Sometimes, for one reason or another, teams simply do not have their ‘A' game. Good teams can overcome this, and still beat a lesser opponent. There are things that help, not the least of which is a hometown crowd. There are also things that hurt, not the least of which is ACC refs.
The Hoos, this past Saturday, did not have their best stuff. I won't even try to speculate as to why. The offense made mistakes, the defense made mistakes, the special teams made mistakes, and the coaches made mistakes. Nonetheless, the Hoo pulled out their 7th victory of the season, guaranteeing themselves a winning season, and upped their bowl resume.
This is not to take anything away from Duke, who came out fired up and gave the Hoos a scare. Despite Duke's talent upgrades, they are still at a disadvantage there against most ACC teams. This was not helped by some injuries they had coming in, as well as a couple of injuries they suffered during the game itself.
Let's take a look at what happened.
Coming into the season, we knew that we had a lot of young talent coming into the program. Highly ranked recruits like Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell and Demetrious Nicholson we supposed to provide an upgrade in athleticism and talent. To a degree, that has come true. But as the season has progressed, it hasn't been the freshman making the biggest impacts, it has been the veterans.
Just this week, some of the biggest plays in the game were made by Matt Conrath, Chase Minnifield, Max Milien and Kris Burd. That is 4 guys, all seniors, who hadn't ever beaten Duke, and knew this was their last chance. These guys haven't been a part of a successful season prior to this, so it is great to see their excitement.
That isn't to say that the youngsters didn't have their moments. Michael Rocco had another strong game, throwing for 2 TDs with no picks. Jennings was open a few times for big plays, but Rocco couldn't connect. Kevin Parks led the team with 78 yards rushing. Khalek Shepherd had another big KO return. Other youngsters with strong games were Will Hill and Nicholson.
We had big impacts from seniors. We had impacts from freshmen. Our sophomore QB had another strong game. But the game ball goes to Perry Jones. Barring something ridiculous happening, the season MVP is Perry Jones. Early in the season, people were discussing Perry dropping to third on the depth chart, behind two freshmen. Nobody is talking about that now. Not with Perry on pace for 1000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. Not to mention a TD pass, and a big punt return this week to help ice the game.
As fans, we have a tendency to look ahead. We see the impact of the underclassmen, and we see another heralded recruiting class coming in next year, and we can't help but think about the future. But this team, right now, is playing very well. Over the next two weeks, we have a chance to shock the ACC. And the main reason for it isn't the play of some hyped recruits, freshman phenom, but the steady play of upperclassmen who are finally getting a chance to play meaningful football games in late November.
That said, I'm pretty happy we've got Perry Jones coming back next year.
As always, my notes from the game:
- What the heck was Terrell thinking on that punt return? The ball was surrounded by Blue Devils. He needs to be running the other direction. Freshman mistake? I hope so. If he's making the same mistakes next year, we've got problems.
- That was, overall, one of the most poorly officiated games I've seen. There were missed calls, makeup calls, and reversed calls. Plus, the head referee could hardly get through an announcement without having to correct himself. Not their best day. I understand the idea behind a makeup call, but I don't think that screwing up twice in a row helps anybody. It just makes the refs look even more inept. Two wrongs don't make a right.
- The pick-6 by Chase Minnifield was a huge play, but frankly that was just a horrible play by Duke's Sean Renfree. He underthrew a quick out. Nevermind that his intended target had stumbled and fallen down, it was a bad decision and a worse throw. Likely the easiest TD of Chase's life.
- The OL hasn't given up a sack in 3 straight games. But that doesn't mean they had a particularly good game. Rocco was pressured a number of times, even on short drops. And while 169 yards rushing isn't bad, it is below our average and 3.9 ypc just isn't getting it done. Part of that is due to Duke's defense keying on the run, but I wasn't impressed.
- Perry Jones might've had a touchdown on his big punt return if he hadn't run into the back of Jake Snyder. This isn't Snyder's fault, he was blocking. I bet Perry wishes he had that one back though.
- The TD throw to Kris Burd was beautiful on many levels. It wasn't an easy throw for Rocco, having to get it over the underneath defender. It wasn't an easy catch for Burd, having to reach out over his shoulder. Then he had to break a tackle, and tip-toe down the sideline. When I saw it live, I thought he'd stepped out of bounds. I'm glad I was wrong.
- When a team has 34 yards rushing on the day and has the 113th ranked rushing offense in the nation, why is Corey Mosley getting beaten on play action? Did Duke have a single rushing play all game long that reached the secondary? When a CB is in single coverage and gets beat, you credit the WR and the QB. When a senior safety gets beat in zone coverage because he bit on play action, you blame him. The play of our safeties will surely be tested over the next 2 weeks.
- I wasn't thrilled with Bill Lazor's playcalling late in the game. With a 10 point lead, and 10 minutes to go, we ran for 16 yards on 3 consecutive runs, then threw 2 incomplete passes and punted. That's a waste of at least a minute of game time. In that situation, I think you have to keep running it until they stop you. We were bailed out by Duke missing a short FG. Getting the ball back again, with about 6 minutes left, we let another pass clang to the ground and stop the clock. If Duke had gotten to within one score that lost time could've been big. Then, with about 3:30 left in the game, we got the ball and ran for 2 consecutive first downs. Even with everybody knowing we were going to run, Duke couldn't stop it. What makes anybody think they could've stopped it earlier?