The Duke Football Essay Project: Stanford

I played tennis with some friends on Saturday morning, which immediately put me in the mindset that I had fulfilled my physical obligation for the day and could commence with drinking heavily. My pal Jim was having a little pre-game soiree at his place in Durham, and I took a growler with me. We only had about an hour before it was time to roll, but I managed to eat a giant sausage wrapped in bacon, piss off an Auburn fan by telling him I hated Cam Newton, and drain the growler. For reasons I can’t really remember, I was wearing an Eli Manning jersey.

Miracles are all around us, David

Needless to say, there were some high spirits among our little group as we walked toward the stadium. We used a gravel road to get there, and on the way I grabbed a fallen bamboo shoot from the woods. Did you know there was bamboo in America? I did not. In fact, I’m not even certain it was bamboo. But as I carried the long shoot over my shoulder, I had a thought: you never know when a miracle is going to happen. It could literally happen at any point. Miracles almost require that you don’t expect them. So just because I didn’t expect a miracle against Stanford, that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to happen. But there I went, violating my own rule: I started expecting a miracle. Then I threw the bamboo back into the woods and got down to the awful, wearisome act of hoping.

Snyderwine and the Hypotheticals

It’s safe to say Duke would have topped Richmond if Will Snyderwine, Duke’s only All-American of the current millennium, had nailed his 28-yard kick at the end of the game. It was a cruel miss, made even more cruel by the fact that while the blown game was 10% his fault, the other 90% belonged to the Cutcliffe/Roper/Renfree trio.

But yet, he missed. There’s no sidestepping that reality, and the rank incompetence of the other three doesn’t erase the makeability of his kick.

It got worse against Stanford. Duke was moving the football on their first drive, and only stalled out in the red zone, where they always stall out because Kurt Roper is unable to imagine any play that might result in a touchdown. Or, correction: he’s able to imagine one touchdown play (Connette subbing in for Renfree and running right after a fake handoff), but the singularity of his vision makes it all too easy for opposing coaches to foil him. Nevertheless, Snyderwine had a chance to bring Duke back to 7-3 with a 27-yarder.


Four defensive stops ensued, and two of them actually belonged to Duke. Remarkable. My growler buzz had not worn off at this point, and I was in fine form. Hypothetical score at the end of the first quarter: Stanford 7, Duke 3.

Actual score: Stanford 7, Duke 0.

Then we held them again, sort of. Jordan Williamson made a 40-yard kick to give them a 10-0 lead, but most Duke fans were still amazed by any Stanford drive that didn’t result in a touchdown. Oh, by the way…

Interlude: How Good is Andrew Luck?

Judging by a single performance, I was a little bit underwhelmed. By game’s end he had accrued his 290 yards and his four touchdowns, but I didn’t find him incredibly precise in the first half. He racked up the numbers when the tension was gone, but this wasn’t his most impressive start.

Snyderwine and the Hypotheticals, Redux

I started to like Cutcliffe on the next drive the minute he faked a punt. Alex King rolled right and threw to Jay Hollingsworth for 21, and it felt good to be alive. The shade was headed to section 30, Duke was somehow only down 10-0, the defense looked fantastic, and the offense was moving. It moved all the way to the 27, in fact, when Snyderwine again lined up. This time, from 45…


Hypothetical score: Stanford 10, Duke 6

Actual score: Stanford 10, Duke 0

But then, but then, but then- the glorious Blue Devil defense outdid themselves. A defensive stop? Too boring. Let’s blow it out, they said, and Luck lined up. My friend Erik, I swear to God, said, “what if they picked it off and returned it for a touchdown here? Is that getting too greedy?”

“Probably,” I said.

“But it’s college. Anything can happen.”

Tip. Pick. Lee Butler, glorious bastard, raced all the way down the right sideline, right in front of us, and leaped into the end zone. And all because Erik had the audacity to suggest it! Maybe.

Snyderwine, that ill-fated devil, made the extra point.

Hypothetical score: Duke 13, Stanford 10.

Actual score: Stanford 10, Duke 7.

And then my love affair with Cutcliffe grew. This time, it was my turn to call it. “What about a sneaky onside kick here?” A chorus of “no” came my way in response, but true genius is never recognized in its time. Snyderwine chopped it perfectly into the grass, and Duke corralled precisely after it had traveled ten yards.

And holy shit, man, could this be happening? Is it miracle season at Wallace Wade?

No. It’s football season, and that means the raising of hopes merely so they can be dashed. Duke punted, Stanford scored. 17-7. But the miracle workers on the Duke offense marched down again.

Our First Cutcliffe Moment

With one timeout left, Renfree hit Vernon for 23 yards. Ball at the 31, :08 on the clock, which was stopped. Here, a quick spike would have used up one second, at which point they could throw a short pass and call a fast timeout to put themselves in better field goal range.

But it wouldn’t be a Cutcliffe Moment if it went that way. Instead, he used his final timeout while the clock was stopped. He manages game time the way an angry bear manages an unguarded bucket of thrashing salmon.

Ijjas and the Hypotheticals

Without the timeout required to run another play, Duke set up for a 49-yard attempt. This time, no Snyderwine. He hurt his toe during the onside kick, so Jeffrey Ijjas took his place.

I didn’t like the idea of a second-stringer taking a kick of that length. I especially didn’t like it when the ball snapped as the whistle blew the play dead, giving him a free shot at the kick. He took it, and his effort landed well short. Maybe that was the time to call a hail mary, or a fake. But remember that Einstein quote about insanity and repetition that I used last week?

Cutcliffe opted to try again. The same thing happened.

Hypothetical Halftime Score: Stanford 17, Duke 16

Actual Halftime Score: Stanford 17, Duke 7

By the opening drive of the third quarter, there was no confidence left in the kicking game. We moved the ball to the red zone, where Roper and Cutcliffe did their typical freezing act, complete with Connette’s failed runs, and found themselves with a 4th-and-6 at the Stanford 14. This kick would have been a mighty boot of 31 yards, but you can’t really blame him for choosing to go for the glory instead. Still, when the fourth down pass failed, it raised the hypothetical score in Duke’s favor. 19-17.

Also Sprach Reality

After that failure, Stanford proceeded to beat our asses in every which way, including hypothetically. The final score was 44-14, another embarrassment for a program with a lot of them.

But I have to ask: what would have happened if the hypotheticals came true? A defense, stalwart at first, can only hang on so long without support. If you don’t believe your offense can score, that has to take a psychological toll, right? The collapse was inevitable as things played out.

But what about the hypothetical world? What if Duke really had that 19-17 lead? Could it have delivered a blow of panic that flustered Stanford and led to some offensive mistakes? Might it have inspired the Duke defense and spurred them to a few more stops?

The problem is, we can’t know. But I think we deserved to know. We left the stadium shouldering the expected rout, but I still say the foundation of a miracle was in place.

It’s Worth Saying…

Matt Daniels, Duke #40, is really, really good. For the second straight week, he was everywhere, in on every tackle. On the flip side, Stanford was picking on Ross Cockrell like crazy. I thought he actually acquitted himself a bit better than against Richmond, but our weak link in the secondary is no longer a secret, if it ever was.

Poignant Moments in Duke Football

I’ve got a new feature up on Grantland called “Gordon’s Left Foot: A College Football Recap.” At the bottom of today’s post, I highlight this week’s poignant Duke moment. It has to do with world-weariness and the metaphor of football as life.

Here’s a bonus just for TRB readers: in the third quarter, with Stanford threatening yet again and my buzz fully worn off into a sort of stupor, the Cardinal advanced to the 10-yard line. “Okay,” said my friend Jonathan, “hold ’em to a field goal!”

It was a perfectly reasonable thing to say, but for some reason all of us started laughing, including Jonathan. “Why is that funny?” I asked. There was no answer, but we kept laughing.


The following sentiment is, in all likelihood, a symptom of any Duke football fan’s instinct to seek out a savior. Still:


This is our freshman quarterback, the one who came in at the end of the fourth (something happened to Connette’s shoulder) and led us to our only offensive touchdown of the game. Granted, it was against their second-string defense. But still, he looks fast and strong and confident. As far as I can tell, he can throw pretty well too. He scored the TD on a 2-yard run where he should have been stopped cold on the one. Instead, he drove into the defense and barreled two of them into the end zone.

I’m not saying he should start. Not yet. I know there’s a lot I don’t understand, like how he performs in practice and etc. But if we lose a couple more games, and the season is a loss, why not start to groom him for next season? The kid obviously has natural ability, and he already leads the team in touchdowns. I’m starting to think with Cutcliffe’s weird tightening act in the red zone that the only we can score is with an athletic, powerful quarterback.

Well, they’ve got their man. Whether he’s used is anybody’s guess.

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3 Responses to The Duke Football Essay Project: Stanford

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  1. Joey says:

    Damn dude you must of read my mind. I felt the exact way you wrote it. I know Roper is calling the offense and I don’t think Cut is calling anything off. The Connette thing is like a Twilight Zone episode. After the onside kick I was going crazy then 3 straight sacks. Un-freakin-believable any offense could have that happen. Ever heard of a screen pass or a roll out Roper? Then the 15 yard punt. I could have vomitted. Nah I’ve definitely had enough of Roper’s play calling and Cut letting it go. The shame is we have talent, it just needs direction. Also I think Renfree is soft. Any blitz scares the crap out of him and he quickly dumps off or assumes the standing up fetal position. Boone impressed me and Connette did too throwing at the sping game, both looked miles ahead of Renfree. Cut has man love for Renfree though so I’m sure he will stay the man between the 20s. But I sure gained some hope seeing Boone perform out there. After Boone scored I was yelling from the stands, “We found a QB!!!” Keep writing, it’s very humorous but spot on in accuracy.

  2. Shane says:

    Thanks Jonny. I’m looking forward to maybe seeing some red zone Boone up in BC this weekend.

    And yeah, the post-onside sack fest was a real downer. I think that’s when reality should have set in, though I refused to stop believing until the third.

  3. Sean says:

    Anyone who thinks their life has as many low points as Duke football needs to call a suicide hotline immediately. Also, we looked good falling is the perfect metaphor for Duke football, as we continue to see improvement – in close scores and covering the spread in 25 point blowouts, in our ability to always come up just short against Wake and UNC, in improved facilities and talk of finally ripping out the track in Wally Wade, in our ability to play surprisingly well for stretches against teams that are actually decent. Even in Roof’s last season, we saw improvement. All while continuing the country’s longest bowl drought and an utter inability to beat a 6-5 FCS team.

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