Duke opened its 2006 season in nightmarish fashion Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium, dropping a 13-0 decision to visiting Richmond.
Devils Illustrated sizes up the disappointing performance in the Sunday report card:
The good news about the quarterback play Saturday night was that neither Marcus Jones or Thaddeus Lewis turned the ball over. That was priority one for the two inexperienced signal callers. Jones was ineffective in his three series, looked indecisive, and struggled with some short armed passes. In Jones' defense, it would have been nice to see what would have happened on the first drive if Jomar Wright hadn't fumbled away the game's first completion. Lewis completed 15 of 24 passes for 148 yards and may have laid claim to the starting quarterback job. Lewis admittedly was nervous in his first collegiate action, and he looked anxious in the pocket and probably bailed too early on two fourth-and-goal plays late in the game, but he still displayed the arm and moxie that make him a promising player. You can't call Saturday night's quarterback play a success because of the shutout, but there are bigger reasons why Duke lost the game.
Losing Justin Boyle and Ronnie Drummer in the first half was a devastating blow, but nobody stepped in to pick up the slack. The Devils ended the game with a horrendous 1.7 yards per rush average and lacked any real physicalness without Boyle in the game. Without Boyle's tough running and Drummer's big play threat, there's not much Requan Boyette can do on his own. Tielor Robinson made one good catch out of the backfield, but if the Blue Devils lose key weapons at tailback, Robinson's lead blocking ability becomes much less relevant.
Richmond recorded four sacks on the evening, but the Spiders brought plenty of additional heat even if they didn't finish the job at the quarterback. Duke's playcalling on 2nd-and-goal from the two-a Lewis bootleg that resulted in a sack-indicated a lack of confidence from the staff in the line's ability to pave a path to paydirt. There were no muffed snaps or bad shotgun snaps, something that has been an occasional issue in fall camp. However, the bottom line is that Richmond's season front seven physically controlled the line of scrimmage and repeatedly beat Duke back. Everybody knew it was an inexperienced line that would probably endure a tough season, but it was an even more sobering start to the season.
Kudos to Raphael Chestnut for stepping up and asserting himself as a consistent weapon. His play was the only truly bright spot for the sputtering offense. Wright's first quarter fumble was one of the defining plays of the game however, and that turnover casts a long shadow over any other positives from the unit. Wright did go on to catch five passes and Eron Riley had a pair of grabs including a nice diving catch on the sideline. However, nobody came up with a key big play when Duke needed one the most. Opportunities to do that weren't exactly plentiful, but the Devils need more production and better ball security from this group. The tight ends were a non-factor in the passing game.
The interior of the Duke defense fought gamely all night long. Only late in the game when fatigue became a factor did Richmond have any consistent success running between the hash marks. Eli Nichols stuck his paw on a pair of passes, Vince Oghobaase had a nice debut game against the run, and Patrick Bailey recorded a sack. The Spiders averaged just 2.6 yards per rush, an impressive number, but one that could have been even better if Duke had finished the job on a couple of opportunities to make tackles for a loss. In the second half, Eric Ward was able to get a little too comfortable in the pocket. However, the D-Line was the best overall unit for Duke on Saturday.
As probably predicted by most, Mike Tauiliili paced the team in tackles and made his presence known. Jeramy Edwards also had good moments, including a quarterback sack and a pair of tackles for loss. The unit's weakness showed up though as Richmond exploited the lack of blazing speed in Duke's linebacker corps to have some effective running on the perimeter. The outside backers struggled to get wide in pass coverage as well, which was partially responsible for Richmond's second quarter touchdown pass on third-and-10 from the Duke 16 yard line. There were some positive moments, but the run support and overall field coverage needs to improve.
Similar to the linebackers, Duke's defensive backs were of little help in slowing down Richmond's perimeter ground game. That ultimately was probably the most consistent defensive problem of the game. John Talley made one good pass breakup on an early third down play, but other than that there were no dynamic plays. Surrendering the touchdown pass on a wide receiver screen was inexcusable and third-and-longs were again a bit of an achilles heel. For Duke to have a chance to salvage part of the season, the secondary has to make some game changing plays. There weren't any on Saturday night. To top it all off, safety Chris Davis was injured in garbage time.
A missed field goal, a field goal blocked, a barely 30 yards per punt average, costly penalties, and zero production in the punt return game. That was Duke's special teams performance in a nutshell against Richmond. Jabari Marshall showed some promise on kickoff returns and Duke's punt coverage was improved over last year's season opener. Joe Surgan's one kickoff was a good one and the coverage was solid on that as well. The two missed opportunities on field goals were extraordinarily costly though, and Alex Feinberg couldn't consistently help Duke gain better field position.
In fairness to Duke, it's tough when two of your offense's biggest playmakers go down in the first half. Bottom line though is that the Devils were shut out in the home opener for a second straight year. Last year's shutout came against Virginia Tech, which is at least somewhat understandable. The same can't be said for Richmond, a team that is very solid at its level of college football, but still an opponent Duke should be able to be much more effective against offensively. Saturday night was not a good night to be a Devil.