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Looking Ahead To Duke

In raw terms, it certainly appears as though the Blue Devils a lot better this season: from 117th in total offense last year to 98th in 2008, from 92nd in total defense to 52nd. And there's the winning record thing. Their performance on a per-play basis, however, tells a different story:
Duke Yds/PassAtt Yds/RuAtt Yds/Play YdsAllowed/PassAtt YdsAllowed/RuAtt YdsAllowed/Play
2007 6.5 2.0 4.3 7.8 4.3 5.8
2008 5.9 2.9 4.3 7.6 4.0 5.4

The offense hasn't gotten any better, while the defense has improved marginally. Their -1.1 yards/play differential puts them second to last in the ACC in that particular category (NC State is last at -1.2). But they've gone from being out-gained by an average of 153 yards per game in 2007 to being out-gained by 37 yards per game in 2008. That's a pretty big raw improvement, much bigger than you'd think possible based on the above.

That raw improvement is largely a function of the number of plays they're running relative to their opponents; whereas last season they averaged 63 snaps per game to their opponents' 73, they've managed to flip those numbers in 2008. A couple of things aiding the turnaround:

1.) Turnovers/the whims of the gods. Duke has 18 takeaways in seven games, which matches their 2007 total. That's an extra takeaway per game, and it's allowed them to improve their turnover margin from -0.25 (81st nationally) in '07 to +1.29 (6th) this season. It's the best turnover margin in the ACC.

2.) Better third down efficiency on both sides of the ball:
 3rdDownConv% (Rk) Opp3rdDownConv% (Rk)
2007 31.7 (109) 43.7 (96)
2008 40.4 (57) 34.4 (41)
Defensively, they're doing a much better job getting off the field, and although the offense's per-play output has not improved, the unit is at least converting more third downs and sustaining more drives. Duke's time of possession is up about four-and-a-half minutes over a year ago.

Opponent DukeYds/Play OppYds/Play PlayMargin TO_Margin W/L
JMU (I-AA) 4.6 5.0 Duke +31 +1 W
N'western 5.2 5.5 Duke +31 -1 L
Navy 5.7 6.4 Duke +14 +1 W
Virginia 3.7 4.1 UVA +5 +4 W
Ga Tech 2.7 6.2 GT +24 0 L
Miami 4.3 6.5 Duke +13 +2 L
Vandy 3.5 4.6 Duke +9 +2 W

What with the ACC being crazy stupid, I don't dare hazard a prediction. The league's teams can be stunningly accomodating at times, and the Blue Devils could very well ride the turnover margin gravy train for the rest of the season. Still, it's hard not to think they're due for a correction.