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Tiki's Game Analysis: Duke

The Hoos blew a 22 point lead, completely falling apart in a 35-22 loss to the Blue Devils. The Blue Devils made adjustments after struggling for the better part of a half. The Hoos never made any adjustments. Or perhaps they did, but they were incorrect.

Watford looks dejected and rightly so. His struggles are killing this team.
Watford looks dejected and rightly so. His struggles are killing this team.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

First off, allow me to apologize to you, the reader, for not having any post-game analysis of the past two games. A family matter made me unable to watch the games live, and a terrible football team made me unwilling to watch the games on Tivo.

This week, I was back at Scott Stadium, cheering on my Hoos. And oh, how sweet it was early on. The Hoos opening drive was a thing of beauty. That was easily the Hoos best drive of the season (that is not saying much). Four runs and six passes is a good ratio, especially against a team that is expecting runs. Sure, the drive required a 4th down conversion on a fake punt. But what a fake it was! And the fake punt wouldn't have been necessary if Darius Jennings hadn't dropped the 3rd down pass. Granted, the pass was high and a bit behind him. But he has to catch that.

The OL was blocking well, Watford was make good decisions, Kevin Parks was running hard. The Hoos 2nd touchdown "drive" was really the result of a wonderful play by Tim Smith on an underthrown deep ball by Watford. Watford threw it into double coverage, across his body, off his back foot. And he threw it 50 yards in the air. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind him throwing this pass. But Tim Smith made the play.

The Hoos 3rd scoring drive was largely the result of the first big play of Smoke's career. He took a pitch to the right and ran 36 yards down the sideline. A couple of David Watford runs led to a Kevin Parks flip into the endzone, over 3 Duke defenders.

That was it. The Hoos offense didn't do anything else for the entire rest of the game. Following that drive, the Hoos next 4 drives each began with either an incomplete pass or a run up the middle. What happened to the toss sweeps that had been successful earlier in the game? Where was the QB draw that Watford had picked up 8 yards on earlier?

Duke started sending rushers up the middle on nearly every play, and the Hoos did not adjust. Watford showed how quickly he can get flustered by pass rushers in his face. Did the Hoos counter by putting an extra blocker in? Perhaps an H-back or FB for blitz pickup? Nope. No adjustments.

The Hoos stopped Duke on their first 6 drives of the game. Duke's first score was largely the result of a big play made off a scramble by Anthony Boone. Nothing the Hoos could really do about that, it was a great play by a very good QB. The Hoos had defended the play well. Boone took off, and just before crossing the line of scrimmage flipped the ball outside to Braxton Deaver for a big gain.Even the touchdown was defended. Again, Boone got out of the pocket and bought time for his man to get open. Once again, credit where credit is due. A good play by a good QB.

From that point on, the Blue Devils basically gashed the Hoos on the ground. Successful runs, supplemented by some play action passes and a few deep shots make for a very good offense. The Hoos, once again, did not adjust their defense to help stop the run. Surely the loss of Brent Urban on the inside of the DL was a factor. The Hoos simply were unable to stop the Blue Devils on the ground in the second half.

I'm honestly not sure which was worse; the lack of adjustments on offense or the lack of adjustments on defense. On offense, the Hoos really had one great drive. The other two scores were largely the result of on big play followed by individual effort by Kevin Parks. The rest of the Hoos drives were foiled by the usual suspects of dropped passes, poor run blocking and David Watford mistakes. The fact that he didn't turn it over was really only some good fortune.

Defensively, the Blue Devils adjusted by running the ball more, and by throwing more quick passes. The Hoos didn't adjust. All too often, Duke WRs were given 10 yard cushions on the line of scrimmage. Those cushions made it too easy for Duke to complete short passes for 6-8 yards a pop. Early in the  game, Anthony Boone was struggling with his accuracy, so the large cushions weren't burning the Hoos. Why would the Hoos not change up coverages once Duke adjusted?

Coach Tenuta is known for blitzing. Even without some of his top defensive talent, Tenuta is going to bring pressure. Bringing pressure makes it all the more likely that teams are going to get rid of the ball quickly. This makes press coverage even more important. And yet the Hoos were content to give up the 5 yard pass on almost every down.

I could probably go on, but I simply don't want to. As always, here are some notes:

  • There weren't really any glaring coaching blunders, at least in terms of game management. Personally, with a 2 TD lead and 46 seconds remaining in the first half, I would be content to take a knee and avoid any bad plays. London chose to press and ended up giving Duke a last chance. I disagree, but I suspect that I'm in the minority. If I had a dominant QB and playmaking WRs, I would be more likely to go for it. With Watford and the Hoos struggling offense, no way.
  • Coach Tenuta talked about getting Rijo Walker involved in the defense more. He started, but played in a rotation of sorts with Brandon Phelps. I don't mind that, except that there were times when Phelps would come in for a 3rd down and look lost as to his assignment. It would make more sense, in my opinion, to rotate for a set of downs, rather than for individual plays.
  • While we're on the subject of rotations, where is the rotation for the rest of the defense. We saw Max Valles for only a handful of plays. Demeitre Brim played a few downs. There was a little bit of rotation at DT, but not much. Injuries are playing a part, but there is enough depth at DE that Eli Harold should be able to get a breather here and there. The Hoos defense appeared tired in the second half, and that may have played a role in the 35 unanswered points.
  • I have a lot of respect for Chip West and Anthony Poindexter, but either they are not teaching the DBs to turn their heads, or the DBs aren't getting it. I don't know how many potential INTs were lost because the DB simply didn't turn around. On just about every deep pass Duke tried, the Hoos were in a position to make a play on the ball, but they never saw the ball. Perhaps this is a reason for the lack of turnovers. You can't pick off a ball you don't see.
  • I mentioned this already, but Steve Fairchild needs to do a better job of understanding what works and what doesn't. The delayed QB draw with David Watford picked up 8 yards. We never saw it again. The pitch outside to Smoke picked up 36 yards. We never saw it again. This was basically the same play that Khalek Shepherd scored on against Oregon. We've hardly seen. I'm not saying we should run those two plays every time out. But more than once a game would seem logical. Watford is throwing the ball entirely too often. His best asset is his legs, and we need to use them.
  • While on the subject of Watford, it is becoming more and more clear that his accuracy issues aren't going away. Neither is his slow delivery. If we were using Watford the way a dual-threat QB should be used, then I could understand sticking with him. But if we're going to throw the ball 40 times per game, then Watford is not the correct QB. This season is over. We are playing for next season. It is time to see if Greyson Lambert can handle the job. Sure, he hasn't looked good in limited garbage time appearances. But he's a redshirt freshman who's thrown 16 career passes. Maybe he doesn't have it. Maybe he isn't better than Watford. But if Watford gets all the reps going forward, we'll never know.
  • Credit to Alec Vozenilek for handling double duty the past few weeks. But there are 3 PKs on the roster other than Frye. What are they doing on the team if they can't kick a 40 yard FG? Sims looks pretty good on KOs. Why can't he kick FGs too?