Down 11, Thad watches as Hoffman can't come down with a touchdown grab. He threw too high on third down, and Duke is forced to settle for a field goal.

Thad misses Brandon King on the sideline. Today would not go down as one of Thad's better efforts. Although the final offensive numbers look good, he just wasn't that sharp. On the first play of the game he missed Varner wide open for a sure touchdown, and as the picture shows, that was not his only misfire. After the game, Cut said although he hasn't talked to the press about it, Thad has barely practiced in three weeks due to his thigh injury, and Cut said that was one reason his QB has not been that precise with his timing.

Thad completes a pass despite taking a tough hit.

Vernon comes down with the ball on a leaping catch. This group of receivers, led by Vernon and Varner (who broke 1000 yards for the year), is coming back next year, so whichever Sean is leading the way, he'll have some good guys to throw to.

With 4:41 left, and Duke down 8, the defense needed a stop on 3rd and 8 at the 26. Leon Wright (obstructed by the play clock) had this play covered and out came the kicker, who had already missed an easy one. Unfortunately, we didn't get lucky twice, and it was a two possession game. Wright had a good senior year, leading all Blue Devils with five interceptions. Of course, he'll best be remembered for this year's Army game, when on two straight plays from scrimmage he scored two touchdowns on a pair of INTs. And while we're talking defense, a special goodbye to Vincey Rey, Duke's leading tackler this season.

On the next drive, facing a 4th-and-2, Thad held the ball a touch too long, and he threw a game-ending interception.

But wait, on the ensuing kickoff, Desmond Scott gives us a glimmer of hope.

The last pass of Thad's Duke career... a touchdown. Perfect.

Well, not quite.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Bowling Shoes don't fit

The dream is dead.

I am too heart broken to write a full analysis, but here are my thoughts.

Quarters 1-3:
Although Miami had the better first half stats, we easily could have been up a lot more. Coach Cut said we could have been up 20. We had three impressive drives stall into field goal opportunities. Snyderwine nailed them all, but we needed to walk away with more points. Pass only teams usually struggle in the red zone as the field shrinks, and although we ran the ball a little better Saturday, we’re still pass only.

Defensively, we really played well, and had a handful of near-interceptions. Jacory Harris looked pretty terrible, and we always seemed just inches away from getting a big INT. Unfortunately, they don’t give you the ball for near interceptions.

When it all fell apart (last drive of the 3rd-4th)
Especially later in the game, when Miami had the ball, they had an uncanny ability to convert on 3rd and long. Miami took a 20-16 lead early in the fourth after a monster, 90-yard drive, that actually began at the 5 when you take into account a first down penalty. Duke held them to a 3rd an 8 on the 12, but they completed the pass. They were 5-for-6 on third downs in the third, and 8-for-10 in the 2nd half. Meanwhile, for the game we were 3-for-12. Ugh. During the drive, Damien Berry steamrolled over Duke, gaining 58 yards.

But after Miami took the lead, Duke responded with a long drive of its own. On 2nd and goal, UM foiled a screen pass, and Lewis threw it on the ground. Lewis was flagged for intentional grounding. He was inside the hash marks, but there was certainly a receiver in the area, and Cut and Bob Harris were both livid. Then on the next play, 3rd and goal from the 13, Lewis threw toward Hollingsworth, who might have been held by a defender. No flag. Now Cut and Harris are in apocalypse mode. Cut is screaming, slams his headset into the ground, and [ENGLISH MAJOR ALERT!] as the audio equipment plunged down toward the earth, so did so many Blue Devil hopes and dreams. Snyderwine’s 31-yard attempt sailed wide right, and Duke was never in the game again.

Miami got a TD on the next possession, and Thad threw a pick-6 on a forced throw on the next possession, and just like that, a VERY winnable game was 34-16.

- Interestingly, this is Cut’s first loss at Duke after leading through three quarters (we’re 8-1).

- If we had won, I had a wonderfully worked-up opening about Will Smith's "Welcome to Miami" being one of our classic Mardi Gras Bowling songs. It would have been beautiful.

- Injuries piling up. Cut said that Thad’s injuries are really bad, noting that Thad couldn’t even sit in his car until Thursday this week, that’s how bad his thigh hurt. No Vince for the 2nd straight game. No Boyette or Johnny Williams. And our starting left guard didn’t play.

- Holy crap, what happened to Miami football? That stadium was EMPTY!

- Coach Cut said this: "I could not be more proud of a football team. They amaze me over and over and over. If we had been able to do this and pull off next week and be a bowl team, I would have considered us the No. 1 team in America for the accomplishment."

- Congrats to Thad, who became Duke’s all-time leading passer. Next week we’ll bid him farewell in typical DudeSpin fashion, but for now, I have to put the bowling shoes back in the closet and cancel my plane reservations to Boise.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Duke Rules, Texas Doesn't

I was heartened to see this headline on our quicklinks today - and wanted to make sure no one misses it. Congratulations to Airborne!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thad Finally Put With Proper Company

Congratulations to Thaddeus Lewis, a Unitas finalist!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bring back that Old Duke feeling

I left my friend’s house (you know, the one with cable) after the UNC game and went to pick up burritos for dinner. As I walked through the parking lot, I was feeling that typical post-Duke football game depression feeling. And then I realized I hadn’t felt that way since the first week of the season. After the Richmond game there was an expected loss at Kansas, a “moral victory” against Virginia Tech, and five wins. Really, it was quite remarkable that I had gone that long feeling good about the state of the football team.

But the last two weeks have brought back those Old Duke feelings. I’m not going to pretend that I thought we would win today, but the absolute drubbing took me by surprise, and the walk to the car was a sad one, analyzing a season that is slipping away.

But on to the Wade Report…

-One group in Blue Devil Alley (the tailgating area of Cameron parking lot) placed tombstones in front of their tent marked with the name of each team we’ve beaten this year. Nice!

- The game could not have started any better. Thad was 5-for-5 on the opening drive, Duke marched down the field, and before you know it, the Devils are up seven and I’m fantasizing about a top-ten upset on ESPN2 as thousands of would-be recruits watch. Then we force a 3-and-out. Holy crap, could we pull this off?

- First huge missed opportunity: After a failed drive, Tech botches a punt snap and we get the ball in quick striking distance around the 20. But we quickly take losses and settle for a field goal. At the time I worried that we would look back at that moment as a big miss. In retrospect, I guess it didn’t matter. Still, 10-0 Duke.

-On the kickoff, the receiver muffs the ball, picks it up, and now the timing is disrupted. He charges all the way to the 2… 10-7. We couldn’t know it then, but everything shifted at this moment. The rout was on.

- Second huge missed opportunity: Now down 11, with something like four minutes left in the half, on third and two, Duke ran an unbelievably beautiful play. As the running back dove for the first down, I was straining my eyes to see if he got the first. And as I look, I see a ball float through my field of vision. Holy crap, it’s a pass! It fooled everyone, and streaking down the middle of the field is a wide-open Conner Vernon. No one was near him. Guaranteed touchdown. Every single person in that stadium who has ever thrown a football could hit him, that’s how open he is. Except Thad overthrows him. Crushing.

- The guy sitting next to me, who clearly watches a lot of Duke football, then proceeds to call Thad the most inaccurate passer in the ACC. He calls for Renfree. And while I argue this is Thad’s team and Thad’s time, my tattooed friend made a good point. Over the years, Thad has been prone to throw some inaccurate footballs. Riley once joked with him in an interview that their combo TD record would be higher if he hadn’t missed him a few times. I now wonder how joking he was. There’s no question Thad can get hot like he did against State, but there are times when his passing just isn’t sharp. Thad missed a handful of guys today, though none so glaring as this certain touchdown.

- I’m now losing chronological order, but speaking of Riley, there was a time when our only successful play was the streak to Riley. I acknowledge he’s no longer on the team, and I like that we can have success with some shorter routes and screens, but this was another one of those games where Duke simply refused to throw the ball down the field, instead only going side to side. Okay, back to the game…

- With the score 21-10, Tech drives down the field and connects on a longish TD in the back of the endzone. In real time, I didn’t think it was close to a completion, the ref made his signal late, but inexplicably the play was not reviewed. The big screen only showed it once (not slo-mo) so I never got a definitive look, but still, the booth has to review such an important play. After the extra point the refs huddled together as if to discuss it, but by then it was too late. I’ll leave comments up to those with HD televisions, but I was outraged, for this was the difference between a two-possession game and a three-possession game. But as I texted Head Dude later in the game, my anger subsided as the massacre continued and three-possession game became a six-possession game.

- Defensively, after the first quarter, everything was a mess. They simply ran over us. Even on plays where it seemed like we had the option covered they were getting five yards. The rest of the game is pretty much a blur, but they simply ran over us. There was a stretch where they scored TDs on five of six possessions, including a 75-yard touchdown bomb.

- Also, there were a LOT of missed tackles out there today.

- We have some guys banged up on D (Vince didn't play at all), so that certainly didn't help what we knew would be a difficult cause.

- Offensively, throughout the day we found ourselves in 3rd and longs. There were multiple 3rd and 20s, and we could only respond with same four-yard dump offs that are our bread and butter. Not bad on first down, but they won’t help you once you start moving backwards. Honestly, after that first drive, they did virtually nothing. And if you care to look up stats, you’ll see our running game set new standards of ineptitude, even for us (25 yards on 24 carries). Which is too bad, because we ran the ball well during that first drive.

- At the end of the game, Paul Johnson was doused with Gatorade. That’s how big opponents consider wins at Duke these days.

- Also, as we were leaving, two groups were selling $5 t-shirts labeled “ACC Showdown” with Tech and Duke helmets crashing into each other and today’s date. Almost as cool as those “I was on the quad…” for the NCAA Championship shirts. If my soul hadn’t been crushed and I was thinking more clearly, I would have bought a bunch to finish my Christmas shopping a little early this year.

- At one point Cut took out Thad and brought in Renfree, and he looked decent. Now, it’s hard to judge him accurately because at this point Tech was in full prevent mode. I turn to my friend and say, “Well, at least we’ll get a glimpse at the future.” And as I said that, on that very snap, Renfree fumbles and Tech recovered. The guy sitting in front of me turned around and stared incredulously at me. The future may look a lot like the past.

- As for the past? Well, just a few minutes into the third I struck the 1997 Wally Wade pose: feet stretched out on the bleacher in front of me, back and elbows leaning against the bleacher behind me. And as you can tell by the picture, the stadium quickly thinned to 1997 levels. Oh, and we had a field goal blocked, which brought back some mid-2000's memories, too.

- Earlier this week Snyderwine was named a Lou Groza semifinalist. So at least that’s a positive throwback to the Sims Lenhardt days.

- But we’re not here to talk about the past. After both the UNC game and today’s game, Thad said Duke needs to have a short-term memory. The dream is slipping away. Does the glass bowling shoe fit? We’ll find out next week at Miami…

Saturday, November 07, 2009

15-501 LiveBlog

Every week seems to present the biggest game in recent program history - tune in for today's edition in the LiveBlog!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Why Duke is actually undefeated

Since we haven't had a post in awhile, I thought I would throw out this theory for discussion.

Currently Duke is 5-3, but really, they should be competing for a national championship...

- The first "loss" came against Richmond. Thad was sick, so it doesn't count. 6-2.
- The next "loss" came against Kansas. Remember, this game replaced the Louisville game after we backed out of our series with the Cardinals. Louisville is 3-5 and ranked well below us in the rankings. That's an easy win. 7-1.
- The next "loss" was against Virginia Tech. That game turned on a bogus touchdown call that should have been a Wright interception. 8-0.

Bring on the Gators!