I’m just running out of ways to say the same thing. Once again Duke played a football game against a beatable opponent, once again Duke had opportunities to put away that opponent and once again a cascade of avoidable mistakes led to a Duke defeat.
The final this time was NC State 31 Duke 20. And this was after Duke led 17-7 in the final seconds of the first half before gifting the Wolfpack a momentum-switching score.
State outscored Duke 17-0 after intermission.
If you were looking for style points you were in the wrong place. Depending on your perspective the first quarter was a comedy of errors or two teams making a lot of big plays. We had a blocked punt, a lost fumble, two interceptions and some costly penalties in just the opening period.
Duke led 10-0 but it seemed like it could have been, maybe should have been more.
And yes, you’ve heard that before.
Duke took an early 7-0 lead when freshman linebacker Dorian Masui returned a blocked punt 32 yards for a score. Duke had a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Pack when Leonard Johnson recovered a State fumble at their 15. But Chase Brice missed a wide open Noah Gray and then threw an interception.
Cutcliffe compared the missed pass to a dropped foul ball, the mistake that always come back to “bite you.”
Duke converted an interception into a field goal, State had a long TD drive and Duke answered with perhaps its best drive of the season, a 16-play, 89-yard drive aided by two 15-yard Wolfpack penalties. The drive ended with Jake Bobo taking a short pass from Brice and scoring from eight yards out.
“I got a great block out there by Noah Gray, I made one miss . . . and got in the end zone.”
Then we had one of two key sequences that turned it all around. Following a punt Duke took over at their 20, up 17-7. State had only one timeout left, with 1:34 left on the clock. The play clock resets to 35 when the ball is set ready for play. Run the ball three times, use enough time during the play and you run out the clock.
Or maybe not.
Cutcliffe came down on the side of not.
“The first half, I felt like we were going to have to make a first down. . . . We were just having to avoid having to make a punt.”
An incomplete pass on second down made the point moot and led to Porter Wilson’s punt being blocked and returned eight yards for a score.
“We went out with a fast cadence and a player needed to adjust to a split and he didn’t do it. They moved late and we weren’t able to get it corrected.”
State gifted Duke with two more personal-foul penalties and Ham ended the half with a field goal that left Duke up 20-14 at intermission.
Derrick Tangelo forced a fumble on a sack on State’s first second-half possession. Drew Jordan recovered the fumble at the State 25. But after the play Tangelo was assessed 15 yards for excessive celebration, i.e. taking his helmet off on the field of play.
It may seem like a silly rule bit it’s a rule and Tangelo is a senior and should know better.
Duke started at the 40 instead of the 25.
Brice picked up 23 and nine yards on runs and Duke had first-and-goal at the four.
This is when head coach David Cutcliffe says offensive co-ordinator David Cutcliffe came up short.
“I just did a poor job of sequence of calls once we got inside the five-yard line. You don’t get those back.”
Duke ran the ball three times and picked up three yards.
Fourth and goal, up six.
Time for the field-goal unit?
“Most of the time in the first three quarters with the ball inside the two or three yard-line I’m going to go for it. Statistically, everything I believe in is that you try to score a touchdown there. I know it would have put us up nine points but I didn’t think that would be enough. If it’s in the fourth quarter, I’m going to go up two scores.”
Brice was hit as he threw an incompletion.
“I wish I had a direct answer,” Bobo said of Duke’s continuing red-zone woes. “I’m sure if anyone did we wouldn’t necessarily be having those problems in the red zone. It comes down to the little things. . . . We’ve got to address that and address that big time.”
“That definitely sucked some of the energy out of the team,” Bobo said of the two squandered goal-to-go opportunities.”
Duke was still up by a point but there was a feeling of inevitability in the air. Once State stopped giving Duke chunks of penalty yards Duke simply couldn’t sustain anything offensively. Brice picked up 86 yards rushing but tailbacks Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant combined for 43 yards on 27 carries.
And Duke’s down-field passing was essentially non-existent. Brice completed 24-of-40 passes but for only 190 yards. Duke’s longest completion was an 18-yarder to Bobo.
“They put a lot of pressure on our O-line and Chase back there,” Bobo said. “Those three front guys are good. We knew that coming in. But they got after us up front and you’ve got to make them pay down-field and as a receiver group we didn’t make them do that.”
State took a 21-20 lead following another Brice interception but the killer came shortly after they lost starting quarterback Devin Leary to an apparent head injury.
Bailey Hockman replaced Leary. That targeting penalty on Lummie Young that knocked out Leary and a pass interference on Jeremiah Lewis helped move the ball to the Duke nine. Hockman threw a pass right at Duke defender Jalen Alexander. Of course it went right through Alexander’s hands, where it was caught by Thayer Thomas for a touchdown.
Duke was down by eight and had plenty of time. But a dropped pass or two, a couple of Duke punts, another interception, a made NC State field goal and a missed Duke field goal and it was a wrap.
The final statistics were sobering. The two teams combined for two blocked punts, six turnovers and 13 penalties, 13 that were accepted anyway.
Duke wanted to go into its first open date on a two-game winning streak. Instead they go in with way more questions than answers, time running out to salvage this most frustrating season.
Quarterback change during the bye-week?
Cutcliffe went out of his way to praise Brice, saying it was Brice’s best game.
“Chase Brice played fierce tonight and competed with everything he had. . . . The last two interceptions are on me. I’ve got to put him in better position.”
Correctly or not Cutcliffe and Duke made the decision to sink or swim with Brice. It doesn’t look like that’s going to change.
Cutcliffe also went out of his way to praise Duke’s fight.
Cutcliffe said he had no early read on any of the numerous injuries suffered by Duke, especially those suffered by center Will Taylor and cornerback Leonard Johnson. Note that both Taylor and Johnson were backups until starters were injured. Duke is going with true freshman Graham Barton-a converted guard-at center and lots of inexperience at cornerback.
Tight end Noah Gray had three catches and now has 100 for his Duke career.
Running back Deon Jackson went over 2,000 career rushing yards, ending the game with 2,031.
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