Duke Coach Steve Sloan started the football season with a team he thought was at best "marginal" in talent, then nine of 11 offensive starters and numerous defensive players fell to injury, quickly turning the Blue Devils into a disaster.
Going into Saturday's game in Durham, N.C., against Maryland, the Blue Devils are 1-5 and have lost five straight games. They scored only one touchdown between the first and sixth weeks of the season and were shut out twice.
With half the season left, they have lost six fumbles, 13 interceptions and a blocked punt. In a 38-10 loss to Virginia, every point they allowed came after turnovers. Because of injuries, much of the time, Sloan isn't even sure who will play. Against Virginia Tech two weeks ago, he had to use his fourth-string center.
In the first game, fifth-year quarterback Ron Sally injured his rotator cuff, then tried to play against Army when he couldn't throw the ball longer than 20 yards. Now he is out for the season. Tailback Julius Grantham, after rushing 141 yards in the victory over Indiana, hurt a knee the second quarter the following week against South Carolina.
Two plays later, with Grantham barely off the field, Doug Green -- Duke's only receiver with any speed worth speaking of -- tore ligaments in his knee and was finished for the season.
Enough defensive players were injured that Sloan changed his alignment from 5-2 to 4-4 because two of the best three ends got hurt.
"I haven't seen anything like it as a coach or a player," he said. "In a two-game period we lost both split ends, a quarterback, a tight end, a flanker, a tailback, fullback, first-team center, second-team center and third-team center. That's all in two games. And I may have left out somebody. The two tackles are the only starters left standing."
He thought he was relatively safe on defense, but free safety Johnny Hill injured his back and probably won't play. And the punter -- trying to get a few yards on a fake punt attempt -- was tackled on his ribs and will be out this week.
Sloan, in his second year as Duke coach, said he hopes this week that his team has progressed to where it was the opening week of the season, even though this is Week 7 for Duke. Coming into the season, he said, "I thought, realistically, we'd have a pretty good team. Not great or anything, but pretty good. I thought we could stay close in a lot of games. But the injuries have hit us in places we just couldn't afford.
Grantham, whom many people believe to be one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's most talented backs, will start against Maryland this week.
Duke goes into that game last in the league in total offense, last in rushing, last in scoring, last in points allowed and next-to-last in punting. Two quarterbacks who have totaled 10 interceptions and one touchdown will be splitting time.
Duke probably won't be favored to beat any of the remaining teams on its schedule, even though Sloan is optimistic about getting his injury list out of double figures this week.
When asked about any criticism he may have taken this year -- following a 3-8 season last year -- he said, "Most of the people I've talked to have been sympathetic with what's happened. This isn't Notre Dame. If this was the fourth year of (my) contract I might be worried about me. But right now, I'm concerned about the team."