For the second straight season under coach David Cutcliffe, Duke created a buzz around the football program that hadn’t been seen or heard in over a decade. For the second straight year, though, it fizzled in the end.
The Blue Devils were in contention to win the Coastal Division in the second half of the season, and were playing for bowl eligibility until late November. A four-game losing streak ended the season and those hopes, despite the consistent leadership and standout performances from senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis.
It was even more difficult for Duke to reach the postseason this year because the team scheduled NC Central, which wasn’t even officially at the FCS level yet, and needed to reach the seven-win mark to become bowl eligible. Still, there were measurable signs of improvement in the win column, as it was Duke’s most successful season since 1994. Duke ended a 10-game losing streak against N.C. State with a 49-28 win, the first win over the Wolfpack since 1993. The Blue Devils also beat Maryland for the first time since 1999, and beat Virginia in Charlottesville for the first time since 1999.
It was the most wins since 1994, and the first time the program had won three conference games since that year. Duke’s nine victories in 22 games under Cutcliffe were one shy of the 10 wins the Blue Devils posted in the previous 93 games.
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. He ended his outstanding career with 48 school records including total offensive yards (9,987), passing yards (10,065), pass completions (877), pass attempts (1,510), touchdown passes (67), 300-yard passing games (11) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.68:1). In 2009, he completed 274-of-449 (.610) pass attempts for 3,330 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Vincent Rey. He led the Blue Devils and ranks fourth in the ACC in tackles with 98. He finished with 8.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback sack, two pass interceptions, three pass breakups, one quarterback pressure and one fumble return for a touchdown. He holds school records for fumble returns for touchdowns in both a single-season (two in 2008) and career (three).
Turning point: With four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and trailing at Virginia, 17-12, Duke faced a third-and-9 from the UVA 42-yard line. Lewis completed a touchdown pass to Conner Vernon to give Duke the lead for good en route to a 28-17 win. The fourth-quarter comeback gave the Blue Devils their third consecutive ACC victory gave meaning to the month of November for the first time in 15 seasons.
What’s next: The Blue Devils need to continue to recruit more talent and speed, while transitioning to life without Lewis.