Duke vs. VMI: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

After a slow start to the 2005 season, the Blue Devils broke free from the ranks of the winless with a 40-14 victory over VMI in Wallace Wade Stadium. While there were many positive signs for those in royal and white, there are also some caution signals that must be pointed out. TDD points out the good and bad, and even mentions an ugly or two in our weekly recap of the weekend's performance.

What went right:

Duke was finally able to get the offense working on Saturday, gaining 351 yards of total offense. The ground game was responsible for 235 of those yards. The offensive line struggled a bit at first, but as the game wore on was able to open gaping holes in the VMI defense. On the other side of the ball, the first team Duke defense held VMI scoreless for almost 3 full quarters. The Keydets were only able to move the ball once the starters were pulled midway through the 3rd quarter. Duke recorded an impressive 13 total tackles for loss and sacked two different VMI quarterbacks 5 times. The Devil defense also intercepted two passes and caused 6 fumbles, recovering one. Duke also had lots of freshmen make impacts this week, especially on special teams. DT Cliff Respress blocked VMI's only field goal opportunity, and DE Ryan Radloff knifed in to block a punt in his first game action of the season.

What went wrong:

Despite the strong performance by the offense, Duke still had problems throwing the ball. Starting QB Mike Schneider was shaky once again, completing only 8 of 17 passes. He also was fortunate as VMI dropped two potential interceptions. In the second half, Duke played two fresh faces under center, Zack Asack and Marcus Jones. Both players had more success throwing the ball than Schneider, but were doing it against some of VMI's reserves. Duke was also careless with the football throughout the game, fumbling the ball 5 times and losing 3. Especially disturbing were the two fumbled punt returns, one of which almost gave VMI a chance to score in the first half.

TDD player of the game:

Because of the total team effort on both sides of the ball, TDD will honor one player on each side of the ball. On offense, Duke was able to pile up 235 yards on the ground. Running back Justin Boyle led the Devils with 113 yards and also scored two touchdowns. Boyle now leads the Devils with four scores on the season. On defense, the defensive line set the tone for the entire afternoon by continually making their presence felt in the VMI backfield. Leading this charge was defensive end Eli Nichols. He finished the game with a team-leading 7 tackles, and also recorded 2 sacks and two tackles for loss. For their efforts, Boyle and Nichols are this week's TDD players of the game.

Final Analysis:

As a Duke fan, it was very satisfying to see the Devils come out and take care of business against an overmatched opponent. Duke handled VMI up front on both sides of the ball. Until the starters were removed, the game was very reminiscent of last weeks' contest against Virginia Tech, except this time Duke was on the winning side. VMI could not run the ball at all, and the quarterback was being harassed on almost every pass attempt. It is easy to pick out one or two plays were the defense had a few breakdowns. It is also easy to point out that VMI scored 14 points on the second team defense. Still, the overall defensive effort was outstanding. If they can continue this level of play against more talented opponents, Duke will have a fighting chance against almost everyone left of their schedule.

Of course, the defensive effort is for naught if the offense cannot score. Duke did put 40 points on the board today, but the offense in the first half was once again shaky. Duke probably should have scored 31 points in the first half, but the almost complete lack of a passing game made the score look a little closer than it should have been. For Duke to win a few more ball games this fall, they will need more yards through the air.

Looking Ahead:

Duke will travel to Charlottesville this week to take on the Virginia Cavaliers. UVA squeaked out a 3 point victory against a mediocre Syracuse team. Now that the Devils have some confidence, it will be interesting to see how they do against a talented, yet underperforming opponent. The Cavaliers will surely look to right their ship against a Duke team searching for its first division 1-A win. The early matchup does not look too bad for Duke. UVA is a run-first team and Duke has been able to defend the run pretty well this fall.

The key to this game will be the Duke offense and their ability to score on the Cavalier defense. The last two words a coach wants to hear in the middle of the season are "Quarterback Controversy". Unfortunately for Ted Roof, this appears to be the case for Duke. Schneider will most likely start against Virginia, but expect to see one of the freshmen enter the game, unless Schneider is in a groove. The question is which freshman QB will get the nod? Zack Asack played well this past week, as did Marcus Jones. Then there is the most heralded QB in the freshman class, Gene Delle Donne, who might also see the field this Saturday. Whatever the case may be, one of the freshmen will almost assuredly be thrown into the ACC fire this weekend.

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