Duquesne sets up their offense in a game vs. Wagner on 10/12. Next game: RMU Colonials.

Buechel, Intercepted

I don’t think that many would disagree with the statement that the turnovers have been frustrating this year. Dillon Buechel is responsible for 11 of those through week 10 and Marty Mitchell added one late during the Youngstown State game. This is becoming an issue. It’s not one that I expect to linger beyond this year – Buechel’s going to take his lumps as a redshirt freshman, and for all of that Duquesne is 3-1 in the NEC at present. Still, I wanted to look deeper.

As I looked through the stats and game summaries, something stuck out to me. The majority of Duquesne’s picks – seven of 12 – have come on third down. Of that subset, all are resulting from drives where we see a bad first down play, be it a loss or short gain or an incomplete pass. Let’s take a closer look, game by game.

Vs. Dayton – 1 INT on 3rd down (1 total)

  • 1st down: Ho rushes for a loss of two
  • 2nd down: Incomplete pass
  • 3rd down: Interception

Vs. Youngstown State – 1 INT on 3rd down (1 total, by Marty Mitchell)

  • 1st down: Rush for two
  • 2nd down: Rush for two
  • 3rd down: Interception

Vs. WLU – 2 INT on 3rd down (3 total)

  • #1
    • 1st down: Rush, gain of 2
    • 2nd down: Rush, gain of 4
    • 3rd down: Interception
  • #2
    • 1st down: Rush, no gain.
    • 2nd down: Rush, 3 yard loss
    • 3rd down: Intercpetion

Vs. Wagner – 1 INT on 3rd down (2 total)

  • 1st down: Incomplete pass (drop)
  • 2nd down: Incomplete pass
  • 3rd down: Interception

Vs. Bryant – 1 INT on 3rd down (3 total)

  • 1st down: Rush for 5
  • 2nd down: Incomplete pass
  • 3rd down: Interception

Vs. St. Francis – 1 INT on 3rd down (1 total)

  • 1st down: Incomplete pass
  • 2nd down: Rush for no gain
  • 3rd down: Incerception

It seems that interceptions are coming mostly from obvious passing situations. Whether the play is telegraphed with a young quarterback or the defense is simply looking for the pass play and has been in good position, the fact remains that choices and/or the execution of those choices on first and second down are leading to some of the more damaging turnovers of the season to this point.

The St. Francis game was the first time where Duquesne saw consistent productivity from the run-run-run series of downs, managing multiple times to get a first down from that cycle. Many other times, though – including five of the seven above – ineffective running plays on first down are leading to three and outs, or worse, that obvious passing situation where interceptions are happening. The running game simply isn’t getting the yards-per-carry to give the expectation that regular use will lead to extended drives.

The other culprit is the long shot incompletion on first down, which has led to two of the interceptions later in the series and also a number of the three-and-outs, especially against SFU, WLU, and Wagner. It was a similar drive that led to the weird Aaron Fleck not-quite-a-punt play that ultimately gave St. Francis a field goal. There was an incomplete pass, a five yard run, and an incomplete pass.

I think that a lot of it comes down to a combination of play calling and execution. On the one hand, if the Dukes’ offense could avoid even half of the mistakes that they make – be it turnovers, drops, or penalties – they’d be a dominant team. However, some of those situations could be avoided. The offense sometimes seems to be flying by the seat of their pants, squeaking out first downs and stalling out when there’s a drive where the rushing yardage fails to approach the average. Or, they spot the other team a down by throwing an off-target 10 yard or longer pass on first down and scramble to make up for it, falling short. Why not higher percentage plays? You know by this point in the season where your strengths are.

It’s worth noting that a couple of those oddball long passes have been a factor in the five interceptions that haven’t taken place on third down. The pick on a 15 yard pass late in the game against RMU that led to a scoring drive and a missed extra point away from a tie is a prime example of that.

The Dukes could execute better. Passes that wideouts have a hand on should be caught at a higher clip. The line could block better for the RBs on first and second down. All of this is true.

Still, the question must also be asked: Are the offensive play calls always putting the Dukes in the best position to sustain drives? Sometimes the answer is yes, like the first quarter of the Wagner game.

Other times, an emphatic “no” glares at us through the interceptions and the three-and-outs. The Dukes offense has been the most effective when it can be methodical and really piece together solid drives, using short passes to set up the running game. Sometimes the play calling embraces that. Other times it runs as far away from it as possible.

Tags: Buechel Dukes Duquesne Interceptions

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