The beginning of the Hafley era sure was something special. The Eagles took down the Blue Devils in a 26-6 (second-half) butt-kicking. A lot of bright spots and certainly plenty to work on, but all in all a performance to hang our hats on.
The offensive can be electric
Can you say ACC Wide Receiver of the Week three times fast? Zay Flowers. Unleashed. Flowers can really take the top off a defense. As he noted post-game, he is more than a jet-sweep guy (hint, hint, nudge, nudge), and getting him the ball in space is dangerous as he showed all day. Hunter Long was already a dynamic tight end, and seems to have established a good rapport with QB Phil Jurkovec. He amassed 93 yards and led the team with seven receptions, including some absolute beauties. We didn’t see too much from Jaelen Gill, but they can certainly use him in a few different ways.
Jurkovec got off to a slow start, including taking some poor sacks, but he really settled in as the game progressed. He finished with 300 yards on 17-23 and had an exceptional second half. He was poised and accurate with his passes. He threw one interception, but critically did put points on the board in each red zone trip.
Only six points off five turnovers, however, yikes. Again, it was the first game and Jurkovec’s first collegiate start, but the offense cannot squander those opportunities because they will not come that often.
The Offensive Line will need more reps
Many raised their eyebrows at the re-shuffled offensive line when the depth chart was revealed. It wasn’t so much skepticism, more . . . intrigued. Now, this was a very solid Duke front that gave Notre Dame’s [equally] excellent offensive line trouble in week one as well. That being said, six sacks allowed (not all on them) is tough for a unit considered the best on the team.
Four of the five lineman played together last season, but new positions means a need for time to adjust. It’s all about communication and this was their first real test. We’ll need to give them some time before throwing out takes because they have shown brilliance.
Bend don’t break for the defense
I’m not going to say all systems are go and the defense is entirely fixed, but the unit exceeded expectations Saturday. Forcing five turnovers is incredible, and while that won’t happen on a week to week basis, just creating that pressure is notable. Definitely hoping to increase the sack numbers (2 in this game), but there seems to be something there with Luc Bequette and Chibueze Onwuka putting things into place.
Hafley has instilled a ball hawking mentality in the defensive backs, and the nature of his defense allows everyone to zero in on the ball. Duke was still able to escape on a couple of long run plays, so the team needs to sharpen as they log more games and practices. The team allowed 351 yards of offense, but the red-zone defense was stellar. A bend-don’t-break mindset could set the standard. Interestingly, BC played with two linebackers through much of the game. This meant more defensive backs on the field, which may have even allowed Hafley to see who he liked the most given all the coin flips on the depth chart. I wouldn’t expect to see that all of the time, so the third linebacker could alleviate some issues.
We go for fourth downs now
Coach Hafley is not scared. He went for two short, early fourth downs, and I loved it. The first on the opening drive right near the goal line helped set up a David Bailey touchdown. Now maybe he felt he wanted to set a tone for his first game and go no holds barred, but this could be a trend. He’s going to be decisive, and that is a refreshing shift. We can’t afford to hesitate, call a time out, before coming to a decision. He went for it again in relatively early in the second quarter around midfield that didn’t work out, but at that point the offense had barely touched the ball in seven minutes of game time. It’s not about just going for it, but understanding the situation and the game as a whole.
We’re on to the home opener with Texas State. If things really have changed for the good, this should be a clean performance with a few more added wrinkles thrown in on offense.