Duke doesn’t have enough as Jackets show they’re legit

DURHAM, N.C. — On a day when much of the ACC looked
ordinary, Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0 ACC) looked anything but in a 38-14 win
over Duke (2-1, 0-1 ACC).

The Blue Devils prepared and did all
what they needed to do to get ready for the option offense — but
ultimately, the Yellow Jackets are who we thought they were. And that’s a
pretty dangerous team.

This says more about where Georgia Tech
is right now than it does about Duke, a team missing its starting
quarterback but much-improved in some key areas.


1. Duke just couldn’t take advantage of early opportunities.

Facing
a team like Georgia Tech gives you almost no margin for error. Well,
Duke punter Will Monday — normally one of the best in the league–
shanked his first punt for just 22 yards, giving Georgia Tech the ball
at midfield (they would hit a field goal). And Duke would commit two
more penalties (one on a punt, one on a kickoff) that killed them from a
field-position standpoint. Again, small things – but important. 

And
then Duke had a fourth and one at the Georgia Tech 20-yard line on its
third drive of the game with the score still just 10-7, Georgia Tech.
Instead of kick a field goal — chip-shot range for Ross Martin — they
elected to go for it. It made since — after all, the Blue Devils’
offensive line was dominating up front — but Duke didn’t get it. 

2. Brandon Connette wasn’t bad. At times, he was pretty good. But he wasn’t Anthony Boone.

On
the second drive of the game, Duke went down the field easily in nine
plays to score a touchdown. Duke wouldn’t score again until early in the
fourth quarter. On that first drive, Duke ran the ball seven times for
45 yards as Duke’s line blew the Georgia Tech front off the ball. 

The
rest of the game, Duke had 87 yards on 25 rushes. Georgia Tech started
committing more defenders to stopping the run, daring Duke to beat them
with the pass. That didn’t happen. 
Connette
was 2-of-2 for 27 yards on that drive and began 3-of-4 for 27 yards. He
completed 12 of his final 24 attempts (50%) for 95 yards. He didn’t turn
it over, but he was sacked twice and often seemed a step slow. 
It’s
a transition for Connette, certainly, to be the main guy as opposed to
taking on spot duty. And this is an improved Georgia Tech defense. But
Duke is simply a different team without Anthony Boone (out indefinitely
with a broken collarbone), at least until Connette can get more
comfortable running the offense. 
“It’s still
going to be a little bit of a process. I felt into the game. I felt like
I knew what was going on,” Connette said. “I knew situations that were
happening, so I felt good throughout the game with that. It’s just the
more and more repetitions that I’m able to get even just in practice,
making those repetitions more game-like during practice will help me.”
3. This wasn’t about stopping the option. This was about Georgia Tech’s offense being really good.

Duke’s
defense wasn’t bad, really. Well, it wasn’t great on third downs
(Georgia Tech was 11-of-17). But Georgia Tech finished with 469 yards
against a Duke defense that is much-improved, and has plenty of
experience against the option. 

“They came out
in a few different formations that we hadn’t seen on tape, so they kind
of got us early on,” Duke senior defensive end Kenny Anunike said. “But
after the half, we started figuring it out, coming back schematically
and doing some different things to try to stop it and I think we had
some success, but it was a little too late.”
Georgia
Tech had 264 yards of offense in the first half to 205 in the second,
but the Yellow Jackets still managed to control the clock, and the game.
Also? Maybe, just maybe, the Georgia Tech offense is going to be pretty
special this year. 
And head coach Paul
Johnson will never be satisfied. Last year after Georgia Tech put up 68
points on North Carolina in Chapel Hill, he was upset that they didn’t
make the two-point conversion. So it was no surprise that he found a lot
of things to pick on offensively.
“I was
frustrated at halftime offensively, and then I looked at the stats and
we only punted one time,” Johnson said. “It still didn’t seem to me like
we were in sync like we need to be. If you can play like that and win
38-14, it’s a good thing.”
A lot of that is
because of Durham native Vad Lee, who finished 8-of-16 passing for 125
yards and four touchdowns. He also had 76 yards rushing and another
touchdown. Lee’s accuracy combined with his playmaking ability arguably
gives Georgia Tech its best quarterback in this offense under Johnson. 
“He’s
a great football player. His throws were right on point,” Duke
linebacker Kelby Brown, who had a game-high 17 tackles, said. “He ran a
couple wheel routes on us and even when we were in great position, they
were able to make great catches. Props to him. He played his butt off
out there.”
It’s worth noting that Duke
cornerback Ross Cockrell had a fantastic game – when he was targeted. He
intercepted a Lee pass in the first half and broke up another. After
that, Lee basically avoided his side of the field. It’s an important
reminder of how valuable Cockrell is to this defense.
4. Duke’s missing defensive pieces from last year — linebacker Kelby Brown and safety Jeremy Cash — were fantastic.

Linebacker
Kelby Brown led the team in tackles with 17 (1.5 for loss) and was all
over the place against a tough team to defend. Brown missed last season
with an injury, and the linebacking corps was solid, but not great.
Brown is developing into a playmaker at that position, which is a good
sign.

As for Cash, it’s not necessarily a good
thing for a safety to have a lot of tackles – okay, it’s bad – but the
Ohio State transfer has shown this season that he can be a game-changer
for the Blue Devils. He didn’t get a transfer waiver last year from the
NCAA after the staff thought he might, but regardless, he’s here now and
he is as advertised. 
He gave terse answers
after the game, clearly not happy with the loss. Which was
understandable. And he wasn’t big on moral victories – his own
playmaking didn’t matter much to him. He ended with 14 tackles, 1.5 for
loss and a forced fumble. His forced fumble should have been recovered,
too, but Duke had some bad luck on the play and couldn’t get it.