Blue Zone

Around the ACC: Week 7

Miami stayed undefeated and Duke fell for the fourth straight game in a wild week of conference play.   

Pittsburgh 24, Duke 17

After a home loss to a Panthers squad that hadn't previously beaten a Power Five opponent, the Blue Devils have reached their nadir. Duke dropped its fourth consecutive contest—three of which came at home. Perhaps most concerning for the team was the inability to stop Pittsburgh running back Darrin Hall, who raced for 254 yards and three touchdowns. The Panthers notched their first conference win, while Duke fell to 1-4 in the ACC. Head coach David Cutcliffe needs to get the team going in the right direction in a hurry to rally the struggling team back to a bowl game.

No. 8 Miami 27, Syracuse 19

Fresh off of its exhilarating upset of the then No. 1 Clemson Tigers, the Orange came up short this week against another top-10 foe. Syracuse boasted two 100-yard rushers in Eric Dungey and Dontae Strickland, but its feeble passing offense and four turnovers proved to be too much to overcome. A mistake-free day from quarterback Malik Rozier and a late game-sealing touchdown by running back Travis Homer proved to be enough to propel the Hurricanes to 6-0, keeping the them first in the ACC Coastal division.

Boston College 41, Virginia 10

In what was certainly the most surprising result this Saturday in the ACC, the Eagles walloped the Cavaliers in Charlottesville. Virginia was previously undefeated in conference, with victories against North Carolina and Duke. Redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown had a near perfect day for Boston College, amassing a 98.3 QBR. The Eagles will attempt to build on their consecutive ACC wins next week when they host Florida State.

Louisville 31, Florida State 28

Both the Seminoles and Cardinals have failed to reach their preseason expectations, where they ranked 3rd and 16th, respectively. Although there was not much hype entering this contest, there was certainly excitement. Each team had over 400 yards of total offense, including 178 rushing yards from Louisville’s reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Ultimately, the Cardinals took the game on a Blanton Creque 34-yard field goal in the waning moments of the game.

No. 14 Virginia Tech 59, North Carolina 7

The Tar Heels’ woes continued in their blowout defeat at the hands of the Hokies, bringing their season record to an abysmal 1-7 mark. Virginia Tech thrived on defense and special teams, with three first half touchdowns coming in these areas, and held North Carolina's quarterbacks to 8-of-22 passing and 118 yards. The Hokies look to continue their dominant play next week against Duke in Blacksburg.

Georgia Tech 38, Wake Forest 24

The Yellow Jackets bounced back from a tough last-second loss against Miami with a come from behind victory in Atlanta this week. Georgia Tech, now sitting at 4-2 came up short by just one point in each of its defeats. With their triple option offense, the Yellow Jackets look to pull off an upset against Clemson next week. 

Extra point: Duke football vs. Pittsburgh

Duke's cratering offense continued to struggle Saturday against Pittsburgh, rushing for just 2.9 yards per carry and holding the ball for just 20:33 in a 24-17 loss, its fourth straight. 

Revisiting the three keys to the game: 

  • Lean on the running game. Despite facing a weak Pittsburgh rushing defense, ranked No. 87 in the country in rushing yards allowed,  Duke could never get anything going on the ground. The Blue Devils gained just 76 yards on 26 carries, forcing Daniel Jones to shoulder most of the load on offense. 
  • Bring the heat. Duke's front seven was strong in pressuring green starting quarterback Ben DiNucci, making nine tackles for loss and sacking the sophomore twice. It helped make Pittsburgh's offense one-dimensional, as DiNucci threw for just 149 yards—119 of which came on just four completions. However, the other dimension devastated the Blue Devils—they were torched for 336 rushing yards.  
  • Get Daniel Jones back in rhythm. After three straight down weeks, it looked like Jones was still stuck in a rut in the early going, throwing for just 59 yards in the first half. But the redshirt sophomore eventually heated up in the third quarter, throwing 58 and 39-yard touchdown passes to Shaun Wilson and T.J. Rahming, respectively to give Duke a 17-7 lead. But the Blue Devil offense punted, missed a field goal on their next two drives, before a late Jones interception sealed a win for Pittsburgh. Overall, Jones took some steps forward, but has still yet to regain his late season freshman form. 

Three key plays: 

7:23 remaining, first quarter: The Panthers didn't wait long to gash Duke's rush defense, using a 79-yard Darrin Hall touchdown run to open the scoring. Hall was untouched on a run up the middle, Pittsburgh's first play of the drive. It was a sign of things to come for the Blue Devils, which gave up 254 rushing yards and three scores on the day to Hall. 

0:10 remaining, third quarter: After Jones' 39-yard touchdown pass to Rahming, Duke had a relatively comfortable 17-7 lead late in the third. But all it took was one Hall carry to kill the Blue Devils' momentum, a 92-yard score on the first play of the drive on a motion run up the middle, untouched once again. From there, the Panthers never looked back, scoring 10 more unanswered points in the fourth quarter to leave with a road win. 

0:45 remaining, fourth quarter: For the third straight week, Duke had a chance to send the game to overtime with a touchdown. And for the third straight week, it came up short. Jones had brought Duke all the way to Pittsburgh's 22-yard line, but was picked off after tight end Daniel Helm tipped the ball up in the air for Jordan Whitehead to snag at the eight yard line, sealing the game. 

Three key stats: 

  • Pittsburgh holds the ball for 39:27. For the third straight week, Duke couldn't hold the ball for more than 25:13, given few opportunities to drive the ball with Pittsburgh's methodical and effective rushing offense. 
  • Blue Devils flagged for seven penalties. Entering Saturday, just four teams in the ACC were better than Duke in penalties. But the Blue Devils played undisciplined football Saturday, flagged seven times, including three offsides calls on special teams plays. 
  • Panthers average 18.6 yards per catch. Although DiNucci wasn't particularly accurate, completing just 44.4 percent of his passes, he was dangerous when he did, throwing for an explosive 18.6 yards per completion. 

And the Duke game ball goes to...Daniel Jones. 

No Blue Devil had a standout performance Saturday, so Jones earns the game ball for his late surge in production. Jones threw for 272 yards on 15-of-33 attempts for two touchdowns and the lone late interception. 

And the Pittsburgh game ball goes to... Darrin Hall 

The junior Panther running back made easy work of Duke's front seven, slicing it up for 254 yards on a whopping 10.6 yards per carry and three touchdowns—Hall and Pittsburgh's motion-heavy running attack confused the Blue Devil defense all day long. 

Making the grade: Duke football vs. Pittsburgh

 After four straight wins to start the season, Duke is an even 4-4 after its offense has cratered to score just five touchdowns in its last four weeks. The Blue Devils rushed for just 76 yards in their latest defeat, a 24-17 loss Saturday to Pittsburgh. 

Offense: C 

Pass: After taking a step forward last week against Virginia, Daniel Jones continued to get comfortable, seeing an increasing workload against a poor Pittsburgh passing defense. Jones completed 15-of-33 pass attempts for 272 yards, his second highest total of the season. In addition, wide receiver T.J. Rahming broke out with 142 reception yards, his third 100-plus yard game already this season. 

Rush: The Blue Devils were unable to get any consistency in the running game—gaining a total of 76 yards of 26 combined carries—despite having what seemed to be a favorable matchup against the Panthers. Entering Saturday’s tilt, Pittsburgh's defense allowed just less than 180 yards per contest, while Duke running backs rushed for an average of 190 yards. However, the Blue Devils could not surpass half their season’s average in a disappointing performance.

X’s and O’s: Duke was plagued by turnovers once again and the Blue Devils failed to take advantage of two missed field goals in the first half. A fumble, a late interception by Jones and a missed 36-yard field goal by Austin Parker—which would have cut the Panther lead to just one with eight minutes left to play—were the difference for the Blue Devils. 

Defense: C

Pass: Duke did a solid job containing quarterback Ben Dinucci in just his second career start. The Blue Devils held Dinucci to a mere 8-of-18 on his passing attempts and forced them to rely on the run game. However, Duke was once again plagued by explosive plays, as it allowed Pittsburgh to reel in three receptions of at least 25 yards. 

Rush: After being praised as one of the nation’s best in defending the run early on this season, the Blue Devils’ defensive line was roasted for the second straight week. Duke allowed 228 combined yards by Florida State backs last weekend, and could not contain junior back Darrin Hall Saturday. Hall exploded for 254 of Pittsburgh’s 336 rushing yards en route to revitalizing a struggling Panther’s offense. 

X’s and O’s: The Blue Devils’ secondary was burned for explosive plays once again Saturday. In addition to the long plays in the passing game, Hall burst for touchdown runs of 79 and 92 yards. Duke also got a few breaks defensively, as Pittsburgh missed two of its three field goal attempts.

Special Teams: B-

While Austin Parker continued to have success punting—averaging 45.6 yards per punt over five attempts—his struggles in the kicking game did little to help an inconsistent offensive unit. Parker doubled his season’s total of missed field goals after failing to convert from 49 and 36 yards Saturday. The Mount Pleasant, N.C., native has now made 11 of his 15 attempts this season. 

Chronicle postgame: Duke football vs. Pittsburgh

Duke dropped its fourth straight game Saturday, this time a 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh at Wallace Wade Stadium. The Chronicle's Ben Feder and Alex Sanfilippo break down the Blue Devils' performance. 

Chronicle postgame: Countdown to Craziness

In the Blue-White scrimmage at Countdown to Craziness Friday, the Blue team, headed by led by 13 points from Gary Trent Jr, edged the White team and Grayson Allen 43-41. Allen had 13 points, while teammate Marvin Bagley III impressed in his first live action at Cameron Indoor Stadium, scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds. The Chronicle's Ben Leonard and Mitchell Gladstone give some early takeaways from the team's scrimmage, plus some reaction from Bagley. 


HALFTIME: Pittsburgh 7, Duke 3

In a game expected to be high-scoring and loaded with offense, Saturday’s first-half between Pittsburgh and Duke has been everything but.

The Panthers lead the Blue Devils 7-3 heading into the locker room after a first half in which both teams relied heavily on the run to move the ball.

Duke’s passing woes continued against a typically vulnerable Pittsburgh secondary, with quarterback Daniel Jones finishing with just 59 yards on 10 attempts. Jones tried to find tight end Daniel Helm in triple coverage in the red zone on the Blue Devils' lone trip, but the ball bounced off the redshirt junior’s hands and onto the turf. Duke attempted to convert on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line before a delay of game backed up the offense, and the Blue Devils were forced to kick a field goal.

That drive stands as Duke’s lone bright spot in the first half, a 13-play effort at the end of the first quarter that included just two passes.

The Panthers have struggled to gain ground through the air, with redshirt sophomore quarterback Ben DiNucci looking far from comfortable in the pocket. DiNucci has just 38 passing yards on 10 attempts.

Darrin Hall’s 79-yard touchdown dash jumpstarted the Pittsburgh offense early in the first quarter. Hall has seen the larger share of the workload in the first half instead of fellow junior Qadree Ollison, with Hall racking up 110 yards on nine carries. 

Pittsburgh had the chance to gain significant ground on the Blue Devils after cornerback Avonte Maddox forced a fumble on Duke’s first possession after the touchdown. But the Blue Devil defense held strong, forcing a three-and-out from the Panthers. 

Pittsburgh controlled the ball for most of the second quarter, with an 18-play possession eating up almost 10 minutes of game time. Although the Panthers moved the ball efficiently against the Blue Devil defense, a holding penalty late in the drive and an errant throw by DiNucci backed up the Panthers. Redshirt freshman kicker Alex Kessman was wide right on an attempt from 47 yards out.

Kessman missed another long kick on Pittsburgh's last possession of the half, and Duke's Austin Parker returned the favor with a miss as time expired in the second quarter.

Here are some observations from the first half:

  • The Panthers' passing game has been incredibly ineffective and they have been hurt by five penalties, but they did not commit a turnover in the half.
  • Duke enters halftime with only 143 total yards against a team that gives up more than 30 points per game.

Third and goal: Duke football vs. Pittsburgh

Coming off of three consecutive losses, Duke aims to get back on track as it welcomes a struggling Pittsburgh Panthers team to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday. The Blue Devils will look to get more production out of their offense and pick up a much-needed win Saturday afternoon. Here are three keys to the ACC tilt:

Lean on the running game

Head coach David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils have run the ball only 57 times in the last two weeks, both times failing to have a rusher reach 100 yards. If there was ever a time to change the game plan, it’s this Saturday. Duke will see a favorable matchup against a Pittsburgh defense that was torched last week for 248 rushing yards by NC State and has already surrendered more than 1,200 rushing yards on the season. Duke’s duo of running backs, Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown, have been the only consistent part of the offense, averaging 5.8 and 6.0 yards per game respectively, and are bound to get more touches Saturday afternoon. 

Bring the heat

Both teams have struggled to protect their passers, so it will be crucial for the Duke defensive line to keep the pressure high throughout the contest and prevent Pittsburgh’s inexperienced quarterbacks from finding any comfort. The Panthers started the year with USC transfer Max Browne under center, but after he suffered a season-ending injury, will turn to sophomore quarterback Ben DiNucci. The sophomore threw only nine passes his entire freshman season, and will be on a tight leash Saturday afternoon, with freshman Kenny Pickett also vying for time. Regardless of who’s under center, Mike Ramsay and Duke’s stubborn defense could be in for a big day.

Get Daniel Jones back in rhythm

It’s been a miserable three-week stretch for Duke’s highly-regarded, quarterback who has only thrown for 200 yards once in the losing streak and has gotten little help from a struggling receiving corps. This week presents a golden opportunity for Cutcliffe to get Daniel Jones back in a rhythm and have him regain some confidence after throwing for only one touchdown and three interceptions in the last three weeks. Pittsburgh is ranked 120th in the nation in passing defense, having allowed 1,880 passing yards, so it is more than likely that the duo of Jones and No. 1 receiver T.J. Rahming could be back with a bang.

X Factor: Duke football vs. Pittsburgh

After losing three straight games, Duke will look to get back on track Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium against Pittsburgh, which has not beaten a Power Five team thus far. 

Every week throughout the football season, the Blue Zone will break down a player on each team who could be the difference-maker in the upcoming contest. This week, Blue Devil receiver Jonathan Lloyd and Panthers quarterback Ben DeNuccci are under the spotlight. 

Duke: Wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd

Touted as one of the deepest receiving units in the Cutcliffe era, it seems as though the Blue Devils wide receiving corps have been spread too thin. Although Duke has 10 players with at least seven receptions, it will need some of their secondary receivers to step up in order to keep up with the Panthers’ prolific offense.

The Blue Devils have been searching for a secondary option behind junior T.J. Rahming, and the time has come for fellow junior Johnathan Lloyd to rise up into that role. Despite being second in receiving yards for Duke, Lloyd has been relatively quiet on the season. The Graham, N.C, native has gained more than 50 yards in a contest just once this season, and has totaled just 22 yards on two receptions over his last two games. 

While Lloyd has not made an impact as of late, he has shown an ability to make plays—he's broken off four of more than 20 yards this year— and could be primed for a breakout performance against a Pittsburgh secondary ranks 111th in the nation for passing yards allowed. The junior had a breakout nine-catch, 82-yard performance Sept. 29 against Miami and could be poised to catch a few more passes this week. A solid performance from Lloyd Saturday against the Panthers could go a long way to getting the Blue Devil passing game back on track heading into the heart of ACC play.

Pittsburgh: Quarterback Ben DiNucci

With the Pittsburgh defense allowing nearly 450 yards per contest and starting quarterback and Southern California transfer Max Browne lost after season-ending shoulder surgery, the importance of getting the offense on track early and often will be magnified against a strong Blue Devil defense. Whether or not the Panthers can explode out of the gate will depend on DiNucci, a sophomore, who has seen a fair amount of action thus far. 

After sharing the load with Browne for the early part of the season and starting against Georgia Tech Sept. 23, Dinucci took the reins last week and had mixed results in his second career start, completing 19-of-32 pass attempts for 170 yards and a QBR of 59.8, while throwing a touchdown and an interception. DiNucci won't be doing it all by himself, however—he has explosive weapons in receivers Rafael Araujo-Lopes and Jester Weah, who have combined for almost 800 yards this season. 

Film room: Has using Quentin Harris worked?

Every week, the Blue Zone takes you inside the video room and breaks down a key piece, player or unit for the Blue Devils’ opponent. In a special edition of Film Room, the Blue Zone dissects Quentin Harris' usage this season. 

In a tie game in the fourth quarter against preseason No. 3 Florida State, Duke had just secured the momentum and the ball on a Jeremy McDuffie interception. 

Soon, the Blue Devils faced a pivotal third-and-4 at the Seminole 47-yard line, with a chance to extend a drive to take the lead. 

But then, head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff opted to put in backup quarterback Quentin Harris. 

Quarterback Daniel Jones, who had been having a fine day, was pulled in favor of the speedy Harris, who had not attempted a pass outside of garbage time all season, only used in clear running situations. He rolled out to his right, looked downfield, and had his pass batted down by a defensive lineman. 

Duke was forced to punt, turning a potential late lead into a three-and-out. On the next drive, Florida State drove 91 yards to take a 17-10 lead that it would never surrender. 

This play was a microcosm of Harris’ head-scratching usage this season. Outside of garbage time usage, early use against Northwestern and a sneak against North Carolina, only two of the eight designed Harris runs have been anything close to successful. Cutcliffe and his staff have used Harris extremely predictably, having him throw just the one pass in crunch time compared the eight runs, five of which have been to the left side. You can see the breakdown of every Harris snap here

Of those eight, seven were following wildly successful plays either by Jones or Brittain Brown, seeming to kill the momentum they had built. After the game Saturday, Jones endorsed Cutcliffe and his staff’s usage of Harris. 

“He’s a really good football player and deserves the ability to get out there and make plays,” Jones said.

But after his unsuccessful trips—his only successes being a two-yard run for a first down and a four-yard touchdown—should he really still be trotted out onto the field in key situations? The tape seems to suggest otherwise. 

Here's the list of Harris designed plays in the specified circumstances—two yards, no gain, one yard, three yards, four yard rush touchdown, one yard, two yards, incompletion. That’s 1.9 yards per carry, for those who are counting. Jones’ yards per carry so far this season, even including sacks: 2.9.

Jones’ runs have been much more successful because teams do not expect them—and he’s a good runner in his own right. When Harris comes in, defenses know they’re going to get a run right behind the guards, or maybe an occasional loop outside the tackles. 

Take this play against the Seminoles. On second-and-6, Jones runs off the field in favor of Harris. Not exactly a shocker that he’ll run the ball, even though he’s coming out of the shotgun. Linebacker Adonis Thomas, No. 22, was spying on Harris and crashed immediately to blow up the play for just a one-yard gain, even though Harris faked a drop-back to pass—very unconvincingly. 

Exhibit B: third-and-1 against Baylor, a classic Harris play-call. 

On an obvious run down, the Bears were able to stack the box and bring all seven to stop Harris on his run off the right guard, essentially the exact same play that was called on third-and-short for Harris early in the game. The play was predictably snuffed, forcing the Blue Devils to take a risk on fourth down in a tight 24-20 game in the fourth. 

In sum, Duke will have to switch up its usage of Harris if it wants to avoid wasted drives. Perhaps allowing him to pass the ball more would work—something Cutcliffe and his staff tried against the Seminoles.

Duke in the NFL: Week 6

As the NFL season moves along, The Blue Zone takes a look at how some former Blue Devils in the NFL performed in Week 6. 

Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington 

After a disappointing performance two weeks ago where he put up negative seven yards with a fumble, Crowder caught 3 balls for a total of 15 yards in a 26-24 win against the 49ers. Crowder, who had previously been dealing with a hamstring injury, told the media before the game that he felt “100 percent.” Washington hopes to improve to 4-2 next week when it faces the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football. 

Laken Tomlinson, LG, San Francisco 49ers

Although the 49ers eventually lost to Washington 26-24, Tomlinson and the San Francisco offense had some bright spots. With new quarterback C.J. Beathard under center for most of the game, San Francisco's offense amassed 279 yards in passing and looked much better than when it had Brian Hoyer under center. However, Tomlinson and the line did not give Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida much to work with, as each ran for only 28 and 21 yards respectively. 

Ross Cockrell, CB, New York Giants 

In a surprising Monday night victory for the Giants, Cockrell put up 3 tackles and an assisted tackle. Cockrell and the Giant’s defense allowed only 10 points against the Denver Broncos and showed resiliency in their first win of the season. The Giants, who have been plagued with injuries thus far in the season, will look to build on this win next week against the Seahawks. 

Lucas Patrick, G, Green Bay Packers

Rookie guard Lucas Patrick did not start this week for the Packers when they faced off against Minnesota. Patrick, however, did play in the 2nd half at left guard after Lane Tayor left the game with knee and ankle injuries. The Packers, who lost Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter to a broken collarbone, did not score in the second half and eventually lost the game 23-10. 

Thomas Hennessy, LS, New York Jets

Hennessy once again executed his role as long-snapper perfectly on Sunday. Kicker Chandler Cantanzaro hit both extra points and connected on a 28-yard field goal with 3:40 left in the game. The Jets surprisingly played the defending Super Bowl champions close, although Brady and the Patriots eventually came out on top, winning 24-17.