DURHAM, N.C. (AP) It would be easy to pin Duke's troubles on the lateral.
But the Blue Devils' problems go beyond the game-ending play in the loss to Miami that was the beginning of a three-game losing streak that they carry into this week's visit to Virginia.
The issues kept mounting Tuesday when Duke kicked three players - including a starting receiver and his backup - off the team for failing to meet program standards.
In announcing the dismissals of receivers Johnell Barnes and Terrence Alls and linebacker Chris Holmes, coach David Cutcliffe said the move wasn't in response to anything that has happened in the past few weeks.
''We have standards in this program that we are deeply committed to,'' Cutcliffe said. ''With this circumstance, it had reached a point where it was in their best interest, and certainly the program's best interest, to move forward somewhere else.''
Barnes, the starter at one receiving position, was second on the team with 34 catches for 411 yards and two touchdowns. Alls, his backup, was suspended for the season's first six games but had six catches for 56 yards.
Cutcliffe also said he resigned his spot on the NCAA's football rules committee, saying he didn't feel he was as effective as he needed to be.
When asked specifically if the decision was related to the Miami loss - in which the Atlantic Coast Conference later said the eight-lateral final kickoff return shouldn't have counted due to multiple officiating errors - Cutcliffe said, ''I don't know if it was shaped or designed (by that), but I evaluate everything I'm doing, and I want to be as good as I can be at everything I'm doing.
''I've just kind of left it at that,'' he added. ''I didn't think I was as effective as I needed to be.''
Neither has his team.
There's no question Duke (6-4, 3-3) has been in a funk ever since Corn Elder took the last of those eight laterals for the game-ending touchdown three weeks ago, starting the slide that knocked the Blue Devils out of the Top 25 and out of contention in the Coastal Division.
''It's an easy scapegoat, I think,'' receiver Max McCaffrey said. ''But I don't think that's why we've been losing these last three games. Credit to all the teams we played ... but we can do a lot better ourselves. We know that.''
A big part of the problem is that the defense has been pretty leaky lately.
A month ago, Duke had the nation's No. 4 overall defense, (252.8 yards allowed per game), its second-best pass defense (131.2 ypg), and the ACC's best scoring defense (9.3 ppg).
In its last four games - a stretch that also includes a four-overtime win at Virginia Tech - the Blue Devils have given up averages of 42.5 points and nearly 500 yards.
Now, they rank ninth in the league in total defense (351 ypg) and eighth in scoring defense (22.6 ppg).
No. 12 North Carolina hung 66 points and 704 yards on them a week before Pittsburgh opened the second half with three straight touchdown drives that each covered at least 74 yards and eight plays.
The Virginia Tech game ''was really our first chance at getting a game-ready look at ACC football with Division I wide receivers,'' cornerback DeVon Edwards said. ''We just have to get back to our fundamentals because they're just as good as us. We can't rely on our athletic ability all the time to get us out of trouble when we read too much in the backfield or not stay on top of stuff.''
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