The five-game losing streak Duke is mired in as it prepares for a trip to Army this Saturday is bad enough.
Had the Blue Devils not defeated North Carolina 24-17 on Sept. 23, their losing streak would not only be one game longer, but they’d have the pain a rivalry loss to deal with as well.
But, looking back to that game, Duke could just as easily have lost it too.
Duke’s failure to generate a consistent offense is a major factor in its five-game losing streak. Duke is tied for 10th in the ACC, scoring 24.3 points per game. It’s scored 21 or fewer points in all five of its losses.
But the offense’s struggles were present in that win over UNC so Duke was fortunate to win that one as well.
Duke scored three touchdowns in that game but one of them was provided by the defense when Bryon Fields intercepted a UNC pass and returned it for a touchdown.
Duke trailed 17-13 entering the fourth quarter. It’s lone touchdown drive of the quarter was spearheaded by a 45-yard pass from Daniel Jones to TJ Rahming that Jones admitted was a poorly thrown ball. Prior to that play, Duke had gained a total of 24 yards on its three previous drives.
That was a long way from the production Duke showed over its first three games of the season. Duke beat NC Central 60-7, Northwestern 41-17 and Baylor 34-20.
Using advanced stats provided by SBnation.com’s Football Study Hall, Duke’s offense was among the nation’s best its first two games — in the 92nd percentile nationally against NCCU and 84th percentile against Northwestern.
That dropped to 63 percent against Baylor, a drop that looks foreboding in hindsight.
That’s because Duke’s offense fell to the 30th percentile against UNC, meaning 70 percent of the teams nationally were better.
When Duke closed out the win over the Tar Heels, the general feeling was that, while the offense had a tough day, it still had shown enough in earlier games to beleive better performances were possible.
As it turns out, the best the offense has performed during the five games since was in a 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh when the Blue Devils were in the 37th percentile.
The other four losses were far worse: 8th percentile in a 31-6 loss to Miami, 18th percentile in a 28-21 loss to Virginia, 5th percentile while losing 17-10 to Florida State and 4th percentile in a 24-3 loss at Virginia Tech.
Unless the offense finds a way to play like it did against Northwestern again, Duke’s ability to win again this season looks dismal.
Football Study Hall’s win probability for Duke is less than 50 percent for each of its remaining games: Army (33 percent), Georgia Tech (41 percent) and Wake Forest (26 percent).
Where the 4-0 start to the season looked like the launch point to a return to Duke’s successes from 2013-15 when it averaged nine wins a season, in retrospect the Blue Devils appear fortunate to have won those four games at all.