The Duke football offense has sizzled to start each of their first two games, but has fizzled as the game progresses. The question is why? Why have they exploded out of the blocks like Usain Bolt only to look like the last place marathoner stumbling across the finish line?
Against Temple, the Blue Devils scored touchdowns on three of their first five possessions and added a field goal on a fourth. They put the ball in the end zone the first three times at Northwestern. So, of the sixty-one points they’ve scored so far, forty-five have come by the middle of the second quarter. In the first quarter of the opening two games, the Blue Devils have run thirty-one plays and gained 360 yards. That’s well over per ten yards per play.
When Sahmir Hagans caught a thirty-nine yard touchdown pass from Riley Leonard in the middle of the second quarter against Temple, it would be the last time Duke would find the end zone against the Owls. They were able to move the ball, but could not finish drives and had to settle for field goal attempts on their next five possessions. After taking a 21-0 lead against Northwestern by the opening minute of the second quarter, they would manage just two yards for the remainder of the half. The Blue Devils would not score another touchdown for two full quarters and it took a fluke play to set up that one. On third down from their own twenty-nine yard line, Leonard threw a bit wide to Jordan Moore, who managed to get a hand on the ball. Jalon Calhoun hauled in the tipped pass and turned into a fifty-one yard gain that led to a Leonard touchdown pass a short time later. If not for a fortunate bounce, they go three and out. They have scored just one touchdown on ten second half drives. Let’s take that a step further. After scoring their third touchdown of the game, they have just one in fifteen subsequent drives combined over two games.
So, what’s the problem?
I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m some kind of football expert. I’m not, but I’ve watched and paid enough attention over the years to be able to form an opinion on this and I think the issue is adjustments. Football is a game of constant adjustments. Both teams are constantly tweaking what they’re doing on offense and defense. One team adjusts and the other reacts. It seems like once a defense makes adjustments to combat the Blue Devils’ offensive game plan, head coach Mike Elko and his staff are either slow to adjust, not making good adjustments in reaction to the defensive changes, or they are not adjusting at all (which I HIGHLY doubt).
Duke simply must get better at sustaining their early offensive success in a game, because it is going to catch up to them eventually. They are going to play teams better than their first two opponents and they can’t afford to bog down for well over half the game. Elko said he feels a lack of execution has a lot to do with it and I don’t disagree, but I don’t think that’s the only issue here. Regardless, if I’m right or wrong in my thinking, it is a situation that must change.
The Blue Devils should be able to have their way with North Carolina A&T on Saturday. But I’m going to be watching to see if the offense can score touchdowns beyond their first few drives. It is something that needs to happen.