October 25, 2012

Tape breakdown: Duke offensive rhythm, wrinkles

The Duke Blue Devils have given up a plethora of points to two of the better teams they have faced - 50 to Standford and 41 to Virginia Tech. Since that is the case, let's take a look at the Devil offense, led by a senior quarterback with impressive numbers.

Duke offense


Watching Duke when it is successful offensively fits the eye more than just because of design or execution; it also has much to do with the pace the Blue Devils operate. In the productive first half against North Carolina, Duke would follow a positive play with the hurry-up offense.

The Blue Devil offense routinely transitioned from the whistle of a completed play to the snap of a new play in about 10 to 12 seconds of real time. Duke would line up often in the shotgun in these situations, looking to break a quick run up the middle. It's hard to say whether a quick run would be the call against a stout Seminole front, but consider that the Devils averaged right around 4.5 yards per carry against North Carolina. Much of this advantage had to do with getting to the line quickly and moving forward.

Connected to this concept is the style of running game Duke employs. Whether it's because of offensive line or running back skill sets, tailbacks Jela Duncan, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson all hit the hole and hit it quickly.

When running at optimal efficiency, how up-tempo is Duke's offense? Against North Carolina, the Blue Devils ran 89 total plays, 53 of which were on the ground.

Formations, Renfree and Anthony Boone

Duke's offense does run a little bit of everything formation-wise. But there's one concept or wrinkle that will look new to FSU this weekend: an offset pistol. The "offset" comes into play as the tailback does not stand directly behind the quarterback, the traditional place to line up. At times the tailback can be joined in the backfield by an H-back or fullback. In the snapshot below, you'll see an additional back flanking the quarterback to the left. Other times, that accompanying back will flank the quarterback, but stand directly in front of the tailback.

If you're familiar with the diamond formation that Oklahoma or West Virginia has run in the recent past, consider this look above "diamond minus-one."

Sean Renfree, timing and combo routes

As stated above, much of what Duke does depends on a quick rhythm. A lot of quarterbacks in this college football era - including FSU's EJ Manuel - can make things happen when extending the play. That is not Sean Renfree's game. Renfree uses offensive pace and well-schemed route combinations to get the Duke offense rolling. Let's take a look at half of the field in Duke's game-winning play over North Carolina.

There are three receivers lined up to Renfree's right, with eventual recipient Jamison Crowder out wide. As you'll notice with the color coding, Duke's slot receiver lined up closest to the ball takes both the slot defender and safety with him to the back of the end zone on his in-route. The slot receiver lined up in the middle of the three wideouts draws just enough attention of the linebacker highlighted in white to bring him along for a step or two towards the top sideline.

Because the two inside receivers occupy three defenders, Crowder is essentially one-on-one with the field corner. Run the highlight of the play - the final selection in the list linked here - and it becomes clear that Crowder's defender was not going to give outside position. Crowder then makes an outside-in cut into the vacated space, in a window just large enough for Renfree to find.

The bottom line regarding this play: these route combinations manipulated Tar Heel coverage just enough for a winning fourth-down throw. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, an offensive mind in his own right, is all about spacing and timing out his route-runners with methods like these.

Although he's not getting mentioned until now, no player on Duke's roster runs better routes than senior Connor Vernon. The 6-foot-2 senior is not on the brink of breaking Peter Warrick's all-time ACC receiving record for nothing. Vernon can line up anywhere and run either the simplest underneath routes or long-developing double moves with the best in the league.

Anthony Boone

Duke will mix up its looks at quarterback from time-to-time if it feels like it can take advantage of the read option. Renfree is not totally immobile, but he's nowhere near an average scrambler. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Boone has seen action in his two active seasons as a short-yardage and red zone threat because of his ability to operate the zone read. Boone is a stout six-feet, 235-pound quarterback that the Seminoles may see in looks like this one against North Carolina.

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