Duke travels to Memphis on Saturday with a 4:30PM ET kickoff.

Know the opponent: Memphis Tigers

Duke hosts Memphis at 6:00PM on Saturday, September 22 in Wallace Wade Stadium.

It’s Homecoming Weekend in Durham, and the Blue Devils play host to the Memphis Tigers on Saturday at 6PM in Wallace Wade Stadium. Duke will use the weekend to commemorate its 100th year of football and hope to cap off the celebration with a victory.

To give us a scouting report on the Tigers, BDN welcomes in Phil Stukenborg, Memphis football reporter for The Commercial Appeal, where he has worked since 1983. He has written about high school, college and professional sports in the Mid-South, spending time as the beat writer for Ole Miss, Arkansas and the University of Memphis athletics. He was honored by the Memphis Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame in 2004 with its Contribution to Amateur Football Award and by the All-American Football Foundation in 2001 with the Jim Murray Outstanding Sportswriter Award. Thanks for joining us, Phil!

Memphis is off to a disappointing 0-3 start under first year Head Coach Justin Fuente. What are the expectations for the Tigers this year, and what does the new staff need to do to turn the program around?

Mired in the program’s worst stretch in its 100-year history — 34 losses in the past 39 games — there weren’t many expectations this season under Justin Fuente. Fans were hoping for better organization and discipline on the field and, so far, they’ve gotten that to some extent (4 turnovers last week nonwithstanding). To turn the program around, the new staff needs time and about three good recruiting classes.

Texas Tech transfer Jacob Karam leads the Memphis offense, which also features a finally healthy Durham native Jerrell Rhodes at running back this year. How do you expect the Tigers will try to attack the injury-plagued Duke defense, and how can they take better care of the football?

Rhodes is the most productive back the Tigers have and has enjoyed playing in the Durham area (as he did two years at East Carolina). But Memphis hasn’t had a strong rushing attack so far. Getting JUCO transfer Jai Steib back and healthy has helped somewhat, but the turnovers have been costly. Memphis allowed 24 points off turnovers in its loss last weekend. Fuente has spent extra time in practice this week addressing the fumble problem.

Memphis gave up over 35 points per game in 2011, and are coming off a 48-30 defeat to Middle Tennessee State in week 3. What is the expected strength of the new 3-4 defense, and what has been the source of their early season struggles?

Fuente has praised his defensive front since preseason camp began and it is a solid group anchored by nose tackles Johnnie Farms and Terry Redden, along with end Zach Gholson. Free safety Lonnie Ballentine has blossomed this season, too. The defense’s early season struggles have been a byproduct of facing opponents with superior team speed. Arkansas State ran a no-huddle offense that produced nearly 100 plays and the Tiger defense wilted in the final quarter.

Duke enters this game in an unfamiliar position as a heavy favorite. How do you expect the game to play out Saturday night in Durham?

Memphis has had the misfortune to play teams with veteran quarterbacks each week of the season so far. Sean Renfree may be the most experienced the Tigers have faced. While Karam is a former Texas Tech quarterback, he didn’t play much for the Red Raiders. Saturday will be only his fourth career start. This is a Memphis team still learning how to win. I’m not sure I can disagree with the oddsmakers on this one.

Friday Night Lights – Future Dukies Flourish

Blue Devil Nation starts this week’s review of high school gridiron action in Columbia, South Carolina, where Heathwood Hall Episcopal defeated Laurence Manning Academy 12-9 in overtime. Lineman Gabe Brandner spoke to Blue Devil Nation about the game and stated, “It went into overtime at 6 to 6. We held them to a field goal then we scored a touchdown – the final was 12-9. We rushed for over 200 yards again and I had 10 tackles.”

In California, [private] wide receiver Darren Andrews demonstrated big play skills as Bishop Amat defeated Charter Oak 30-14. Andrews returned the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, but the play was negated by a personal foul penalty. After Charter Oak scored to go up 7-0, Andrews returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. This time the play counted.

Andrews also caught two passes on 3rd down as Bishop Amat built a 30-7 halftime lead. Unfortunately, Andrews was ejected from the game toward the end of the first half due to a scuffle in the end zone with a Charter Oak player.

Moving over to Norco, running back Joseph Ajeigbe rushed for 231 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in a 54-33 victory over Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos.

In Florida, quarterback T.J. Douglas completed 10 of 20 passes, but for only 55 yards as Ft. Myers struggled to mount sustained drives in a 27-0 victory over Cypress Lake. Video clip and a game recap is located here.

Also in Ft. Myers, Dunbar lost to Riverdale 24-10 as wide receiver Johnell Barnes was limited to two catches for 36 yards. Riverdale’s sophomore cornerback Ryan Pulley played an excellent game in a one-on-one matchup against Barnes.

Up in Jacksonville, quarterback Parker Boehme and Sandalwood dropped a 13-7 decision to Trinity Christian. Boehme had a tough night against Trinity’s aggressive blitz package, completing only 3 of 16 passes for 24 yards with one interception.

In Marietta, GA, The Walker School and defensive tackle Mike Ramsay remained undefeated with a 56-6 pounding of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. [/private]

Jamison Crowder

Duke players discuss their win over NCCU

DURHAM – The Duke Blue Devils defeated the NCCU Golden Eagles 54-17 in the Bull City Gridiron Classic on Saturday night. QB Sean Renfree had a big day, as did WR Jamison Crowder, Durham native WR Desmond Scott, and RB Josh Snead. CB Ross Cockrell added a pick-6 for the defense as well. All five stars of the game spoke with the media afterwards.

Sean Renfree

Desmond Scott

Jamison Crowder

Josh Snead

Ross Cockrell

Blue Devils ground the Eagles 54-17

Seeing Blair Holliday on the sidelines was a good thing for fans and his teammates. Duke cruised past NCCU 54-17 on Saturday evening in Wallace Wade Stadium pushing their record to 2-1 on the season.

The Duke Blue Devils pushed their season record to 2-1 with a 54-17 victory over in town rival, North Carolina Central University in the Bull City Classic. The Blue Devils were the beneficiary of two late turnovers which broke the game open after a 41-17 lead which at the time looked as if it might stand. Duke was very banged up coming into the game and used a lot of players as the game progressed against their out manned opponent.

One of those turnovers led to a Ross Cockrell 32 yard interception return for a touchdown.  Cockrell had two picks on the game.

Sean Renfree threw for three touchdowns on 25 of 35 attempts for 280 yards. One of his passes went to Isacc Blakeney for his first career TD pass and one each to Jamison Crowder and Josh Snead. Back up quarterback Anthony Boone accounted for another TD pass to give Duke four for the game. His pass went to walk on tight end Jack Wise who like Blakeney caught his first career TD pass as well.

Duke ended the game with 128 yards rushing but they struggled early on and most of those yards came from true freshman Jela Duncan who ran for 5o yards on six carries. Duke put up 408 yards of total offense while Central gained 337 which could be seen as a moral victory for the Eagles.

The bottom line is it wasn’t always pretty but by games end, thanks to said turnovers, the Blue Devils final margin of victory was a bit more impressive than it’s overall performance on the evening. But a win is a win and it was a good win and one where they can build off the performance after watching film. The crowd of  22,829 was a bit of a let down as well, especially on what most would consider a perfect night for football.

The Blue Devils are now 2-0 at home and the margin of victory was the largest in the Coach Cutcliffe era at Duke.

The biggest thrill of the night for many beyond the victory itself, was the return of Blair Holliday who was on the field before and during most of the game. Holliday is recovering from a serious injury in a boating accident and this was his first appearance since that tragedy.

Duke will next take on a winless Memphis team in Wallace Wade Stadium with a 6:00 kickoff next Saturday. Stay tuned for post game videos on Blue Devil Nation and a highlight tape tomorrow.