After a crushing defeat against Virginia Tech, Duke retuned home for a crucial matchup against the rival North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday evening. In front of a near capacity crowd at Wallace Wade Stadium, the Blue Devils captured the victory with 13 seconds remaining on the clock on a pass from quarterback Sean Renfree to receiver Jamison Crowder. The Chronicle’s Jay Sullivan sat down to grade Duke’s 33-30 win.
Pass: Quarterback Sean Renfree was not perfect. He had one official interception and two that were reversed. However, when it came down to the final drive with three minutes left on the clock and down four points, he was calm and collected on his throws especially in the final touchdown pass to receiver Jamison Crowder. Renfree completed 64 percent of his passes for 276 yards. Wide receiver Connor Vernon made big catches throughout the game for 124 yards gained. He may not have been as big a factor as past weeks, but he was effective when it counted most.
Rush: Duke rushing finally decided to show up to a game and play calling was not shy in using the three main backs: Juwan Thompson, Josh Snead and Jela Duncan. The Blue Devils ran the ball 53 times, nearly 20 more times than they threw. The running game averaged 4.4 yards per carry and racked up 234 yards on the ground. Snead had nearly 100 yards on 15 attempts and Thompson 64 yards on 11 attempts. Duncan was not as successful in average yards per carry, despite getting the most touches, 22, and scoring one touchdown.
X’s and O’s: There was a fairly solid balance in the Blue Devils offensive attack. However, there were two major flaws in the game that warrant an A- grade. First and most important, was ball control. Renfree came close to three interceptions, which would have crushed Duke’s chances in the game. Second, the play calling late in the game was predictable and hampered Duke’s effectiveness until the final drive. The second half seemed to be a consistent dosage of two running plays and then pass on third down. The Blue Devils converted on half of their third down attempts, but they could have benefited from a more diverse play call range. The no-huddle offense was a surprise and seemed to confuse the Tar Heel defense. On the whole it was a successful game for Duke’s offense.
Pass: Duke’s passing defense was fairly strong throughout the game, but found difficulty holding North Carolina late in the game. Duke took some risks in blitzes that exposed the secondary to deeper throws. The Tar Heels’ final touchdown was evidence of when blitzing hurt the Blue Devils coverage ability. The key for the future has to be in finishing games and not allowing teams to score so quickly in the fourth quarter.
Rush: The Blue Devils limited North Carolina to 177 yards on the ground. There were times when the Tar Heels dominated the ground game, as other ACC opponents like Virginia Tech were able to do. The defense needs to continually work on meeting the runner at the line of scrimmage and improving tackling ability. There were some positive signs Saturday, but Duke is not there yet. North Carolina star running back Giovani Bernard is probably the toughest matchup the Blue Devils will have all season—so all in all, it was a solid effort.
X’s and O’s: Turnover differential has been a key to Duke’s success this year. The Blue Devils were able to cause two turnovers on fumbles and nearly caused a third late in the fourth quarter. When Duke’s defense gives the offense more opportunities to score more time with the ball, the Blue Devils tend to be more successful overall.
Special Teams: B+
Kicker Ross Martin performed very well despite the pressures the rivalry game presented sinking a 43-yard field goal attempt among three others. His counterpart, Will Monday punted only twice but was effective. Duke encountered some serious issues when it came to fake plays. They were severely fooled by a Tar Heel fake field goal attempt and were unable to convert on a fake punt. The problem is maintaining mental focus in every situation. Special teams can be an area in which Duke can be successful every game.