Ball-control strategy figures to be smart move against Louisville

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Duke went into its game against Louisville last week with one pretty big objective: Keep the ball away from Lamar Jackson.

To do that, the Blue Devils had to slow the game down on offense and do a better job converting on third down in order to keep drives alive. On the opening drive, that plan became rather clear: Duke ran down the play clock until only a few seconds remained before snapping the ball and made both of its third-down conversions. That chewed up five minutes on just eight plays.

It continued this way for the whole game, frustrating the Louisville offense. Jackson still had 325 yards of offense and two touchdowns, but Duke made it a game into the fourth quarter. Ultimately, Louisville won 24-14, but the Cards scored their fewest points, gained their fewest total yards and had their fewest total plays of the season. Jackson also had his fewest yards and touchdowns.

Duke snapped the ball every 37 seconds and won time of possession by a margin of nearly 15 minutes.

"We thought that was a game we needed a chance to win in the fourth quarter," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said this week, explaining his rationale. "[Jackson's] an incredible football player as well as an incredible athlete, but he's not alone. That's just a really complete football team, and there was no sense in trying to give them multiple opportunities.

"They create so many explosive plays that you knew you had to try to limit their opportunities, and so I thought what we did was successful, we just didn't get the job finished."

That begs this question: Will teams now copy the Duke blueprint to try and slow down Louisville and Jackson?

That probably depends on the team. Duke generally has a more methodical approach to offense, and with good running backs and a redshirt freshman quarterback it also made sense for the Blue Devils to slow the game down for their own benefit. Duke ended up running one fewer play than Louisville.

NC State comes to Louisville this weekend with a far different offensive philosophy. The Wolfpack want to go fast and push the ball down the field.

"Their [Duke's] game plan obviously was to play keep-away, and it worked for them," NC State coach Dave Doeren said this week. "We're not just going to sit there and wait until the clock runs down to 1 ... We'll be conscientious of how many plays we're out there and we'll run our system, and we're going to play fast, too. That's what we believe in, but we have other ways to control the ball, and we've done that all year. If you can run the football on anybody, you can control the clock, and we've just got to be able to be physical and balanced."

There are other teams on the schedule that could use the Duke strategy against Louisville. Perhaps Virginia or Wake Forest. Maybe even rival Kentucky. Boston College already tries to play ball control, so there is little doubt the Eagles will try to milk the clock in the same way as Duke.

For his part, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said he wasn't surprised that Duke used the slow-down game plan. But he also said it was on his offense to make the most out of its limited possessions. Louisville had a fumble in the red zone in the third quarter and a penalty at the Duke 19 on the next possession that moved the Cardinals back and resulted in a missed 42-yard missed field-goal attempt.

Petriono's hope was to see greater intensity and focus during practice this week to avoid another close call.

"The difference between winning and losing isn't a whole lot," Petrino said. "So we weren't at the top of our game and we need to get back to that, get back to our players you know, working to have the best game they've had all year."