This week, instead of tackling 2-3 topics, I want to focus on one unit and give kudos to the coach responsible for their progress.

Most would say that the Duke coaching staff has not had a good season. The team is winless and, despite stretches of good play, has struggled to compete at the ACC level. So we need to look long and hard for positive developments. One unit that has steadily improved over the first 8 games of the season is the offensive line. Coming into the season, Duke was faced with replacing 4 starters for the 3rd straight year. Adding insult to injury 3 4th year juniors who would have composed the OL core this season either transferred (Tyler Kreig, Lav Bauta) or decided to graduate (Bob Benion). The Devils were left with a unit with only 2 players who had seen any significant game action. The only returning starter, center Matt Rumsey accounted for 11 of the 12 starts among the returning linemen. LT Cam Goldberg played about 40% of the 2005 snaps and started against UNC in the finale. The rest of the players were a mix of 1st to 4th year players, none with any mentionable experience.

The improvement of this unit can be easily shown by looking at the season in thirds. In the first 4 games (Richmond, Wake, VT, UVA), Duke was shut out 3 times and only scored 13 points in the 4th contest. During that abysmal stretch, the Devils averaged a pitiful 204 yards per game, including only 37.5 of that coming via the running game. The QBs had also been sacked 22 times. The next four games (Alabama, FSU, Miami, Vanderbilt) have seen a dramatic improvement in almost all offensive categories. During that stretch, they have averaged 330.3 yards per game in total offense and the QBs were only sacked 7 times. The biggest eye-popper, though, is the difference in the running game. Duke has been averaging 150.5 yards per game on the ground, including over 200 yards rushing against Alabama and Vanderbilt.

Why these improvements? You can come up reasons like better running by the backs, better play calling or just plain luck. The reason, however, is the vastly improved play of the offensive line. And at least some of the credit should be given to OL coach John Strollo. I must admit, I wasn’t a big Strollo fan at this time last year. He wasn’t the fiery, in-your-face type of coach that a casual observer would associate with an effective coach. That thought had not changed through the first 4 games of 2006 as the OL appeared to be a train-wreck. I guess Strollo flipped the “on” switch before the Alabama game. Whatever he did, the OL is now playing well enough for Duke to move the ball against good defenses. They are opening holes for the running game and they are protecting the passer much better than in the first part of the season. So, I guess I will conclude by saying:

Great job Coach Strollo!