Duke defeated Memphis Saturday evening at Wallace Wade Stadium as a part Duke’s Homecoming Weekend. Supported by a crowd of students and alumni, the Blue Devils excelled late in the game after a rough first quarter to win their second game in a row. Here is a graded breakdown of Duke’s successes and failures against the Tigers.
Pass: Quarterback Sean Renfree showed his experience and finesse throughout the game. He responded well to an early interception that was returned for a Memphis touchdown in the Blue Devils’ red zone, ending the game with four touchdowns and a completion percentage of 70%. Receivers Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder were potent offensive weapons, accruing 189 yards through the air and two touchdowns. Duke utilized a mix of screens and long balls throughout the game. Missed opportunities, including Renfree’s interception, were more frequent early on. The Blue Devils have the ability to score in greater amounts than they have proven of late.
Rush: The rushing attack has been abysmal thus far in the season. If Duke could not effectively run the ball against Memphis, which has one of the worst rush defenses in the FBS, then there would be little hope that the running game could be useful against strong ACC opponents. The Blue Devils utilized many of their running backs throughout the game most of whom could not gain much yardage. Only freshman Jela Duncan averaged more than four yards per rush. In nine carries, Duncan gained 88 yards. Look for Duke to try as many backs as possible each game until one or two prove to be more effective against the opponent.
X’s and O’s: The offense, which normally relies on the passing game exclusively, had a more balanced attack, 44 rush and 40 pass plays. The offensive scheme in the red zone utilized Renfree and back-up Brandon Connette in various situations. The passing game was exceptional and the running game adequate, but the Blue Devils were haunted by a lack of ball security. Renfree’s interception became an easy touchdown for Memphis and three lost fumbles, including one on the Tigers’ one-yard line, lowered Duke’s ability to score. The Blue Devils commanded ball possession, but allowed Memphis early opportunities for scoring that Duke cannot concede against stiff ACC competition.
Pass: The Blue Devils pass defense excelled throughout the game, holding Memphis to only 81 yards through the air. The defense was put under much stress from the offense’s four turnovers and exceptional returns from Memphis’ special teams unit. Duke was disciplined in the coverage game and quick to hit the receiver, often keeping yardage to a minimum. Corner Ross Cockrell set an intensity level that resounded throughout the game.
Rush: The rushing defense gave the Tigers little room to gain consistent yardage and sustain drives. In 28 attempts, the Blue Devils held Memphis to 71 yards total. The defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the game, especially in the red zone, where they only allowed one touchdown in multiple high-pressure situations. The question remains whether they can maintain a sense of control against better rushing teams.
X’s and O’s: The key will be whether Duke can be effective in causing turnovers against more talented offenses. They were unable to cause any fumbles or interceptions against a Memphis team that looked rattled late in the game. Interceptions can be crucial breaks in competitive games and the Blue Devils will need to capitalize on every opportunity to experience success later this season. Duke can control the line of scrimmage and cover the pass effectively only to a point. Better teams will be able to better capitalize on short yardage situations and have the talent to out-compete the Blue Devils. Memphis only converted 1-of-11 third down conversions, which is proof of the defense’s progress, but there remains more room for improvement as the season continues.
Special Teams: B
The kicking game was solid due to kicker Ross Martin’s consistency. An early fake punt-pass from punter Will Monday to Connette was a welcome surprise. However, Duke lacked intensity and discipline, which hampered the team early. A 96-yard kickoff return early would have proven devastating against top ACC competition ,who would have taken the momentum immediately away from Duke. The Blue Devils must maintain focus during special teams play so that the onus of the game remains more evenly distributed throughout the team.