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Louisville Wins, Duke Impresses

The Cardinals won but Duke really made them earn it.

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NCAA Football: Duke at Louisville

Oct 14, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA; Duke Blue Devils running back Shaun Wilson (29) runs the ball against the Louisville Cardinals during the second half at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Louisville defeated Duke 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Duke pushed Louisville more than any opponent so far, but fell 24-14 in the end. Both teams scored on their opening drives, and then stagnated and finished the first half with Louisville up 10-7.

Louisville RB Jeremy Smith broke three arm tackles on an 80-yard touchdown run for the only points of the 3rd quarter. Louisville missed a field goal in that frame.

Duke scored a touchdown with 6:34 to go on a 20 yard touchdown pass from Daniel Jones to Johnathon Lloyd, and forced a missed field goal with 1:32 to go.

However, Breon Borders was called for roughing the kicker and Lamar Jackson ran in a touchdown two plays later, icing the game.

Duke was outgained 239-469, but won time of possession 37 minutes to 23. Louisville is now 5-1, 3-1 in conference, while Duke falls to 3-4, 0-3.

As has been the case often this year, Duke’s offense struggled more than the defense. This is the third time this year that Duke has given up only 24 points and scored 14 or less.

Papa John’s Stadium is a tough road environment. It certainly got loud on 3rd and 4th downs, as most of the 55,000 reported attendance stood and screamed. However, Daniel Jones handled the environment well, converting 8/16 third downs and committing no turnovers.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said the performance was “outstanding,” and pointed out that Jones has been to Northwestern, Notre Dame, and has played in a hurricane. “He’s pretty battle-tested already for a redshirt freshman.”

The offensive playcalling was somewhat one-dimensional, as Jones only attempted a half-dozen downfield passes. The vast majority of plays were either horizontal passes to a wide receiver lined up directly behind a tight end, or inside runs. This may not have produced many scores or yards gained, but it kept Lamar Jackson off the field.

Duke controlled time of possession, holding the ball for almost twice as long as Louisville. Cutcliffe said that was part of the game plan: “The best place for him [Lamar Jackson] and that offense to be is on the sideline watching us get first downs.”

Constantly pounding the ball inside worked on Duke’s second touchdown drive, when Shaun Wilson ran inside about eight times before Jones hit Lloyd for the aforementioned 20-yard touchdown pass. The secondary was lulled to sleep by the run.

Duke rolled out an unusual formation on several plays, in which a receiver lined up directly behind a tight end. There were usually two pairs, one on each side. Jones often quickly turned and threw to the receiver. When asked about the new formation, he said “[t]hat’s part of our offense, you’re right that we haven’t done it that much… we’ll have to look at the film and decide how much we’ll use that going forward.”

Duke’s defense certainly showed up to play against Louisville. Yes, there were plenty of missed tackles, which were primarily responsible for the 80-yard touchdown run. Yes, Lamar Jackson on occasions ran everywhere he wanted.

But Louisville was held to 10 points in the first half, when it has averaged over 30 points per first half this season.

That impressive performance continued into the second half. Louisville has been averaging over 50 points a game against high-profile teams like Clemson, but were held to less than half that by the Blue Devils. Cutcliffe credited that achievement to his team’s preparation: “We prepare well… our players are a hell of a lot smarter than I am.”

Redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Giles-Harris credited the defense’s ability to contain the Louisville offense to “basic fundamental football,” a matter of being in the proper position at the proper time.

The 80 yard touchdown run and two long pass plays stood out as particularly poor plays for the defense. AJ Wolf confirmed that, saying “there were three big plays the defense gave up, on one of those I could have done better… If we don’t have that happen, it’s a different game.”

However, the defense did force one fumble and a missed field goal.

Cutcliffe praised Borders’s work on the two field goal attempts, saying he took a perfect angle to affect the kick, but that the kicker “was able to step into harm’s way.” He stated that both that penalty and the fumble recovery that was overturned due to forward progress were both perfectly “legitimate” calls, but on the kicking penalty: “[I’m] not complaining about the officiating…[but] I’d like the rules makers to look at that, because otherwise we’ll have to stop trying to block kicks.”

Cut praised both his own team’s effort and Louisville: “They’re [Louisville] an extremely complete team… talent throughout the club. Extremely well-coached in every facet of football.”

Both Wolf and Giles-Harris confirmed that the team knew it was in a position to win that game, and was extremely confident entering Friday night.

Giles-Harris said that “we looked at that game on the schedule and knew we could win.”

Both players repudiated the idea that the close loss was good enough, Wolf saying “there’s no such thing as a moral victory.”

However, if nothing else this game shows that the Duke defense will be ready for every remaining opponent on the schedule.

Duke has a week off before visiting Georgia Tech. Cutcliffe seemed grateful for the bye week saying that “[w]e’re going to need some healing, physically… we’re a bit beaten up.”