Duke football: Missed opportunities doom Blue Devils in loss to Kansas

Duke sophomore quarterbak Riley Leonard (13) throws out a pass in the second quarter of Saturday's game against Kansas at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Duke sophomore quarterbak Riley Leonard (13) throws out a pass in the second quarter of Saturday's game against Kansas at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. /

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word opportunity as “a favorable junction of circumstances” or a “good chance for advancement or progress.” Too often against Kansas on Saturday, the Duke Blue Devils were presented with a favorable junction of circumstances, but failed to capitalize on the opportunity. This ultimately doomed them in a 35-27 loss to the Jayhawks.

Missed opportunities when they had the ball

After recovering a fumble in their own territory late in the first quarter, the Blue Devils had a chance to mount a drive to take the lead in what was a 7-7 game. They managed just one first down before punting and missed an opportunity to make the Jayhawks play from behind. Instead, Kansas scored on their second play.

Trailing 14-7 early in the second quarter, they drove to the Kansas seven where they had a first and goal, but left tackle Graham Barton was called for a false start. That backed up the Blue Devils to the twelve, where they eventually settled for a Charlie Ham field goal. Duke managed just three points from a drive that took over six minutes. The Jayhawks then took five minutes to drive for a touchdown and 21-10 lead.

On their first drive of the second half, the Blue Devils were faced with a fourth and one at the Kansas 37-yard line. Jordan Waters was stuffed on an unimaginative dive play that was run into the teeth of a stacked and waiting Jayhawk defense. Kansas scored four plays later to stretch their lead to 28-10. Two Duke drives totaling twenty-two plays and took a combined eleven minutes and forty-seven seconds yielded just three points. Kansas scored a touchdown on each of their subsequent drives.

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Missed opportunities when they didn’t have the ball

Facing a fourth and three from the Duke forty, Jayhawk quarterback Jalon Daniels dumped the ball to Devin Neal. When Blue Devils’ safety Brandon Johnson failed to get his head in front when trying to make the tackle, Neal was able to fight to pick up the first down. Two plays later Kansas put the ball into the end zone for the game’s first score.

Tackling and the inability to get off the field on third down would haunt the Duke defense all day. In the second quarter, Daniel Hinshaw gathered in a pass just a yard beyond the line of scrimmage and proceeded to turn it into a seventy-three-yard touchdown thanks in very large part to poor pursuit angles and even worse tackling by the Blue Devils. A missed tackle is a missed opportunity to limit extra yards and the defense gave up way too many extra yards on Saturday.

If it seemed like time and again the Jayhawks converted on third down, it is because they did. In the second quarter, after pulling to within 14-10, the Duke defense failed to stop Kansas on third down three times on their next possession. Daniels completed passes of nineteen, eight, and sixteen yards to keep the drive alive, and did so with almost no pressure from the Blue Devils pass rush. The Jayhawks would eventually score to go up 21-10. Kansas converted six of ten third down situations (the Blue Devils were just five for fifteen)-that’s far too many.

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Use the loss as a positive

Hey, I’d rather be sitting here writing about missed opportunities that could have turned a loss into a win rather than lamenting a blowout. Head coach Mile Elko and his team need to learn from this, get better, and move on, because there is a lot of football yet to be played.