Duke came out flat and uninspired but mounted three comeback attempts that cut the lead to 7 points; but it wasn’t enough as Miami ruined senior day for the Blue Devils who finished their regular season 6-6 (3-5 ACC) after a 52 to 45 loss.
The Blue Devils defense that has been held together by spit and athletic tape has been steadily coming apart at the seams since the
victory over North Carolina and just couldn’t slow down Miami’s athletes. And in a game that Duke could have easily competed in just a few weeks ago it looked more like a team that has fallen into a downward spiral since becoming bowl eligible.
The final score was close but a terrible start may have sealed the Blue Devils fate.
“It bothers me from my perspective that we haven’t played as well as we can play since the North Carolina win. Lets just face facts,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “You are not going to win many game, many conference games when you don’t play really good. We were again flashy, but if I thought we had played really good we would have won our 7th game today.”
The loss overshadowed a huge day by the Blue Devils offense. Quarterback Sean Renfree threw for 432 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also became part of a 99-yard pass play that set a new Duke record for the longest play from scrimmage. That was little consolation for Renfree.
”I really don’t care about the records or not,” Renfree said. “All I really care about was the win and we didn’t get it.”
What Duke managed to do offensively in the second half just wasn’t good enough to overcome the defensive short comings in the game.
“Every time we chipped away at the lead they made a play. We didn’t make enough plays as a defense to win the game today,” senior corner back Ross Cockrell said. “ They’ve got a lot of speed, a lot of talent on the outside and you miss a tackle and they’re going to the house.”
It was Hurricane running backs Mike James and Duke Johnson who both had a field day running all over a Duke defense. The Blue Devils just couldn’t slow them down or effectively tackle which ever one ran the ball for the Hurricanes. The running back tandem finished with 243 yards and 4 touchdowns cumulatively. Johnson finished the game with 277 all-purpose yards
Despite cutting the lead to 7 points near the middle end of the third quarter when Duke scored on back to back possessions with touchdowns from Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder, it was James and Johnson who surged the Hurricanes ahead and in the end the Blue Devils just couldn’t match up.
They managed to come back one more time but ultimately came up short when a last ditch onside kick attempt hit off a Miami player and sent out of bounds.
Crowder finished with 203 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns while Vernon caught 11 passes for 109 yards and two scores of his own. Crowder performance helped him go over a thousand yards receiving on the year.
The loss is a tough one for the seniors but especially Cutcliffe who didn’t mince many words after the game.
“I didn’t think we played as hard in the first half as we could have played,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m disappointed in certain areas.”I wouldn’t return kickoffs behind that group that is blocking on kickoff returns.”
“Defensively we made way too many mistakes. You play a game and a back averages 11 yards a carry. And the receptions average 25 yards per receptions and the total offense averages 10 yards per play, you don’t have a chance to win.”
The loss marked Duke’s fourth straight defeat on the season in a brutal stretch that included games at Florida State and Georgia Tech and at home against Clemson and Miami. Still it is hard to argue that 6-6 isn’t a vast improvement over 3-9 the Blue Devils record the last two years.
And with coach Cutcliffe resigned through the 2019 season there is hope that this is the first in a long line in better years ahead for Duke Football. Still a loss hurts even if a bowl game waits in a few weeks.
“Its nice to have a bowl game but you don’t want to go into it losing four straight,” Cockrell said. “So we’ve got one game left to right the ship.”
Cutcliffe said he has plans already in place depending on what bowl the Blue Devils are assigned to go to, but that he knows his team has to get better and he isn’t going to be nice about it.
“We are not consoling loses. I wasn’t in a consoling mood,” Cutcliffe said.
Cutcliffe for the second straight week ran a controversial punt fake. In both cases they were fourth an long situations where he opted to run the ball off a fake instead of throw it but he defended his decision.
“I went in and I old our players we were going to do it. The distance, the area, of the field, this is a no brainer, its what we do,” Cutcliffe said. “We didn’t block anybody. If we block them they’re lined up just like we want them. You’ve got to execute.”
Cutcliffe said the decision he hopes sends a message that Duke isn’t going to settle for close.
“I wanted a signal sent … that we’re playing to win. I’m not going to change that if I did it again for that very reason. I told them at half time that if we can’t fake a punt and we can’t get a stop on defense then we need to look at what we are doing. That’s part of playing an aggressive manner as a team. I’m not going to play it any other way.”
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