On the road again…Duke at Vanderbilt

[private]Duke (3-3) takes to the road this weekend for a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores. This will be Duke’s second road game this season. Vanderbilt (5-2) opened the season with five straight victories but has dropped back-to-back in conference road games the past two weeks. There are still tickets available for $22 so anyone interested in traveling to Nashville to root on the Blue Devils should call (615) 322-GOLD.

The Commodores are averaging 23 points and 249 yards of offense per game. They have executed 399 plays from scrimmage with 65 percent being running plays and 35 percent pass plays. Vanderbilt has scored 19 touchdowns with 12 coming via the run and seven via the pass. Quarterbacks Mackenzi Adams (4) and Chris Nickson (3) have also thrown seven interceptions. Nickson has also rushed for six touchdowns this season. Adams replaced Nickson as the Commodores starting QB prior to their game against Georgia, as Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson attempted to improve Vanderbilt’s passing game. Vanderbilt is last in the SEC in passing offense and total offense. Adams threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions in the 24-14 loss to the Bulldogs.

Vanderbilt has a big offensive line. Right guard Eric Hensley and left tackle Kyle Fischer recently joined the starting line-up and each are listed as 6’6″ and over 300 pounds. In post game interviews, after the loss to Georgia, Coach Johnson stated, “Our offensive line played a whole lot better…We were a lot more physical…We’ve got some guys in there that sort of understand what we’re trying to get done on the offensive line…We’re looking for people that want to do what we’re suppose to do…”

On the defensive side of the ball, Vanderbilt leads the SEC in interceptions (13) and sacks (19). They are also the least penalized team in the SEC, and ranked second in both Red Zone offense and defense. The Commodores have a +7 turnover margin. Their defense has yielded 17.4 points and 318 yards per game this season.

As far as Special Teams are concerned, Vanderbilt punter Brett Upson was named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging 44.6 yards on seven punts against Georgia.

For Duke, last Saturday’s second half meltdown against Miami marked the second game in a row in which the Blue Devils did not execute in the second half. Coach Cutcliffe stated in post game interviews that he wouldn’t allow anyone to back off the throttle and that he didn’t plan on being very patient.

With Vanderbilt seemingly in position to contain Duke’s passing game, it is paramount that Duke is able to run the ball. Against Miami, Duke ran the ball for 144 yards and they’re going to need to replicate that performance against Vanderbilt. This is a game where Duke must run to setup the pass.

Team health is a question mark for Duke going into the weekend so this week’s injury report is invaluable information. At wide receiver, Eron Riley is nursing a bad thumb and Johnny Williams missed the Miami game with a dental abscess. Having both these receivers healthy and available would be nice.

The match-up against Vanderbilt will be tough and Duke must execute for 60 minutes on both sides of the ball in order to leave Nashville with a victory. The game is going to revolve around the standard clichés: controlling the line of scrimmage, turnovers, and taking advantage of opportunities. If Duke can play for four quarters, they have an opportunity to win, but any performance less than stellar could very well result in a long afternoon for the Blue Devils.

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Cutcliffe’s weekly teleconference

[private]Opening statement -

I apologize for being a little late, but recruiting comes first and we’ve been recruiting.  It’s amazing to look at the tape and see how many good things we did but we are not pleased with the plays made against us.  There were some good lessons learned, but give Miami the credit.  We had some opportunities in the game, but we didn’t step up at critical times and the game got away from us.

On his feelings after the Miami game-

I’m still angry.  I just told out team that I just did not sense any energy in our team.  I watched the tape and we played hard, but we did not have the energy or the look in your eye that we were going to win the game in the fourth quarter when we were down 11.  That’s unacceptable.  There’s a difference in playing hard and competing to win and I didn’t think we competing to win.

On Vanderbilt -

I’ve seen Vanderbilt on TV, but very little of them on tape thus far.  We will do a little work against Vanderbilt this evening.  I know a little bit about their team playing them the last two years.  I know the staff … they’re an exceptional football team and they do a tremendous job and it will challenge us to go over there and stay in the game.

More on Miami and his displeasure -

I just think you’ve got the believe you can win and I don’t think we thought we could win.  You can only accomplish what you think you can accomplish.  You have to fight through the adversity.  My confidence has wavered at times in my career, but you earn it back.  I just sensed we were not going to win.  I sensed it and you could have gone in and turned the light off.  I looked around, the stadium was empty with fifteen minutes to go.  It’s a situation we have to break.  I believed we could, that was until I walked around looked and it was not just guys playing in the game.  All of our back up guys … there was no hunger in their eyes, no attack in their eyes.  I saw the hunger in earlier games, but you’ve got to do it when it’s hard.  I know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, I’m not mad at them but you have to earn it.  None of these guys – what I thought about last night was that I didn’t have any of these guys that have done it before.  They haven’t done it, they haven’t lived it.

On the 77 yard punt with a 5 yard penalty which switched field position -

That was a howitzer.  I don’t think anyone could have caught that ball.  I’ve never seen one get caught in the wind like that one did.  It flipped the field position on us.  We then had a bad series, which is easy to do when you get backed up deep in your territory.

More on Miami and their freshman quarterback -

They were bigger than us and faster than us.  You can’t back off of them and just let them make the plays.  They just made the plays.  Every time the QB ran he made the play.  I was surprised he ran the ball as well as he did.  Once he got out of the pocket guys didn’t know whether to leave go to the ball or stay on their man.

Riley struggled on Saturday.  How do you as a coach get other kids to step up and make plays?

Well, you just keep going at it and practiced.  Again, I hate to keep using that word, but they have to “earn” their confidence level and then they have to learn our (staffs) confidence.  Eron is not going to drop balls like that all the time – he hadn’t been doing so in practice.  You are going to ride your horses pretty good … I had actually talked to our seniors about them making big plays until our young guys can get into that mode.  We haven’t had a chance to talk (since Miami game) on both sides of the ball on how we are going to have to make some big plays.

On the rushing attack having more success and game calls -

Well, I’ve told y’all on many occasions that we were going to work on that in the off week and challenge our kids.  It’s still a work in progress.  At the end you could see how explosive their athletes were.  I let the time run off the clock late in the first half was to consider keeping the ball.  I know we needed the points with a field goal, but we thought about trying to run the ball off the clock.  Had we gone for it and been successful, we would have gone in up 14-7, 17-7 or 21-7.  I really wanted that clock to run down, but they just ripped down the field in less than two minutes to score.  (making it 17-14 at the half)

Alright folks, thank you very much and I apologize for being late, but obviously, we’ve got a lot of recruiting to do.[/private]

Singler is rested and ready for the upcoming season

[private]What more can a coach want than a player who can pretty much do it all?  That versatility is what rising sophomore Kyle Singler brought to the table last season on his way to being named the ACC Rookie of the Year.

It’s no secret that Kyle wore down a bit last year, so he took the off season to reflect and address what he could do to prevent that from happening again.  “I took some time off and rested a bit, spending a lot of my time in the weight room and playing a lot with the guys too,” said Singler.

A lot of the rest and relaxation time was spent at his home in Medford, Oregon.  “It’s always good to go back home but some things change.  There were times when I just wanted to be back here, but it allowed me to get fresh and finally eat some good food.”  Kyle looks bigger and certainly more defined, currently weighing 235 pounds which is a 20 pound gain.

When Singler mentioned good food, he was referring to his Mom’s home cooking.  “I just packed it (weight) on but I didn’t work out as much.  When I got back to campus I started lifting,” said Singler, who then quickly said that he monitored the process closely in order to not lose any speed or agility.

When I asked how he might keep himself fresh during the season, he replied, “Last season was just really different for me.  Playing college is just totally different than what you would expect.  A lot of things I did last year were new to me, but now I have that experience and know what to expect.  I’m excited for this season.   You get a fresh start and I know what to expect.

There were occasions when Singler had to take on the big man for the opposing team.  If that is the case again this season, he will be up for the challenge but he does expect some help.  “I will be playing the same position as I did last year, but I won’t have to be guarding the “five” as much as did last year.  We are deeper and have a lot of guys that can play down low this year if we stay healthy.”

If Singler continues to improve upon his already solid game, the NBA questions will become more frequent.  “It’s not something I think about day in and day out and I have to leave this year or something like that.  It’s been one of my goals and one of my dreams.  I’ve just got to keep working hard and I’m in college right now and I’m here to win a Nation Championship,” said Singler.

Much speculation has centered around the fact that the top of his class of 2008 has already moved on and that this might pressure the budding star to do the same, but Kyle seems to be running his own race for preparation.  “I would definitely look into it, but right now I’m here in college and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Side Bar – Singler played a few games in the NC Prom Am at NCCU over the summer.  The game reports can be found in our archives.  Singler is very actice in the “Read with the Blue Devils” program which serves the Durham Community.  Singler’s three blocks in last season’s opener tied him with the most in a collegiate debut with Mike Gminski, Cherokee Parks and Cameron Hall.[/private]

Huge second half carries Miami to win over Duke

[private]The Duke-Miami game was a tale of two halves and the second and decisive half belonged to the Hurricanes.  Duke took a 17-14 lead into the locker room,  but Miami erupted for 35 points, after the break, which included 5 touchdown passes.  Four of those were thrown by a true freshman who had a breakout game.

The Canes came into the game winless in the ACC and for awhile it looked as if Duke would send them to their third loss.  Miami took advantage of their opportunities and executed when they had to.  After all, they are tops in the ACC when they enter the red zone and it’s as if their players all want to step up and score when these situations are afforded.

Duke held a 24-21 lead later in the third, but a 83 yard net punt shifted the field and momentum for good.  That momentum was helped by the Blue Devils top playmaker, Eron Riley.  The normally sure handed wide out dropped numerous passes within his grasp, but the real killer was a blocking below the waste penalty.  That call pretty much sealed the deal for the Canes in that Duke lost a nice running play.  The Canes then came back with a sack of Lewis deep into Duke territory forcing a punt.

With Duke’s top play maker having an off day and nagging injuries to the remaining wide outs, Miami showed why Coach Cutcliffe often talks about speed.  The Canes simply ran past Devil defenders on runs and patterns and their depth was evident.

While the final score of 49-31 looks bad on paper, the game was close for a long time.  There were a couple of positives for Duke.  The first was that they turned the ball over just one time and the second is that they got their running game untracked.

Duke must now rebound in order to play a tough Vanderbilt team on the road next Saturday.  If Duke is to win that game, some players will have to step up and make the plays it takes to turn the corner to victory.[/private]

50 Minutes to Success

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The success of the 2008 – 2009 Duke basketball season will be dependent upon 50 minutes. That is 50 minutes per game as in 40 minutes per game at the Center position and 10 minutes per game at the Power Forward position. Duke is solid on the perimeter and perimeter players will pace the team with an emphasis on pressure defense, transition basketball, and 3-point shooting. If the front court can consistently contribute with points, solid interior defense, rebounding, and shot blocking, this Duke team has the potential to be special.

Kyle Singler will play 30 minutes per game at Power Forward, but the other 10 minutes per game will be up for grabs. All 40 minutes of playing time at Center are available. There are five players competing for those 50 minutes: Lance Thomas (6-8, 220), Brian Zoubek (7-1, 260), Dave McClure (6-6, 200), Olek Czyz (6-7 240), and Miles Plumlee (6-10, 230). The competition for playing time should be fierce.

Last season, front court players, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek, Taylor King, and Dave McClure combined to contribute 14.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in 47.6 minutes per game. Starting Power Forward Kyle Singler averaged 13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and .7 blocks in 28.6 minutes per game.  All together, Duke’s front court contributed 27.9 points, 16.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in 76.2 minutes per game.

In contrast, out in Lawrence, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, and Cole Aldrich combined for 33.9 points, 19.9 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks in 75 minutes per game for national champion Kansas.  Over in Chapel Hill, Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson, and Alex Stepheson combined for 35.3 points, 19.5 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks in 68.9 minutes per game.

This season’s team must achieve more production, from those approximately 50 minutes of playing time, to complement Kyle Singler’s efforts. The key to success is having consistent production across all five positions. For the last two years, Duke has at times played four on five on the offensive end of the court. For the first two years of their careers, Lance Thomas (63 games) has averaged 4.15 points and 2.9 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game, while Brian Zoubek (57 games) has averaged 3.45 points and 2.8 rebounds in 8.9 minutes per game. Rising Senior Dave McClure’s numbers are 2.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game over 88 games.

The efforts of the aforementioned three players have been hampered by injury and sickness. Brian Zoubek has had surgery on his foot twice, Dave McClure has undergone surgery on both knees, and Lance Thomas has suffered from severe ankle sprains and a respiratory infection. If they can achieve and maintain good health, these three veterans have the potential to be much improved this season.

Two new front court players will suit up for the Blue Devils this season. Miles Plumlee and Olek Czyz are arriving in Durham as the # 40 and # 92 ranked players, respectively, in the Class of 2008, according to Scout.com. Plumlee, at 6-10 230, is noted to be a skilled player on both ends of the court, while Olek Czyz, 6-7 240, is a raw talent with very good athleticism including a 40″ vertical. Adjusting to Duke’s defensive scheme will be the major obstacle to playing time for these two freshmen. If they can learn to play Duke Defense, they should challenge their upper class teammates for playing time.  Unquestionably, they will add depth to Duke’s front court.

With five players competing for those 50 minutes of available playing time, Duke is in good shape to see more points, rebounds, and blocked shots produced. With added production to a team that averaged 83.2 points per game and achieved a 28-6 record last season, the Duke Blue Devils will achieve much more success in the 2008 – 2009 season.[/private]