But Ross Martin's on-sides kick went out of bounds and Miami was able to run out the clock on the game, and their season.
For Duke, it's time to go back to the drawing board with four weeks of practice before heading to a bowl game. During that time the team will hopefully be able to finally get healthy, and rediscover the positive momentum found in the first two-thirds of the season when Duke raced to a 6-2 overall record.
Here's our take-aways from the game:
Great final day in the sun: Before picking apart the performance, it's important for all fans to note the final games of the senior class. A group that came in as part of Cutcliffe's first group and has been through their share of tough times before finally putting it all together and getting the team to the post season in 2012. Of note today were the performances of Sean Renfree (432 yards passing and four touchdowns), Conner Vernon (11 catches for 109 yards), and Desmond Scott (four catches for 22 yards). While it may be cliche to say, all Blue Devil fans should offer a hearty "thank you, seniors" to this group. They helped the program take a huge, huge step towards recovery.
Big plays continue to haunt the defense: If the last four weeks have taught us anything, it's that Duke has a ways to go when it comes to competing with the top end of the Atlantic Coast Conference. It's not the Xs and Os (though there were some questionable instances execution, see below), as much as it is a raw talent issue. Duke has and had the ability to play with each of the teams in the past month until those teams decided to simply go over and past the Blue Devil linebackers and defense with superior athletes and playmakers. To be sure, the roster is further along that it was at any point in the last 20 years, but there's still quite a gap when looking for those players who can make things happen. Clemson and Florida State had them in droves. Georgia Tech too, to a lesser extent, and Miami is never short of athletes or playmakers. It showed in both the passing and running games. Morris completed just 15 passes, but those passes went for an average of 24.6 yards per completion - compared to Renfree's 12 yards per completion. On the ground, Miami's top two options rushed for 243 yards on 33 carries (7.4 yards per carry) against Duke's battered defense. Simply put, over the last month when an opponent dialed up a big play or needed to make something happen, there was little to no resistance from Duke. Miami, in particular, figured out early on that they had the advantage and accounted for more than 350 yards on first down plays.
Fake anything needs practice: Duke continues to show spunk by attempting fake punts, on-sides kicks, and other such trickery. The problem is they hardly ever work, and most times seem to be something the team is completely unsure of. The fake punts in particular have not been effective nor remotely hidden as far as intention goes. Against Miami the attempted fake punt was, once again clearly anticipated and doomed from the start and seemed as though Duke would have been better off just lining up and going for it with the regular offense on the field. Maybe the coaches are looking for a spark instead of playing for field position (owing the struggles of the defense), however?
Despite the bad finish, reason for optimism: Duke now waits to hear about bowl selections. The most likely destinations seem to be Charlotte for the Belk Bowl or, perhaps, a date on New Year's Eve in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. The team will have at least four weeks to heal, prepare, and learn. That's something to build on.