Kenny Anunike and the Duke defense will look to build upon a dominant 2nd half performance against UVA this week in Blacksburg. BDN Photo

Pittsburgh at Duke: Game Preview

Duke DE Kenny Anunike will look to pressure Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage often on Saturday. BDN Photo
Duke DE Kenny Anunike will look to pressure Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage often on Saturday. BDN Photo

Pittsburgh at Duke
12:30 PM ET
Saturday, September 21
Wallace Wade Stadium
Durham, NC
TV: ACC Network
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network

Duke in 2013: 2-1 (Lost to Georgia Tech, 38-14)
Pittsburgh in 2013: 1-1 (Defeated New Mexico 49-27)

DUKE INJURIES

PROBABLE – RB Eric Adams (upper body), DE Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo (leg), S Deondre Singleton (lower body)
QUESTIONABLE – S Corbin McCarthy (lower body)
OUT – OT Casey Blaser (hand), QB Anthony Boone (upper body), CB Jared Boyd (leg), QB Thomas Sirk (leg), WR Jack Wise (upper body), DT A.J. Wolf (leg)
OUT FOR SEASON – OT Tanner Stone (leg)

PITTSBURGH INJURIES – Unavailable

HOW DUKE CAN WIN

The Duke secondary will receive its first true test of the 2013 season as it matches up with Pittsburgh’s star WRs Devin Street and Tyler Boyd. Pitt is coming off a big win over New Mexico, where they moved the ball easily through the air. Ross Cockrell and the Blue Devil defensive backs will have to contain the Panther passing game if Duke is to come away with their first ACC win of the season. To help out the secondary, the Blue Devil front 6 must get after redshirt-senior transfer QB Tom Savage and make him uncomfortable all afternoon. In their opening loss to Florida State, Savage was pressured into 2 interceptions and sacked 3 times. Kenny Anunike and company must have a big day up front for the Blue Devils.

Brandon Connette and the Duke offense must take a big step forward from a week ago, and prove early and often that they can move the ball through the air. The book on Duke’s offense right now is to stack the box and force Connette to beat you through the air. Until he proves he can do that, especially on key 3rd down situations, the Blue Devils will struggle to sustain drives. The offensive line must contain Pitt DT Aaron Donald, who is coming off a big game against New Mexico. He is a force up front, who has the ability to single-handedly stuff Duke’s read-option. Duke’s 2 scoring drives against Georgia Tech featured a heavy dose of sophomore RB Jela Duncan, and getting the ball in his, and WR Jamison Crowder’s hands, has to be key to Duke’s offense.

HOW DUKE CAN LOSE

The answer to this is not complicated. If both teams repeat their week 3 efforts, the Blue Devils will lose. Pittsburgh dominated New Mexico last week with a strong effort on both sides of the ball. They moved the ball efficiently both through the air and on the ground, scoring on 6 of their first 8 possessions in the game. The defense stifled New Mexico, who finished with just 59 yards in the first half. Meanwhile, Duke struggled on 3rd down both offensively and defensively against Georgia Tech, and lost the field position battle in special teams.

In all likelihood, Pittsburgh will put up some points on the Blue Devils, as their speedy receivers will find holes in the inexperienced Duke secondary. If that’s the case, the Blue Devils will have to play better on 3rd down, where they finished just 3 of 14 offensively last week. The Blue Devils cannot afford to lose on 3rd down again this week. If Kurt Roper does decide to open things up through the air, Connette must improve his accuracy. For an offense that is struggling to find its new identity, turnovers will kill momentum. A balanced Pittsburgh attack and a Duke offense that is unable to sustain drives would make for a long day for the Blue Devil faithful.

WHY PITTSBURGH WILL WIN

Coming off a big win, the Panthers have the momentum, while the flu-ridden Blue Devils are struggling to find their mojo. The Blue Devil defense will put together another laudable effort, keeping this game close early on, but the Blue Devils will continue to struggle offensively.  In the second half, the Panthers will be the fresher team and will be able to control the line of scrimmage. Forced to play catch-up, Connette will be forced into tough situations and tough throws. A costly turnover or two may put the Blue Devils behind for good. For the Panthers, Savage will find both Street and Boyd for key explosive plays that will keep the game out of reach.

Pittsburgh 34, Duke 21

Recruiting: Let it play out!

Semi others PEach 12 008It never fails to amaze me how a simple comment or tweet in this case can send various fan bases into a frenzy this time of year. Yesterday, Evan Daniels of Scout tweeted that Kansas was the leader for three of the nation’s top front court prospects, including Jahlil Okafor. The less grounded fans took to social media and [private]various message boards in a panic that Duke was destined to lose Okafor, a big time prospect the Blue Devils covet. While there is no doubt that Kansas is in the race, there is no reason to believe with any sense of certainty that they land more than one or two at best of the prospects mentioned.

Fans freaking out is not uncommon. Every year fans get antsy as the big time prospects near their decision and  for good reason to a certain degree. Recruiting is a bit liquid in nature and things can turn on a dime, but let’s not forget that Duke has spent a lot of time with all of their main targets.

Folks have heard me say “let it play out,” on more than one occasion over the years and I am offering that advice again. Between now and the time Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Kevon Looney, Reid Travis and Myles Turner decide, there will be more tweets which make you uncomfortable but being a bit seasoned in my coverage has taught me to not overreact.

And if you perpetuate the rumors, it is almost a certainty that prospects will in time hear of them and be forced to address them. In fact, there are some folks who now intentionally create accounts on social media posing as fans of a certain school only to start to harass a key prospect.

I think it’s clear that Duke is in the running for all of the aforementioned prospects I listed, but they will not get them all but they’ll surely get their share.

I could speculate a lot here but I’ve found that too can lead to grief. For example, if I say Okafor is not a sure thing, many will take that as I no longer feel good about him landing in Durham.

Still, I will attempt to clarify the situation.

Word got out from a parent that he thought Duke was the leader and that got turned on its head in the age of instant media. Some Duke fans are uncomfortable being considered the leader and for good reason. In today’s recruiting environment and or the AAU trail, there are a ton of folks who are not what you might consider traditional media asking questions. One of the things which I have found bothers prospects over years of experience covering them is being asked non stop questions like, “Many feel Duke is the leader, is that true?” Then there are those who land one of these young mens’ phone numbers and they call despite the word that the camp may have shut things down. This creates pressure and a constant question in a specific manner can be annoying, so I think it’s fair to say teams do not exactly want that to happen.

It wasn’t that long ago when Duke was long considered the leader fort Greg Monroe who ended up at Georgetown. I sat and watched for two years at people pounding this young prospect with Duke is the leader questions. At first he took this in a good manner, but towards the end of his recruitment it clearly bothered him and John Thompson Jr. swept in and took advantage of the situation. The cold hard fact is that perception can be a problem.

Now I am not saying Jahlil Okafor is in the same boat as Monroe, only a similar one and his camp has now shut things down with media and I personally think that is good for the Blue Devil chances.

So, Kansas is the leader? I think that’s a good thing that tweet went out. As long as his recruitment has gone on and the fact he wants to make a decision in some public manner be it on the ESPNU recruiting show or another venue means he doesn’t want to tip his hand.

One of the things which gets to me is when these kids are not allowed their day in the sun. We have purposefully sat on information knowing a kid would select Duke in an effort to see that happen. But more often than not, it still leaks, usually from an assistant coach from one of the schools the prospect rejects and in one case a family member getting a little rub in the palm.

Trying to understand recruiting in this day and time can be maddening. Patrick Patterson chose Kentucky over Duke and Florida a few years back. His mom Tywanna Patterson gleefully exclaimed during a press conference “We shocked the world,” and they did. The Patterson’s made two schools feel like it was down to them and even told the Gators staff they were coming there per an impeccable source. We all know that Patterson chose Kentucky and for him but his family was deceptive in the process and wasted the recruiting budgets of schools without a seconds thought despite knowing what the intent was to be.

The Patterson’s were a typical family with concern to enjoying the process and while I do not agree with their methods of handling the situation, the key word is enjoy here which is what all these kids are trying to do.

But one must realize that these kids are far older than their age in the way they handle things. Adults have questioned them non stop on the AAU circuit and they become media savvy.

With twitter being so big, prospects have learned to use this tool in a more efficient manner and that has put a dent in many of the pay sites who can no longer break news as they once did.

No matter how a prospect goes about their choice of announcing their collegiate destination, they all want to enjoy the moment and that means they want a surprise.

Now there is more news that Okafor and Tyus Jones may choose a different school, but that in no ways means it will happen. It is but another nugget of many that will come out before their respective decisions are made.

Duke offers an immediate spot for Okafor to step in and he could play with his long time friend Tyus Jones. That’s alone is an attractive situation and reason for Duke fans to relax and to … .. …. …!

That’s right! Let it play out. [/private]

Duke-football

Friday Night Lights: Keeping Up With Future Blue Devils

Duke-footballWelcome back to another edition of Friday Night Lights where the BDN staff provides updated information on game results and statistics for Duke verbal commitments and recruiting targets. The lead story for this week’s edition is future linebacker Tinashe Bere who attends Sycamore High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Bere recovered a fumble and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown as Sycamore defeated Springfield 33-14. Bere described the play as follows:[private] “It happened so fast, I saw the ball on the ground, got excited, picked it up and started running for my life.”

The Sycamore Aviators improve to 3-0 on the season.

Southern Alamance scored 23 4th quarter points including a seven yard touchdown run by quarterback Johnathan Lloyd in a 45-28 victory over East Chapel Hill. Future Blue Devil Lloyd passed for 241 yards in the victory.

When asked about the game and his team’s performance, Lloyd responded, “We played a good team in East Chapel Hill and they had a good front seven. We are looking forward to getting better this week in practice and to get us another win next week.”

Southern Alamance improves to 3-1 on the season and will travel to Southwest Guilford on September 20.

In Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, University defeated Cypress Bay 37-7. Wide receiver Chris Taylor communicated to Blue Devil Nation that he recorded two receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown.

Also in Florida, Cardinal Gibbons defeated Cooper City 31-0 to improve to 3-0 on the season. Wide receiver Trevon Lee who is a priority recruiting target commented on his performance, “I had a great game, four catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.”

Cornerback Zach Muniz intercepted a pass as the Christian Brothers Cadets defeated St. Louis University High 31-6. Muniz has two interceptions so far this season.

Central Catholic defeated Perrysburg 35-6; however, in unfortunate news, center Zach Harmon suffered a neck injury during the game. Blue Devil Nation will keep members updated if additional information becomes available.

Bishop Hartley (cornerback Alonzo Saxton) was a 28-14 winner over Marion-Franklin.

St. Paul’s (linebacker Zavier Carmichael) defeated B.C. Rain 28-7.

Davie County (offensive lineman Trip McNeill) lost to North Rowan 28-13.

Kennesaw Mountain (defensive end Taariq Shabazz) lost to South Cobb 34-28.

In recruiting news, Tight End Davis Koppenhaver, from William S. Hart HS in Newhall, CA, committed to Duke this past Saturday while on a visit to Durham. Here is an article from his local newspaper on the commitment.[/private]

Duke DE Kenny Anunike led the way for the. BDN Photo

Duke players react to first loss of 2013 season

DURHAM – Duke suffered its first lost of the young 2013 season, dropping their ACC opener to Georgia Tech, 38-14. QB Brandon Connette made his first start filling in for the injured Anthony Boone, and struggled to sustain drives against the Yellow Jacket defense. Third down execution haunted the Blue Devils on both sides of the ball, and senior DE Kenny Anunike says that Saturday’s loss will not define this Duke team.

Duke vs. Georgia Tech: Game Preview

Connette 9-12-13Duke vs. Georgia Tech
3:30 PM ET
Saturday, September 14
Wallace Wade Stadium
Durham, NC
TV: ESPNU
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network

Duke in 2013: 2-0 (Defeated NCCU 45-0/Defeated Memphis 28-14)
Georgia Tech in 2013: 1-0 (Defeated Elon 70-0)

DUKE INJURIES

PROBABLE – C.J. France
DOUBTFUL – Jordan DeWalt Ondijo, Deondre Singleton
OUT – Anthony Boone, Jared Boyd, Thomas Sirk, Casey Blaser, Britton Grier, Eric Adams, Jack Wise, A.J. Wolf
OUT FOR SEASON – Tanner Stone

GEORGIA TECH INJURIES – Unavailable

HOW DUKE CAN WIN

Duke will look to improve to 3-0 on the season by containing the Georgia Tech running game to force young quarterback Vad Lee, operating behind a suspect offensive line, to use his arm to try to win the game. Duke’s secondary has received an infusion of speed and athleticism via freshmen to complement talented All-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell. That speed will assist the Blue Devils in defending the deep pass. Additionally, redshirt sophomore safety Jeremy Cash and redshirt senior cornerback Garrett Patterson have been solid additions to the starting line-up. Patterson was involved in a couple of big pass break ups in the win at Memphis. Duke’s secondary is young, but extremely talented so it will be important for them to not give up big plays especially on 3rd down and 4th down. The defense must finish sets and get off the field.

But it all starts with the front six and containing the running game. Duke’s defensive linemen and linebackers are healthy in 2013 after suffering innumerous injuries last season. Linebacker Kelby Brown, nose guard Jamal Bruce, defensive end Justin Foxx and defensive end Kenny Anunike are all current front six starters who missed all or significant parts of the 2012 season due to injury. Defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento is the lone front six starter who played in all 13 games last season. For Duke to be victorious on Saturday afternoon, the front six must contain the running game to place the Georgia Tech offense into must pass situations. Once those obvious passing situations exist, pressuring the quarterback will be vital.

On offense, quarterback Brandon Connette will be starting in place of injured Anthony Boone; however, Coach David Cutcliffe has stated Duke will still run the same offensive package with slight adjustments to account for Connette’s strengths so look for Duke to mix up the play calling between run and pass to maintain the balance achieved during the first two games. The Blue Devils will attempt to pound away at the Yellow Jackets defense with their quartet of running backs, while simultaneously ensuring playmaker Jamison Crowder has ample opportunity to impact the game. The key will be for Connette to focus upon orchestrating the offense rather than trying to win the game by himself.

HOW DUKE CAN LOSE

When one ponders the question, “How can Duke lose?” three factors immediately surface: first, giving Georgia Tech extra opportunities on offense; second, allowing Georgia Tech to sustain drives by failing to execute on 3rd and 4th down; third, poor offensive execution resulting in three and outs.

Extra possessions for Georgia Tech could be fatal so turning the ball over three times like in the Memphis game would be disastrous. The same can be said about penalties. Sloppy play resulting in extra opportunities for the Yellow Jackets is a situation the Blue Devils cannot afford.

Failing to achieve defensive success on 3rd and 4th down is a big concern for Duke. In last season’s 42-24 victory, Georgia Tech successfully converted on 13 of 20 3rd downs and four of four 4th downs. Those conversions allowed Georgia Tech to sustain drives that wore out Duke’s defense resulting in Georgia Tech outscoring Duke 14-0 in the 4th quarter. The Blue Devils must stop the Yellow Jackets so the defense can get off the field, remain fresh and be the stronger unit in the critical 4th quarter.

Equally important will be achieving success on offense. Three and outs by the Blue Devils offense will force their defense back onto the field quickly so a failure to execute on offense and sustain drives is another factor which could result in a Duke loss.

WHY DUKE WILL WIN

Duke is a healthy and much improved defensive team well suited to handle the Georgia Tech offense. The Blue Devils will not shutdown the Yellow Jackets, but they will contain them. Georgia Tech’s defense is suspect so Duke will be able to put together multi-play, point producing drives which will leave the Georgia Tech defenders exhausted allowing Duke to be the fresher team during the 4th quarter.

Moreover, Duke will utilize their superior kicking game with punter Will Monday and kicker Ross Martin to win the field position battle. With Georgia Tech playing on a long field all afternoon, Duke will squeak out a win by making one more field goal than Georgia Tech.

Duke 27, Georgia Tech 24

Durham native Vad Lee leads the Ramblin' Wreck into Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday.

Know the Opponent: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Durham native Vad Lee leads the Ramblin' Wreck into Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday.
Durham native Vad Lee leads the Ramblin’ Wreck into Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday.

Two early season undefeateds clash on Saturday in Durham as the Blue Devils host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Duke has lost nine in a row to the Ramblin’ Wreck, but with a much-improved defense and Brandon Connette at the helm of the read-option offense, they hope to break yet another losing streak under Coach Cutcliffe.

To give us an inside look at the Yellow Jackets, we welcome back Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Ken covers the Georgia Tech beat for the AJC and is among the best sports writers in the ACC. Prior to his work in Atlanta, he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His work can be found on the AJC Georgia Tech blog, and also on Twitter @ajcgatech. Thanks for joining us, Ken!

The Yellow Jackets completely dominated Elon in their season opener. As they head into their ACC opener at Duke, what, if any, questions remain unanswered for this year’s team?

I think there’s a lot of questions about the real potential of this team that weren’t really answered against Elon, because it was such a mismatch. I think the main thing is what this defense is capable of. It’s funny to say that after the defense posted a shutout and returned two turnovers for scores, but the pass rush wasn’t great, the third-down defense was so-so and defensive coordinator Ted Roof felt like the tackling was lacking at times. I think the defense will be better next year, but it’ll take games like Saturday’s to provide a better indication of that.

This year, Georgia Tech returned one of the most experienced teams in the country from last year’s 7-7 squad, but many pundits still picked them to finish in the middle of the ACC Coastal. What has to go right for the Yellow Jackets to return to the ACC Championship game?

To get back to Charlotte, I think Vad Lee has to prove to be a consistent and sound decision maker at quarterback. He has a ton of potential, but he’s going to make mistakes as a first-year starter. He just needs to limit those as much as he can. The offense could stand to find a deep threat in an inexperienced group at wide receiver; Darren Waller is the most likely candidate. The defense has to be able to be better on third downs and play better in the fourth quarter. Staying healthy, particularly on defense, will be important, as well.  If they can do those things, I think they’ve got a shot, although the schedule won’t help much. The Duke game is the first of four consecutive games against Coastal opponents, a pretty challenging stretch.

Georgia Tech has won 9 in a row against the Blue Devils by an average margin of 3 touchdowns, yet the oddsmakers think this year’s game could be decided by about a touchdown or less. With their starting QB out, how do you think the Blue Devils can keep this close, or even steal an upset win?

The past three years, the games have all been undecided going into the fourth quarter. The 2010 and 2011 games could have easily been won by Duke. So I don’t know how much difference there is between the two, despite the nine-game winning/losing streak. For Duke to stay close, I think the Blue Devils defense is going to have to force some turnovers to limit Georgia Tech’s chances, and limit the big plays that the offense is capable of making in order to make the Jackets play long possessions.

On the other side, Brandon Connette is going to have to complete some passes. The standard strategy for a Ted Roof defense is to take away the run and force teams to pass, and that may be doubly so against Connette. If he can keep the heat off with some plays in the passing game, that’ll loosen things up.