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Franks Abandoned Run In Crucial Loss

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

September 22, 2003 DURHAM — Carl Franks always has acted a little like Steve Spurrier — the voice inflections, the glibness, the occasional cockiness when (rarely in Franks' case) warranted — but he took that to new heights in the Blue Devils' 28-10 loss to Northwestern. In doing so, he may well have signaled the beginning of the end of his tenure at Duke. When he was at Florida, Spurrier was infamous for panicking after a rough start in a game, abandoning the run and throwing the ball the rest of the way. Franks, who spent almost a decade on Spurrier's staff with the Gators, went the same route against Northwestern, and it may have cost him the game — and, in the bigger picture, possibly much more than that. As if it needed to be pointed out: When Spurrier panicked and passed, he was usually putting the game in the hands of a Heisman candidate at quarterback (Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel, Rex Grossman) and a bevy of All-SEC receivers. When Franks panicked and passed, he put the game in the hands of a redshirt freshman (Mike Schneider) and one of the more unremarkable receiving corps in the South. But maybe all of that does need to be pointed out, at least to Franks, because he panicked when Northwestern took a 14-0 lead after one quarter and abandoned the strength of his team. That would be a ground game led by fifth-year seniors Chris Douglas and Alex Wade, operating behind a decent (at least in run blocking) offensive line. The final statistics suggested that Duke's offense wasn't all that out of balance, with 39 pass attempts and 32 rushes. But as any coach will tell you, statistics can lie, and that stat was telling a whopper. For the game, Douglas and Wade ran a combined total of 18 times, while Schneider and his backup, junior Adam Smith, combined for 13 carries, generally sacks or scrambles. In other words, Franks called for about 50 pass plays and about 20 rushes. By panicking on offense, Franks not only took his best players out of the game, he also showed no confidence in his defense. That's actually a bigger mistake than it sounds, because by showing no confidence in his defense Franks was proving that he may not really know what's going on with his own team. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof, the former Georgia Tech coordinator who was available two years ago because of the George O'Leary fiasco at Notre Dame, is the best assistant on the Duke staff, and for a reason. In the Blue Devils' previous game, a 27-24 overtime victory against Rice, Roof's defense gave up 201 yards in the first quarter to the Owls' unusual ground attack, then dug in its heels and surrendered just 206 the rest of the way. Franks should have paid attention and used that lesson against Northwestern, but he didn't. When the Wildcats took that 14-0 lead, thanks to 188 yards of offense in the opening quarter, Franks acted as if he had no confidence in his defense and spent the rest of the game trying to score 50 points. Apparently, he felt his offense would need that many to win. Roof again made the adjustments, his players showed they could adjust, and Duke gave up just 11 yards — 11 yards! — to Northwestern in the second quarter. But back to the Rice game for a moment: Because Duke had never fallen behind in that game, Franks put the contest in the hands of Douglas and Wade, and they responded with 155 yards on 29 carries. Duke ran for 222 yards against Rice and, despite some late mistakes that allowed the Owls to force overtime, won its second game in a row. That was the program's first winning streak under Franks. In hindsight, even trailing 14-0 to Northwestern, Duke had plenty of time to do what it does best, give the ball to Wade inside and Douglas on the perimeter, and let them grind out yardage against a Northwestern rushing defense that ranked a brutal 86th nationally against the run at 172.3 yards allowed per game. That number actually was skewed in Duke's favor, since Northwestern's previous opponent, Miami-Ohio, had passed for most of that team's 515 yards in a 44-14 victory against Northwestern one week earlier. But Franks put Douglas and Wade on the shelf, leaving the game in the hands of his team's weakest link — its passing attack, which is led by Franks. Was it any wonder the Blue Devils scored just 10 points against a Northwestern defense that had been allowing almost 30 per game? Was it any wonder that to get those 10 points, Duke needed a personal-foul penalty to extend each scoring drive? “This one hurts a lot,” Duke defensive end Phillip Alexander said. “We were there, but sometimes we made the plays, and sometimes we didn't. We know the kind of schedule we have in front of us. This was a speed bump we had to get past.” Schedule About To Get Tougher The rest of the schedule is actually more of a sheer drop off the edge of a cliff. Duke's next five games are against teams that either are, have been or should be ranked: Florida State, at Maryland, Wake Forest, N.C. State, at Tennessee. After that come three games that, in the preseason, Duke seemingly had a chance to win: Georgia Tech, at Clemson and at North Carolina. And then the season is over. Find three or four Duke victories on that schedule. That is Franks' chore right now, to find three or four wins on that schedule or expect for a pink slip from athletic director Joe Alleva, whose silence regarding Franks' future has been deafening. Even the most ardent supporters of Franks believe he must win at least five games, and possibly six, to be brought back for a sixth season in 2004. With an early schedule against Division
I-AA Western Carolina, Rice and Northwestern, all at Wallace Wade Stadium, this team had the chance to get off to a 3-1 start and then pick off an ACC team or two to finish 4-8 or 5-7. The latter still may be enough to bring back Franks after 0-11, 0-11 and 2-10 seasons from 2000-02, but it won't be easy. Now, it's anyone's guess what will happen, both on the field and off. Will Duke end that 26-game ACC albatross hanging from its neck? Not even Franks offers much encouragement. He generally mentions, on his own, that Duke won't be favored to win any of its final eight games. After the Northwestern loss, Franks did it again. “There's no time to sit around and hang our heads,” he said. “I doubt we'll be the favorite again, but I believe we can win several games on our schedule. I don't know which ones they are, but if we continue playing hard and staying together, we'll have some opportunities to win some games.” Assuming the head coach doesn't take that opportunity away from his team.