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Football - Looking Back, Looking Ahead

by Greg Sanders

Saturday's game against ECU went about half like I expected -- that half being the performance of the defense. Coach Franks promised to play his depth even at the cost of putting inexperienced players on the field, and he made good on that promise, as Duke defenders were shuttled in and out of the game frequently. And, as was expected, ECU's talented and experienced offense often ran roughshod over the Devils. Really, though, all things considered, the defense didn't play too badly. There appears to be some talent among the younger players, and we can only hope that experience will make the defensive unit better.

The offense was another story. While I expected ECU to put 30-something points on the board, I honestly believed Duke could put close to 30 points on the board. Perhaps that was a bit optimistic, but I never would have guessed the offense would put up a goose-egg. Chris Douglas appears to be a talent in the backfield, and he did have a nice 23-yard run in the second half, but otherwise he just didn't have room to run. The passing game was, for the most part, bad. The short passes worked okay, but we're definitely talking short here -- just a few yards per completion. Longer passes weren't connecting. (To be fair, the rain might have had something to do with that.)

Most surprising to me was the play-calling. Airborne is something of a misnomer for the Duke offense, as it does need a strong running game to be successful. Still, I expected some more interesting plays to appear, but they didn't.

D. Bryant saw a good chunk of time at QB, and it looks like he'll be a good one, though it was tough to get a good read on that, since the OL didn't create a lot of space for him.

Finally, a few bright spots, all of which appeared on special teams. Chris Douglas is an outstanding kick returner who could break some long ones this season. Brian Morton will be one of the ACC's, if not the country's, best punters. And though we only got to see Brent Garber once during the game, his kickoff to open the second half sailed deep into the endzone, which is something we haven't seen often from Duke kickers.

Bottom line for this game: ECU is a great and experienced football team, probably one of the three best Duke will face this year, and a lopsided loss to the Pirates isn't a shameful thing. It also isn't the death-knell for Duke's 2000 season, though the offense is going to have to perform much, much better for to Duke to have a chance to win games.

Next up is Northwestern. The Wildcats aren't the same team they were in their Cinderella season a few years back, but they're also not the doormat they once were. They'll present a stiff challenge for Duke, though one that's closer to our talent level than was ECU.