The devil is in the details.
No, that’s not a pun.
Well, maybe a little.
There’s an old football axiom that at the end of the day you are what your record says you are.
Duke’s record says they aren’t a very good football team right now. They have five games left. Can they become a good football team before time runs out on the 2020 season?
I’ve watched some bad Duke football teams, teams coached by Carl Franks and Ted Roof over-represented in that group. Those coaches routinely put out on the field teams that were physically over-matched, facing opponents that were bigger, stronger and faster than their Duke counterparts.
This team doesn’t look like those teams. Duke hasn’t been physically dominated by any of their opponents, not even Notre Dame. Duke has had a chance to win every one of their five losses well into the fourth quarter.
But stuff keeps happening. Weird stuff, bad stuff, blooper-reel stuff. Duke completes a pass and the opposing defensive back wrestles it away from the receiver as the two tumble to the ground. Duke takes a late lead and immediately gives up an 83-yard kickoff return. A backup quarterback throws an apparent interception in Duke’s end zone only to be rewarded with a touchdown when Duke’s cornerback lets the ball slip through his hands into the right hand and head of an opposing receiver.
And oh, the turnovers, a staggering 22 through six games.
Duke’s 2014 Coastal Division title team had 15 turnovers in 14 games.
In case you’re counting.
Now, there are several ways to look at this. The glass-half full way says that Duke is close, that all Duke has to do to turn those L’s into W’s is significantly reduce the turnovers, the penalties, the drops.
Duke has an off-week before meeting Charlotte on Halloween night, an extra week of practice to plug the holes, fix the leaks, turn around the ship, find the missing pieces of the puzzle.
Grad-student offensive tackle Devery Hamilton and senior safety Marquis Waters met with the media Thursday morning to discuss that effort.
Which brings us back to the details.
Hamilton was asked about Duke’s disappearing running game against NC State.
“First and foremost it comes down to all 11 guys on offense doing their jobs. That comes down to the quarterback making the right play call, the offensive line making our combination calls, making sure we’re attacking the right aiming points, when the running back makes it to the line, the tight ends and receivers staying on their guys. Against NC State it came down to us doing our jobs. There were times during the game when we had some mis-communication.”
How does Duke fix that?
“At the end of the day we should know our schemes, our offense better than the defense knows their schemes. We should know our answers to it. This is a great week to hone in on what we need to do to get better. We don’t want to be 1 and 5. We all know we’re better than a 1 and 5 team but we haven’t earned it. I would say the mood in practice has been high. We haven’t been honing in on the little details that we need to do well in order to win. That’s what we’re focusing on.”
Waters adds a slightly different take.
Duke needs to “keep confidence and conditioning up. Play hard every play with the same effort we started off with. Give it 100 percent effort every play and stay focused.”
Duke took some time off and had its first practice of the week on Thursday. Hamilton and Waters described the practice as focused and full of energy.
Duke doesn’t give away much in the injury realm but it looks like true center Graham Barton will be the starting center for the foreseeable future, injuries having sidelined Jack Wohlabaugh and Will Taylor.
Hamilton said Barton made a positive impression early on.
“It started off in training camp, coming in a putting good stuff on film. . . That’s what really set him up to come in in the middle of a game. I thought he did well. This is an opportunity for him.”
Let’s just hope he’s honing in on those fine details.