What a jarring sight to see, a Duke running back outrunning a Miami defensive back in an inversion of everything you thought you once knew about college football.
The more athletic team won Saturday’s battle for the edge in the ACC’s Coastal Division, and for the first time in decades the more athletic, more powerful team was Duke, a seismic shift in every sense. The Blue Devils dominated on the offensive line, ran the ball with ease and created more big plays in a 48-30 win.
Miami is headed out of the top 25. Duke may be headed in. It’s All About The U, if you mean dUke.
“The U, yeah,” offensive lineman Dave Harding said. “I’m a Florida guy. I grew up hearing about The U. We play physical football here at Duke. That’s one thing we pride ourselves on. And we have room to grow, that’s what’s so exciting.”
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Play after play, Duke’s running backs tore through the middle of the Miami defense, the 358 yards on the ground, a record in David Cutcliffe’s six-year tenure at an astonishing average of 6.9 yards per carry.
This didn’t happen overnight. This is the result of a long, hard slog on the recruiting trail, finding players who might not have been easily pigeonholed into one position but were unquestionably athletes. Get ‘em on campus first, figure out where they play later.
There might not be a staff in the country that does as much horse-trading between offense and defense as Duke, sending players back and forth as need dictates in the offseason – and even, occasionally, as need arises in the middle of the season.
Connette, who accounted for five touchdowns Saturday as, officially and technically, the backup to Anthony Boone at quarterback, has played at least five different positions at Duke. Juwan Thompson has played both running back and linebacker this season. The hero in last week’s win over N.C. State, DeVon Edwards, has practiced at all five defensive-back positions and played most of them – as a redshirt freshman.
Those stockpiled athletes are starting to make plays. Throw in a veteran offensive line that may never have played better, collectively, than it did Saturday, and the Blue Devils eschewed the pass not because they couldn’t throw it against Miami’s defense but because they didn’t need to throw it.
“Over the years, people look at us as, ‘Oh, they’re just a team that has a lot of smart guys on the team,’” Snead said. “We’re at Duke. We play football here. That’s what we want to establish.”
Every scenario that put Duke in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte on Dec. 7 required a win over Miami, and the Blue Devils continue to control their own destiny in the Coastal. They beat two ranked teams in the same season – Virginia Tech the other – for the first time since 1971 and only the fifth time in school history, and are on the verge of becoming ranked themselves for the first time since 1994. All of that seemed a million miles away when Harding and the other seniors honored Saturday arrived at Duke.
“You know what? I would have come here regardless,” Harding said. “This is a great place to be and a great program to be associated with. This is just the icing on the cake.”
Equally unlikely was the notion of the students storming the field at Wallace Wade for the second time in two seasons, not a bad way for the final home game of his career to end, not a bad way to underline just how much Duke has upset the order of things in the ACC.