Duke’s once promising 2019 football season is on life support after a 49-6 loss to Syracuse Saturday evening dropped Duke to 4-6.
Yes, the same Syracuse team that came into Wallace Wade 3-6, winless in the ACC, with one of the worst defenses in a Power-5 conference.
The culprits for Duke were ones that have become familiar during this four-game losing streak; a slow start, a stagnant and unimaginative offense, penalties, turnovers, loss of focus, loss of intensity.
Duke came out of the blocks like someone who hit the snooze button on the alarm and went back to sleep.
Duke won the opening toss and elected to receive. Duke reached the Syracuse 24 but a false start put Duke behind the chains and Duke isn’t very good behind the chains right now.
The drive ended when A.J. Reed was wide left on a 44-yard field goal, into a strong wind.
It took Syracuse four plays to go 74 yards, most of them coming on a pair of slant-ins from Tommy DeVito to Trishton Jackson, the touchdown from 18 yards out.
Rinse and repeat.
Duke again drove into Syracuse territory but the drive stalled and Duke punted.
It took Syracuse nine plays this time, mostly on the ground.
Fourteen-zero after 11:23.
To their credit, Duke dominated the rest of the first half. Duke’s defense forced four punts and consistently gave Duke’s offense excellent field position. And there was that 72-yard Austin Parker punt.
But Duke did little with the opportunities.
Reed knocked down two field goals, 31 and 51 yards long, the latter the longest of his career. But those field goals finished off drives of 24 and 19 yards.
The first half was further marred by injuries to left tackle Casey Holman and wide receiver Scott Bracey that took them off the field for the duration, Holman’s neck injury of sufficient severity that he was strapped up and carted off.
David Cutcliffe said the early X-rays were negative and Holman would have an MRI tomorrow.
Still, it was only 14-6 at half and it looked like Duke had a chance, especially after Duke forced a three-and-out on Syracuse’s first possession.
But there’s a football axiom that every drive should end with a kick, preferably an extra point, if not that a field goal, worst case a punt.
Duke’s first four second-half drives ended with an interception, an interception, a lost fumble and a sack on 4th down.
The first interception resulted in a 48-yard pick-six by Andre Cisco, the next two short fields exploited by Syracuse for touchdown drives.
“One penalty here, a missed yardage play here,” Quentin Harris lamented. “The breaks weren’t really going our way. We had a couple of contested plays that ended up in turnovers. That coupled with not being able to finish drives, that’s what ruined our momentum in the third quarter.”
The third quarter mercifully ended, with Syracuse up 35-6.
It’s hard to blame Duke’s defense for much of this, at least not after those first two drives.
Then again, those 14 points still counted.
“I was shocked that they ran the ball as effectively as they did against us,” Cutcliffe said. “I did not think that could happen. . . . We didn’t defeat man coverage, we couldn’t throw and catch it. We would move the ball at times and then we would help them, either with a penalty or we took some sacks. I’m anxious to see why we took them.”
Recapping the fourth quarter is like trying to pick out which wave of a tsunami flooded your house. It was ugly.
I don’t pretend to know how Duke fixes this mess. They have a lot of experienced football coaches on the staff who are being paid a lot of money to figure that out.
But no one can deny that this is a mess. Duke has been outscored 155-44 over the last four games and that finely-honed offense that we saw dismantle Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech seems like a distant memory.
Cutcliffe told the media that he was tired of hearing himself say that Duke practiced well and he does not have a handle on the slow starts, which doesn’t suggest an imminent solution.
“Words aren’t going to fix this,” Cutcliffe said. “Blame isn’t going to fix this. Looking for answers somewhere isn’t going to fix this. Intense study and intense work and everybody has to be accountable starting with me.”
Chris Katrenick took the helm for Duke in the fourth quarter. He rushed for 27 yards but
missed on all four of his pass attempts.
Misleading stats of the day?
Duke had 19 first downs to Syracuse’s 16 and a 32:42-to 27:18 time-of-possession advantage.
But more revealingly Duke lost the turnover battle 3-0 and had only one play longer than 20 yards, a 25-yard pass from Harris to Aaron Young early.
Harris credited Syracuse for making tackles in the open field and contesting catches.
Of course, one could just as easily say that Duke didn’t break tackles in the open field and win contested catches.
Harris was 19-for-36 but picked up only 157 yards on those completions.
Syracuse rushed for 286 yards on 43 rushes, a 6.7 average.
Cutcliffe said the official’s properly handled that play in which a Bracey catch and subsequent targeting call were both overturned on review.
Announced attendance 16,286 all of whom deserved better for sitting through an arctic wind and a woeful Duke performance.
- Duke’s bowl hopes on life support after humbling loss to Syracuse
- INDEFENSIBLE: Duke football dismantled by lowly Syracuse team, bowl eligibility in doubt
- Turnovers Doom Blue Devils in Loss to Syracuse
- Five observations and more from Duke football’s first half against Syracuse
- Syracuse Football: Orange come alive with splash plays in huge Duke win
- Box Score (PDF)
- Postgame Notes (PDF)
- Postgame Quotes (PDF)
- Photo Gallery