Duke, Miami meet with eye on moving past losses
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Duke is looking to bounce back from a bunch of losses. There’s just one defeat haunting Miami at the moment — but it’s a big one.
The Blue Devils (4-7, 2-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) look to end a five-game losing streak Saturday when they play host to the Hurricanes (6-5, 4-3) in their regular-season finale.
Miami is trying to move on from a crushing loss to Florida International — a perceived second-tier program located 8 miles away — that coach Manny Diaz called “unacceptable.”
“When we play, we’re pretty dang good. When we don’t play, we’re pretty awful,” Diaz said. “And we were awful on Saturday. Fortunately, we have another opportunity to get back out there and to play. We’ve got a challenge going up to Duke. It is imperative for our guys to come together and find a way, to as much as possible, put last Saturday behind us.”
Diaz’s first season includes a series of head-scratching losses in addition to the 30-24 loss to FIU. Miami also lost to a North Carolina team that is not yet bowl eligible and to a Georgia Tech squad that has sewn up at least a share of last place in the Coastal Division.
But at least the Hurricanes can look forward to a bowl game. Duke needs a win and lots of help just to have a shot at another one.
The Blue Devils, because of their lofty APR score of 992, would be near the front of the line of bowl-eligible five-win teams that can fill out any holes in the postseason roster if there aren’t enough schools that make it to six victories.
The challenge, though, is finding a way to get win No. 5.
Duke has lost four of its last five by at least 12 points and has dropped six of seven since starting 3-1.
“To say that this recent run hasn’t been difficult would be ridiculous,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “Difficult. … I don’t believe in the word ‘frustrated.’ That means there is no answer. It has definitely been difficult. I’m very proud of these seniors because the fight on that practice field, their energy, their willingness to believe and continue to work has been outstanding.”
Some other things to know about the Miami-Duke game:
NO EXPLOSIVE PLAYS
One reason the Blue Devils’ offense has bogged down: A serious lack of explosive plays. Duke ranks last in the ACC in the number of plays from scrimmage that have gained at least 10 yards (117), at least 20 yards (34) and at least 30 yards (12). The Blue Devils were closer to the middle of the pack in the league last season.
ON THE GROUND
Duke’s run defense has started to spring some leaks. The Blue Devils have allowed at least 200 yards rushing in each of their last four games after holding their first seven opponents to 175 or fewer yards on the ground. It’s unclear what the Hurricanes’ backfield will look like, with Diaz declaring RB DeeJay Dallas out for the season with a nasty elbow injury against FIU. Dallas was listed as the starter on the two-deep with Cam’Ron Harris, whose only 100-yard outing game against Georgia Tech, as the backup.
The Hurricanes take special pride in forcing turnovers, and are the only power-conference program averaging two takeaways since the start of 2017. Turnovers have been a major issue at Duke, which has 25 turnovers in its seven losses to just two in its four wins with 16 of them coming during the current slide.
Not that the Blue Devils want to return many kickoffs — because that means they’re giving up plenty of scores — but at least they have a potent kick returner developing in Damond Philyaw-Johnson, who matched an NCAA record by returning two kickoffs for touchdowns last week at Wake Forest. He’s the first ACC player to do that since Clemson’s Justin Miller in 2004.