Duke at Pittsburgh Preview

DSC_0088Duke at Pitt
12:30 PM ET
Saturday, November 1
Pittsburgh, PA
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network, Sirius Ch 92 and XM Ch 194

Duke in 2014: 6-1
Pitt in 2014: 4-4


PROBABLE – Jamal Wallace (DT)
OUT – Johnathan Lloyd (CB), Trip McNeill (OL)
OUT FOR SEASON – Kelby Brown (LB), Braxton Deaver (TE), Taariq Shabazz (DE)


QUESTIONABLE – Aaron Reese (OL), Luke MacLean (DL), Terrish Webb (DB), Tyrique Jarrett (DL)
OUT FOR SEASON – Artie Rowell (OL), Ejuan Price (DL), Zach Poker (LB)

Duke and Pitt last faced each other on September 21, 2014 in a game Pitt won 58-55 at Wallace Wade Stadium. In their last game out, two weeks ago, Duke beat Virginia 20-13, while Pitt lost to Georgia Tech 56-28 last Saturday afternoon.


Duke must contain the Pitt running game and force the Panthers to throw the ball. Running back James Conner is the ACC’s leading rusher at 135 yards per game. Quarterback Chad Voytik has rushed for over 100 yards in a game twice this season gaining 114 in a victory over Florida International and 118 in a victory over Virginia Tech.

Pitt is a less effective football team when forced to pass. Voytik has thrown six interceptions and been sacked 15 times this season. He appears uncomfortable in the pocket. The more he has to throw, the better for Duke; however, Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd is an All ACC quality talent so the defense must know where Boyd is at all times.

When Pitt’s offense is in passing situations, look for Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles to dial up the heat by bringing a linebacker or safety on a blitz. The key to the game will be Duke’s ability to contain the Panther rushing game to force those obvious passing situations. It is imperative Duke’s defensive line hold their own along the line of scrimmage.
Establishing a lead is another path to forcing Pitt to throw the ball more than they desire.

Establishing better field position than your opponent is often a game within the game with Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe leaning hard on Punter Will Monday and Kick-off specialist Jack Willoughby to pin the opponent deep in their own territory. Forcing Pitt to play on a longer field than Duke plays on will be another factor in a Blue Devil victory.

Finally, on offense, Duke will need to establish the running game to open up the play action pass. Maintaining balance has served Duke well so far in 2014 and it will be important again this Saturday in Pittsburgh. In two conference victories, Duke ran an average of 39 running plays and 32 pass plays. In the Miami loss, Duke threw the ball 51 times, while rushing 25 times.

This is definitely a new era in Duke football. In a game preview, offense was discussed last after both defense and special teams. The days of having to outscore the opponent in order to have a chance to win are in the rear view mirror.


Turnovers and penalties are events all football teams must avoid each and every week. Everyone saw turnovers destroy Pittsburgh last week against Georgia Tech. Duke leads the ACC with a +8 Turnover Margin and is also ranked number one in Opponent Penalties at 66 yards per game. Facing a tough Pitt team on the road, this is not the week to regress toward the mean. If Duke does not perform strongly in these two areas on Saturday, the Blue Devils will lose.

Failure to get off the field on 3rd down is another concern. Pitt is fifth in the ACC in 3rd Down Conversions being successful 44.4 percent of the time. When the Panthers go for it on 4th down, their success rate increases to 62.5 percent. The ability to hand the ball to a talented, 250 pound running back propels Pitt to success in these situations. If Duke’s defense fails to consistently stop Pitt on 3rd and 4th down, the Blue Devils will lose.

With weather conditions predicted to be cold with a 70 percent chance of rain, valuing the football will be paramount to victory.


Duke will win by because they are a more consistent team and a more explosive team. Consistency will come via ball security and discipline; explosiveness via playmakers such as Jamison Crowder and Jeremy Cash. This will be a hard fought football game, but in the end Duke will prove to be more than Pitt can handle.


This game will be won by the team which plays better on the defensive side of the ball. Duke’s defense will stop Pitt’s offense more times than Pitt’s defense will stop Duke’s offense.

Duke 34, Pitt 20

dennis smith

Dennis Smith Jr. Talks Recruiting

dennis smithOne of the top point guard prospects in the Class of 2016 took the time to talk to Blue Devil Nation about his recruitment.  Dennis Smith Jr. recently visited Duke and North Carolina for their kickoff events to the college basketball season.

The highly talented Smith Jr. is in no hurry to get down to brass tacks on his recruitment but he is taking in what he sees this season.  The North Carolina native has maintained all along that he will not begin to get serious about the recruiting front until after his fast approaching high school basketball season.

Smith Jr. is rated at the top of the heap for point guards in his class and possesses a powerful body despite his age  just recently getting his driver license.  The youthful talent has played in pick up games with current Duke players in an open gym and visited most recently for the Countdown to Craziness event.

The visit came at the same time as his friend, Harry Giles and it is worth noting that the two also visited UNC at the same time for their recent event as well.   Also in the crowd at UNC was another Duke target in Brandon Ingram who could be set to make a decision before the early signing period.

“There was a lot of great recruits at Midnight Madness (UNC) and Seventh (Woods), he’s like a brother of mine.  And there was Harry Giles and Brandon Ingram and we’re all real cool.  There was also Perry Dozier.  We had a great time and hung out with the coaching staff afterwards and the players a little but and had a great time overall,” said Smith Jr. on his recent visit to UNC.

When asked about his visit to Duke, “There was a lot of Craziness going on and chaos.  It was like organized chaos and it was pretty exciting.”

Smith Jr. stays in regular contact with both Duke and UNC who are most often perceived as leaders at the top of his early list.  “I talk to Coach (C.B.) McGrath  a lot from UNC and with Duke I talk with Coach Capel (Jeff) and Coach K pretty often and Coach Scheyer now and again.”

Duke and UNC are not the only local schools after the Fayetteville native.  “They’re definitely in the running right now,” said Smith Jr. when asked of N.C. State.  His family grew up Wolfpack fans.

Speaking of his Dad, he doesn’t shy away from playing a role in his sons recruitment.  “My Dad tells me he just wants me to make the best decision for me.  He’s told me that there are going to be a lot of people in my ear telling me to go here or there for their own personal reasons.  But whatever I think is the best decision for me, he’ll back me on that,” said Smith Jr.

A lot of people are already saying the Dennis Smith Jr. could be an early out or one and done type of player, but Smith isn’t ready to buy completely into that just yet.  “I haven’t given the idea too much serious thought.  I just want to play basketball.  However many years it takes or regardless of what the rules might be then, I will just do what I have to do.”

Smith already watches the NBA when he can and his favorite players to watch are Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“A lot of people have compared me some to Westbrook, but I don’t really see that comparison as much as everybody else.  I think this is based on my highlights tape because I dunk a lot.  Westbrook is known for his athleticism but I can also think the game.  It’s not a bad comparison, but I just don’t think I am a Westbrook type player, “said Smith Jr.

Perhaps that statement comes from being tabbed a shooting or scoring  point guard by some scouts. Smith Jr. and those training him say he continues to work on ball distribution, playing better defense.  Smith Jr. already has a game where he can take the ball to the rim and throw down dunks in traffic but now he must start to refine other skill sets.

One thing is clear to date.  That being the Smith camp is in no hurry to make a decision.  The young man has visited Duke on more occasions than one and his Dad was quick to say he more than held his own in pick up games with the current roster players.

If I were to guess, I would think this is a Duke vs UNC race, but their camp is open at this point and that means a team like Kentucky could take a sudden interest and come right in.  While I certainly get the feeling he would listen to other big time schools, it does seem that he might want to remain in state, where his father could see him play most often.

As for the recent Duke offer to Derryck Thornton, it did seem to bother their camp at first.   But there is now a realization that programs like Duke, UNC and the big boys have to cover the bases.  One other thing worth noting is that neither Thornton nor Smith seemingly will get serious about recruiting until after their coming high school basketball seasons.

During his recent Duke visit, Smith sat beside Coach Krzyzewski the entire second half, where the two seemed to interact.  In the end, said interaction could be the key for his services.

Another piece to the puzzle could be his close relationship with Seventh Woods who is literally a lock to UNC per sources.  But there are possible sanctions to consider and how Williams uses his guards and who may be on campus at that time.

And then there is Shaka Smart who was the first coach to offer Smith who is linked to both N.C. State and UNC if their current coaches were to move elsewhere per normally solid sources.  This has a much better chance of happening at N.C. State but I would guess this scenario does not happen at hall and I am not much of a “what if,” guy.

Smith Jr. can be found in the gym almost every night where he puts up a lot of shots.  But lately, he’s also focused on improving his upper body strength.  “I’ve been working on trying to strengthen my core and to get better physically,” said Smith Jr.

When asked what he was looking for in a school, Smith Jr, pointed to a good relationship first and foremost.  “Honestly I think from a basketball standpoint I will be fine at any school I go to with my style of play.  But then again, I have got to have a good relationship with the coaching staff and trust the coaches for that will be my family when I go up to a school.  So, trust with the coaches is probably the biggest thing right now.”

Smith Jr. said that he had no visits planed in the near future but that he would be going to some games with is Father, Dennis Smith Sr.

We’ll talk about this more on the BDN Premium message board and share more thought on the process.



Miami v Duke

Duke Named ACC Favorite

duke-wf rick c 071CHARLOTTE, N.C. (theACC.com)– Duke will enter the 2014-15 season as the Atlantic Coast Conference favorite, according to a vote of media in attendance at the league’s annual “Operation Basketball.”

The Blue Devils, who return guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, along with starting forward Amile Jefferson from last year’s team that finished 26-9 and tied for third place in the final ACC regular-season standings, received 41 of 65 first-place votes in Wednesday’s preseason poll. In addition to the solid group of veterans, the Blue Devils boast a talented cast of newcomers that includes 6-foot-11 freshman Jahlil Okafor.

North Carolina (12 first-place votes) finished second in the voting, followed by ACC newcomer Louisville (three first-place votes), defending ACC champion Virginia (seven first-place votes) and Syracuse (two first-place votes). Each of those four teams has joined Duke in most preseason Top 25 national rankings.

ACC preseason voters selected Pitt sixth, followed by Notre Dame, Florida State and NC State. Miami was picked 10th, while Clemson, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia Tech completed the voting.

North Carolina junior guard Marcus Paige, who averaged 17.5 points per game and led the ACC in free-throw percentage (.911) last season, received the nod as the ACC Preseason Player of the Year. The Marion, Iowa, native received 33 votes in the Player of the Year balloting. Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell placed second with 16 votes. Duke’s Okafor, a 6-foot-11, 270-pound post player from Chicago, was the overwhelming choice as ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year on 62 of the 65 ballots cast.

Okafor also received 15 ACC Preseason Player of the Year votes, while Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon received one.

Paige, Harrell, Okafor, Brogdon and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant were selected as the Preseason All-ACC Team.

Duke was picked as the ACC preseason favorite for the 15th time in the 46-year history of the poll, and the 14th time under current head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils were also tabbed as the favorite prior to last season.

The regular season begins for all 15 ACC teams the weekend of Nov. 14-16. In addition to an 18-game regular-season conference schedule, the 62nd annual ACC Tournament will again consist of 14 games and will be played from Tuesday through Saturday (March 10-14) at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum. This season’s ACC Tournament championship game will be the first since 1981 played in prime time on a Saturday night.

ACC Operation Basketball 2014-15 Preseason Poll
(First-place votes in parenthesis)

Team & Points
1. Duke (41): 935

2. North Carolina (12): 870

3. Louisville (3): 847

4. Virginia: 824 (7)

5. Syracuse: 706 (2)

6. Pitt: 592

7. Notre Dame: 515

8. Florida State: 506

9. NC State: 478

10. Miami: 442

11. Clemson: 330

12. Wake Forest: 221

13. Georgia Tech: 195

14. Boston College: 184

15. Virginia Tech: 155

2014-15 Preseason All-ACC Team

(votes in parenthesis)
Marcus Paige, North Carolina (63)

Montrezl Harrell, Louisville (58)

Jahlil Okafor, Duke (57)

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (55)

Jerian Grant, Notre Dame (24)

ACC Preseason Player of the Year
Marcus Paige, North Carolina

ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year
Jahlil Okafor, Duke


Monday Musings: Duke Basketball and Football

unnamed3The average sports fan will tell you that this is the best time of year.  Why?  Football is getting down to the nitty-gritty, basketball is about to start and the World Series is closing out the baseball season.  At no other time does the NBA, NFL, MLB and NCAA football and hoops run together like it does now.  What that all means is an extended Monday Musings where we take a look at the exciting happenings around Duke Athletics from Emmit Smith watch the Blue Devils to Jahlil Okafor being all about the movie, the Lion King.

JustiseWinslowCountdown to Craziness Showcases Duke Hoops

Basketball is in full swing now and the season kicked off with Countdown to Craziness this past Saturday.  What did we learn?  That this seasons team has pretty good chemistry at this early time.  And then there is Jahlil Okafor, the true freshman phenom whose play belies his young age.  Okafor, of course, leads yet another talented Duke freshman class on the court.  Combine the uncanny maturity of the freshman class with the likes of Amile Jefferson, Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones, Marshall Plumlee and Quinn Cook and you can feel the excitement building quickly.  As usual, the fans loved the show, but come post game it was clear in the Blue Devils locker room that they were chomping at the bit to play someone besides themselves.  That finally happens on November 4th when they take on Livingston in an exhibition game.  Duke head man Mike Krzyzewski was quick to point out, that’s when we’ll start to really learn about this years team.

unnamedProspects in the House

Duke entertained some key future prospects of desire during Countdown to Craziness as well.  Harry Giles is a local kid, who happens to be the top ranked player in the Class of 2016.  He has been a main stay at Cameron, being at several events.  The 6-10 power forward is at the top of the wish list for the hoops program.  Dennis Smith Jr. was there as well.  Like Giles, he is an in state young man who plays point guard in an explosive way.  Both were seen chatting with Mike Krzyzewski behind the bench as the Blue-White games took place.  Also, in attendance was big time shooting guard Tyus Battle out of the same Class of 2016.  Duke is firmly involved with all three of the aforementioned kids.  Each of them was serenaded by the Cameron Crazies of “insert name,: come to Duke.  Battle and Smith Jr. both acknowledged the love with smiles.  The Crazies also chanted for Harry Giles to “sit with us.”  There were some younger prospects there as well and we talk of them on our members message board.  In another recruiting note, the remaining 2015 target, Brandon Ingram, attended UCLA this weekend.  Duke remains firmly in the thick of the race for his services and he should be making a decision beofre the early signing period.

ACC Operation Basketball

On Wednesday, media members gather in Charlotte to participate in ACC Operation Basketball.  Duke captains, Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson will represent Duke where two players from each team attend.  We’ll also be hearing from Mike Krzyzewski at length, so be sure to come back to Blue Devil Nation to read of his take.  By days end, the media will vote on the All ACC Basketball teams, pre season honors and the projected or early pecking order of the teams.  Look for Jahlil Okfor to run away with top newcomer and for Duke to be pegged either first or second in the pre season poll.  All eyes will be on North Carolina as well with concern to recent academic fraud findings.  Both the Tar Heels and the Syracuse Orange are facing NCAA investigations, so hearing what ACC commissioner John Swofford has to say on that will prove interesting.  The ACC also welcomes Louisville and Rick Pitino to the league, so it will be a crowded and spirited kickoff to the hoops season.

SONY DSCTop 25 for Duke Football

As I predicted on the Blue Devil Nation twitter account, the Duke Football team would enter the nation’s top 25 coming off their bye week.  With some teams losing just ahead of them, it vaulted Duke to the 24th spot in the coaches and media polls.  Duke was ranked earlier this season, but fell out after their road loss to Miami.  The Blue Devils sport a 16-5 record since the kickoff of last season as they trend upward.

The Pitt game is a huge one

A season ago, to say Duke had trouble stopping the Pitt offense in a 58-55 loss.  The Blue Devils are in the thick of a crowded race for the top spot in the Coastal Division and that makes this game a must win.  To come away with the win, Duke will need to travel to a hostile environment with an improved defensive effort.  Like any Coastal Division game this season, you can literally throw out past results.  This game is a must win for Duke and Pitt for the winner quite simply moves ahead of the other in the standings.  The Blue Devils should be focused in after a bye week, but the Panthers will have their ears pinned back needing two victories for bowl eligibility.  The Blue Devils enter that time of the year where each game becomes bigger than the last.  The goal from seasons start was to return to Charlotte for the ACC title game and to win a bowl.  A bowl game is a sure thing, but did I mention how important and ACC match up this game is for Duke?  Lot’s of anticipation for the next game permeates the fan base.  Be sure to check in tomorrow afternoon where we’ll talk to the players about the match up.

The Lion King and nicknames

According to the recently released Duke media guide, Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor lists the Lion King as his favorite movie.  During my post Blue-White chat with Okafor, he listed several nicknames.  Among them was Jah, Big Jah, Jah-Jah and Smoke or Big Smoke.  According to Okafor he was tabbed “Smoke,” by teammate Justise Winslow while playing overseas with USA Basketball this off-season.  FTR, Winslow is supposedly called “Little Smoke,” but I have no idea as to where either nickname came from.  Also listed as a favorite TV show by four current scholarship Blue Devils was the “Fresh Prince of Belair.” It makes one wonder if the DVD boxed set is passed down from year to year in that players past have listed the show as well.

A Cowboy’s Connection?

Emmitt Smith attended Countdown for Craziness with his lovely wife.  This past season Dallas head honcho Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo visited Cameron Indoor Stadium as well.  Dallas is 6-1 this season since that visit where they watched how Coach Mike Krzyzewski worked with his program.


Friday Night Lights: 2014 Edition No. Seven

The regular season is starting to wrap up for many high school football teams across the nation, which means play-off action will be starting soon. This week’s edition includes updates on both 2015 and 2016 verbal commits and prospects. Blue Devil Nation encourages readers to click on the links provided to read full articles on the game action.

Friday Night Lights: 2014 Edition No. Seven starts off by taking a look at the Class of 2015 running back prospects:

Nyheim Hines rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns as Garner defeated Knightdale 28-7. Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe was in attendance at the game watching the four star running back prospect. Running back remains the top position of need for the Blue Devils 2015 recruiting class.

Albert Funderburke did not have an enjoyable Friday night as his Sun Valley team was shutout by Weddington 34-0.

Ruben Garnett rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the 1st half as Aquinas routed Warren County 43-14. Garnett ran 34 yards for a touchdown in the 1st quarter and added a one yard touchdown in the 2nd quarter.

The following updates are on Class of 2015 commits:

Aaron Young had 86 yards receiving and two touchdowns as Murietta Valley defeated Chaparral 21-14 in double overtime. Young’s four yard touchdown reception was the game winner.

Keyston Fuller caught three touchdown passes as Griffin dominated Pike 57-7. Fuller’s three touchdown receptions covered three, 13 and 21 yards. Fuller has caught eight touchdown passes this season.

Quentin Harris racked up the statistics on Saturday afternoon completing 27 passess for 332 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 62 rushing yards, on 13 carries, but Taft School lost to Salisbury 63-28. Taft’s record falls to 1-5 on the season.

DePriest Turner threw a 64 yard touchdown pass and ran for a second score in a losing effort as Fairhope downed Murphy 54-30. Turner finished the game with 154 yards passing and 117 yards rushing. Turner is committed to Duke as a wide receiver.

This edition of Friday Night Lights closes out with a look at a couple of 2016 players:

Class of 2016 running back commit Elijah Deveaux scored two touchdowns on runs of 25 and 10 yards as Charlotte Christian defeated Ravenscroft 44-0.

Brandon McIlwain, a 2016 quarterback prospect, rushed for 125 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to passing for 381 yards, but his Council Rock North team fell to Quakertown 48-32.