Key play breakdown: Duke's six turnovers (part 2 of 2)
Duke committed six turnovers in its 33-30 loss to Pitt on Saturday. In part one, we broke down the first three, which came in four offensive snaps in the first quarter and gave Pitt a 10-3 lead.
In this part, we’ll look at the other three, which came in the second half and hampered Duke’s comeback bid.
Here's Harris talking about the job his line had done protecting him prior to the Pitt game.
Turnover No. 4: Quentin Harris fumble, 11:17 third quarter.
The set-up: Duke was trailing 19-3 coming out of the half. The Blue Devils went three-and-out in their first second-half possession. Then, after stopping a Pitt drive, Duke fair caught a punt on its own 15.
Harris threw incomplete on first down, then suffered a sack and fumbled at Duke’s seven. Pitt scored two plays later to take its largest lead of the game, at 26-3.
The formation: Just like in the first three turnovers, Duke went to the empty backfield, with a wideout and slot right, one receiver wide left and receivers tight to the line on each side.
Pitt is messing with Harris’ head again, sending three down linemen and two linebackers to the line, threatening to blitz. One DB also takes two steps forward, threatening to rush the passer as well.
Harris, and more importantly, the line, have six, and possibly seven different rushers to account for, presenting dozens of different possible combinations of Pitt pass rush problems.
The snap: Just like with Duke’s first turnover, Pitt goes vanilla, sending the three down linemen and one rush linebacker. Everyone else drops into coverage.
What went wrong: First the good news—Right guard Rakavius Chambers and center Jack Wohlabaugh team up to stop defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman in his tracks. He’s not a factor in the play.
Now the bad news: Every other Duke lineman gets beaten, one-on-one. Patrick Jones II uses an outside move to get past RT Jacob Monk. He gets credit for the sack and forced fumble.
Linebacker Phil Campbell splits LT Casey Holman and LG Zach Baker, getting between them, while end Deslin Alexandre stunts to his left, going up the middle.
Harris doesn’t stand a chance. There’s probably a fraction of a second where he could bounce one to Aaron Young, who is passing the 20-yard line. That would have avoided the sack.
He thinks about rolling left instead, however, but Campbell is there. At that point, it’s too late for him to do anything, and he goes down, losing the ball as all three rushers hit him.
It’s hard to put the blame on Harris for this one, though.
Turnover No. 5: Aaron Young interception, 5:18 third quarter.
The set-up: Duke was trailing 26-3, but the Blue Devils finally started moving the ball, by going to the triple option. The Blue Devils gained 22 yards on four plays, getting two first downs on a drive for the first time since their opening possession of the game.
Duke got to the Pitt 46, crossing midfield for the first time since the opening drive.
Duke called for a trick play, giving WR Aaron Young the ball on a reverse. Young then pulled up and threw deep. His pass was intercepted by Dane Jackson at the Pitt 27.
The formation: The Blue Devils left the triple option on this first-down play, lining up twin receivers to the left, two tight ends stacked right and a running back—Mataeo Durant.
The snap: Harris and Durant head to the left, looking like it’s a quarterback run with an option to pitch. Young runs at them from his spot wide left. Both tight ends stay in to block. Only one receiver, Scott Bracey, goes out, running a deep right-to-left route.
The idea is to pull the defense in the direction of Harris and Durant. Then, any defenders remaining on the right side will crash the line, leaving the receiver open.
Harris hands the ball to Young as they pass, and he continues running left to right before pulling up to pass.
What went wrong: Problems began to arise from the moment Harris handed off to Young.
The play takes more than five seconds to develop, so, obviously, blocking is key. But Patrick Jones splits Holman and Baker on the left side and is bearing down on Young as he pulls up to pass.
More troubling is the fact that Dane Jackson isn’t fooled. He stays put as the other Pitt defenders charge forward to chase down Young. As Young pulls up, Jackson sniffs out the trick and drops back toward the only receiver.
Hit as he throws, Young’s pass is short and off the mark.
Jackson is playing center field and easily snatches it.
Turnover No. 6: Harris fumbles, 0:22 fourth quarter.
The set-up: A lot has happened since turnover No. 5. Duke mounted a comeback and took the lead, 30-26. Pitt responded with a go-ahead touchdown with 38 seconds left, giving Duke one last-ditch chance to get into scoring position.
Harris opens the drive with back-to-back incompletions and faced third and 10 from the 25.
The formation: The Blue Devils line up with one back and four receivers, three to the right. Pitt is showing blitz with six potential rushers at the line.
The snap: Pitt again doesn’t blitz, sending the three down linemen and a rush linebacker. A fifth defender, linebacker Kylan Johnson, hovers at the line, serving as a spy, in case Harris decides to run.
Deon Jackson stays in to help with blocking, then heads out for a short route when the coast is clear.
What went wrong: The coast wasn’t clear. Patrick Jones swim moves RT Jacob Monk and gets past him on Monk’s left, just as Jackson heads out on his route, going around Monk to the right. Jones has a clear path to Harris.
Harris is looking to hit Aaron Young running up the left sideline and never sees Jones coming. He’s hit as he cocks his arm to throw and the ball comes loose.
The ball hits Monk as he follows Jones to the quarterback. He can’t hold onto it, and it’s recovered by LB Phil Campbell, who has just beaten RG Rakavius Chambers and is headed toward Harris as well.
Just like with the first three turnovers, Duke’s second-half issues were partly due to Pitt’s play, partly miscommunication on the line and partly decision-making. The combination cost the Blue Devils a chance to spring what would have been a school-record comeback.