Sun Bowl Preview: Arizona State vs Duke

DSC_0164Sun Bowl Preview: Arizona State vs Duke
2:00 PM ET
Saturday, December 27
El Paso, TX

Duke in 2014: 9-3
Arizona State in 2014: 9-3

This will be the first ever meeting between Duke and Arizona State. In their last game out, on November 29, Duke defeated Wake Forest 41-21, while Arizona State lost to Arizona 42-35 on November 28. Arizona State compiled a 4-2 record against teams ranked in the Top 25 compared to a 1-0 record by Duke.


The Sun Devils are a powerful offensive team, which averages 37 points per game and features a 1,000 yard receiver and a 1,000 yard rusher. Their defensive strategy is to blitz, blitz and blitz some more while utilizing man-to-man pass coverage in the secondary. This aggressive approach has resulted in Arizona State being tied for seventh in the nation in Sacks with 39 and fifth in the nation in Tackles for Loss with 97. However, the Sun Devils are 84th in Pass Defense Efficiency.

All American wide receiver Jaelen Strong (#21) is projected to be a 1st or 2nd Round selectee in the 2015 NFL Draft. At 6'3 215 pounds, he is a big, physical receiver who uses his height to go up and get the ball. Strong, who has 75 receptions for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns, is going to be a big test for Duke's secondary.

Running back D.J. Foster (#8) has rushed for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014 and is already receiving hype as a potential 2015 Heisman Trophy candidate. Foster is also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield having recorded 59 receptions for 646 yards and three touchdowns. He is the Sun Devils second leading receiver.

There is a some uncertainty at quarterback for Arizona State. Senior Taylor Kelly (#10) will start but back up Mike Bercovici (#2) could see playing time. Kelly threw 20 touchdown passes against five interceptions in nine games this season, but he was pulled in the season finale against Arizona in favor of Bercovici.

Bercovici started three games in the middle of the season when Kelly was sidelined with a foot injury leading the Sun Devils to a 2-1 record including wins over Top 25 Stanford and USC. He threw 12 touchdowns and four interceptions on the season.

Defensive lineman Marcus Hardison (#1) has 10 quarterback sacks, 14 tackles for loss and two interceptions. Hardison is dynamic playmaker and his match up against Duke left tackle Takoby Cofield will be key to the game outcome.

Safety Damarious Randall (#3) is the team's leading tackler with 101 and also leads the team with three interceptions.

Other players to keep an eye on include: wide receiver Cameron Smith (#6) recorded 41 receptions for 546 yards and six touchdowns; linebacker Laiu Moeakiola (#28) recorded five quarterback sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss; linebacker Salamo Fiso (#58) recorded 3.5 quarterback sacks and 11 tackles for loss.


Strong quarterback play will be the number one factor for Duke to secure a victory. Anthony Boone must manage the game plan by throwing accurate passes and executing solid reads to keep the Blue Devils offense clicking. His running skills will be important to counter Arizona State's blitz package as the QB draw play and read option keeper could exploit the Sun Devils aggressiveness. However, the main thing Duke needs Anthony Boone to do is accurately pass the ball to Duke receivers who will be facing lots of man-on-man coverage.

The second most important factor for Duke will be achieving balance on offense. Duke is at their best when successfully running and passing the ball. Teams that have shut down Duke's running game and forced the Blue Devils offense to be one dimensional have had success against the Blue Devils in 2014.

On defense, Duke must prevent explosive plays. Arizona State has tremendous team speed so it will be important for the Blue Devils to keep the Sun Devils in front of them. To counter Arizona State's potent rushing attack, Duke must protect the edges with lateral quickness followed by solid open field tackling. Missed tackles will be costly against D.J. Foster and Demario Richard (#4).

Special teams play is key to winning the very important field position battle. Duke must excel in the kick and kick return game to ensure they play on a short field, while forcing Arizona State to play on a long field. The Sun Devils did not return a kick-off nor a punt for a touchdown in 2014.


Ball security is paramount for the Devils...make that the Blue Devils. Duke cannot turn the ball over to Arizona State's high octane offense and be successful. If Duke has trouble hanging on to the football, they will lose.

Anthony Boone must have time to execute the offense, make his reads and throw the ball. If he spends the afternoon being hurried, harassed and sacked, he will make costly mistakes and Duke will lose. The offensive line must protect Boone against the blitzing Sun Devils defense. Achieving success running the ball would go a long way toward slowing down the blitz.


1. Strong quarterback play.
2. Achieving offensive balance.
3. Preventing explosive plays.
4. Winning the kicking game.


This game will be a strength against strength match up with Arizona's blitzing defense against Duke's offensive line, which is ranked number one in the nation in Tackles for Loss Allowed and eleventh in the nation in Sacks Allowed. The battle along the line of scrimmage will be critical.

There is an expectation the Sun Bowl will be a shootout as both the Blue Devils and the Sun Devils possess high octane offenses, but I am predicting both defenses will prove to be stouter than expected. With the over/under set at 66.5 points, the under will prevail as Duke wins their first bowl game in almost 54 years.

Duke 30, Arizona State 27

Dennis Smith Jr. Talks Hoops

Dennis SmithDennis Smith is one of the hottest recruits in the country. This season his team is off to a 8-4 start after winning the state title last season. I had a chance to catch up with him to talk about his recruiting process and what he has been up to lately.

SFarmer: What has been going on in the world of Dennis Smith Jr?

DS: Nothing much. Nothing has changed with my recruiting. Coaches have been contacting me by phone and attending my games. I have been putting a lot of work into my jump shot. Conditioning really hard because I am playing a lot of minutes each game.

SFarmer: You just made the 1000 point club as a junior in highschool. How do you feel about that?

DS: I would have felt more like celebrating if our team had won that game. I am not really big on stats and records for myself. My Dad taught me at a early age to not get caught up in self promotion etc. but to always focus on team goals and being a part of the success of the team is my goal. I am blessed to be in this category of 1000 points.

SFarmer: Have you attended any college games of the teams who are recruiting you.? Do you plan to attend any of the college games this year?

DS: No, I have not attended any games as of yet, because of my high school schedule. But in the next few months, I will make my rounds to Duke, NCST, UNC, and Wake Forest.

SFarmer: High School OT is this week. You will be competing against some talented players like yourself. Last year was your coming out party at this tournament. What do you expect to accomplish this year?

DS: I love to play in this tournament. The atmosphere is crazy! Last year's team is totally different this year's team. We have 11 new players, so we are working on our chemistry, so we can compete as a solid team at the highest level. I attract a lot of the attention because of this past summer which puts me in the position of being a leader. It is important that I compete on both ends of the floor, so my teammates will raise their level of play and together we will win.

SFarmer: How have you grown as a player and a person since last year?

DS: I have grown defensively in a lot of ways. People look at me for my offense, but my defense has improved as a player. As a person, I have learned how to become more mature and control my emotions, which is probably the biggest jump for me.

SFarmer: How do you spend your time when you aren't in class or on the court?

DS: I have one of the best trainers in the country that I spend a lot of time with. I also spend time playing video games. A lot of free time is spent working on my game.

SFarmer: What are your interest outside of basketball?

DS: I love working with younger kids. I want to teach the younger kids and share with them the knowledge I have gained. I like to watch great coaches coach. I am reading more and finding other interests in what is really going on in the world outside of basketball.

We'll have more on Dennis Smith Jr., Harry Giles and Brandon Ingram coming this week.

Monday Musings – Bowl Week for Duke

DSC_0310I'm personally excited that it is finally bowl week and look forward to watching Duke take on a tough 15th ranked  Arizona State Wildcats team on Saturday.  I want to also wish all of the Blue Devil Nation Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas and hope all of you can spend time with loved ones.  Please consider saving me the leftovers this holiday season and with that said here is an abbreviated version of Monday Musings to get the week started.

Plenty to Play For

The Duke Blue Devils football team takes on the Arizona State Sun Devils this coming Saturday in the Sun Bowl.  The event has long been covered by CBS Sports and they provided plenty of commercials for the annual game during their NFL telecasts on Sunday.  I cannot help but to think back to watching the Sun Devils throttle Notre Dame and their coach in the post game interview.  Like Duke, Arizona State is seeking respect and he hammered home how hungry his team was.  But there is hunger on the Duke side as well and the Blue Devils desperately want a bowl win.  With a win, Duke would likely once again place in the final top 25 at the end of the season.  It'll be a tall order for the underdog David Cutliffe led Blue Devils and it will be a fun game to watch unfold.  Kickoff is at 2:00 and look for our preview coming later this week.  Blue Devil Nation will take in the game as well where Patrick Cacchio will be their live for all the happenings.

Wallace Wade Improvements

One could not help but notice when walking to a Duke Men's Basketball game the changes occurring at Wallace Wade Stadium.  The field is indeed being lowered and the crews are working around the clock to makes sure the first phase stays on schedule.  There are many fans who waited a good long time for a facelift to happen.  While I miss walking or running around the track already thinking back on Duke Football ghosts past, I look more forward to new memories.  The football program has plenty of momentum and the dedication needed from the Duke Administration to compete at a high level now.  The future looks bright for Cutcliffe and his program and it's good to know that the coach has found his home.

A Dose of Reality

In the last two wins over Elon and UConn, the Blue Devils at times looked vulnerable.  Coach Mike Krzyzewski pointed to this post Elon win and provided a myriad of possible reasons.  Duke is flying high right now at 10-0 but the coming ACC slate is a beast this season.  With the way this team started the season, they looked as if they were at the top of their game.  But there are plenty of more lessons to be learned from a group which starts three freshman.  Those lessons will become more clear to us as the games come more frequently on the schedule past the final holiday break.  For the record, most of the team has gone home to their families, so it's a good thing Duke has two non conference games to shake off the rust upon their return.

Figuring Out Scheduling

The always nice Holiday Invitational kicks off this coming Friday in Raleigh where Duke prospects Brandon Ingram, Dennis Smith Jr. take center stage.  Unfortunately, the Duke Bowl game takes place the same Saturday.  Duke takes on Toledo at home on the final day of the event and the women's team takes on UConn the same evening.  That schedule makes it tough on local Duke fans who want to watch possible future hoopsters compete.

No. 2 Duke Defeats UConn

Clemson v DukeEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Freshman point guard Tyus Jones scored 21 points, Justise Winslow hit two key baskets late in the game and No. 2 Duke beat defending national champion Connecticut 66-56 on Thursday night.

Winslow and Jahlil Okafor -- the other two members of the Blue Devils' trio of talented freshmen -- added 12 points apiece. Ahead 30-25 at the break, Duke (10-0) got off to a slow start in the second half and UConn (4-4) tied it.

Amile Jefferson added 11 points and 13 rebounds for Duke in a game that had the feel and intensity of a NCAA tournament contest.

Ryan Boatright had 22 points to lead the Huskies. Kentan Facey added 14 points and Daniel Hamilton had 10.

Duke has won all 10 of its games by at least 10 points, but this one was a lot closer being played in the Izod Center in the Meadowlands sports complex before a near sellout, pro-Huskies crowd.

The Blue Devils led by five at the half despite turning the ball over 12 times, but it was obvious Coach K was not happy. After Duke missed the opening shot of the second half, Connecticut got an easy basket.

That didn't turn the tide right away. UConn tied the game at 30 and had a chance to take the lead but Boatright missed the second of two free throws.

It was all Duke after that. The Blue Devils went on a 15-2 spurt with Winslow putting in a rebound and Jones hitting a layup for the first four points.

Connecticut made a couple of runs. It drew within 53-45 on one of Boatright's three second-half 3-pointers, but Okafor hit two free throws.

Consecutive rebound follows by Facey got UConn within 57-51 with 3:48 to play, but Winslow hit a 3-pointer off a Jones feed and Jones added two free throws to push the lead to 62-51.

Connecticut's last chance came when Boatright hit another 3-pointer to close to gap to 62-56 with 2:00 to go, but Winslow followed the second of two missed free throws by Okafor with a rebound layup and Duke was never threatened.

Quinn Cook added 10 points for Duke, which did not get a point from its bench. The Blue Devils came into the game shooting almost 54 percent from the field. They were limited to 37.5 percent by Connecticut on 18 of 48 shooting. The difference was at the free throw line where Duke was 25 of 34.

Connecticut, which shot nearly 43 percent, only took 13 free throws, making seven.

UConn vs Duke By The Numbers

,,njDuke takes on the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies this Thursday evening.  Here are the significant numbers provided by Duke Sports Information.

Opening Tip

• Duke (9-0) travels to East Rutherford, N.J., to face Connecticut (4-3) at the Izod Center Thursday, Dec. 18. Tipoff is set for 8:00 p.m. with ESPN televising the contest.

• Duke enters the game ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Blue Devils are 115-18 when ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll. Connecticut is unranked in both polls.

• Duke has won 27 straight games in the month of December dating back to a Dec. 2, 2009 loss at Wisconsin.

• The Blue Devils have shot 50 percent or better from the field seven times this season and are second in the NCAA in field goal percentage (.537).

• Duke is looking to open the season with 10 straight wins for the 19th time in school history and the 14th time under Coach K.

• Duke is 20-1 all-time at the Izod Center (formerly the Meadowlands), including a 10-0 mark in NCAA Tournament play.

The Last Time Out

• Jahlil Okafor turned in a dominating performance, leading Duke to a 75-62 win over Elon Monday. He posted 25 points and 20 rebounds to become the sixth player at Duke to register a 20-20 game.

• Okafor set a Duke freshman record with 20 rebounds and matched the single-game freshman offensive rebound (10) mark in the win.

• Amile Jefferson (13), Justise Winslow (12) and Rasheed Sulaimon (11) also scored in double figures for the Blue Devils.

• Duke shot 65.0 percent (26-of-40) from inside the three-point arc against the Phoenix. Okafor (10-of-14) and Jefferson (6-of-7) combined to shoot 76.2 percent (16-of-21) from the field.

By the numbers

• Duke has won 13 consecutive games at the Izod Center (formerly the Meadowlands), including a 79-78 win over Connecticut March 24, 1990. Christian Laettner hit a 17-footer at the buzzer to advance the Blue Devils to the Final Four.

• The Blue Devils are one of nine remaining undefeated teams in the NCAA. Duke and Kentucky are the only teams in that group to win each game by 10 or more points.

• Duke has won each of the first nine games by 10 or more points, marking the first time since the 2002-03 season it has accomplished that feat. The Blue Devils have never opened a season with 10 straight double figure victories.

• The Blue Devils have trailed for just 4:54 through the first nine games of the season. Duke’s largest deficit this season has been four points.

• Freshmen Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow have started all nine games for the Blue Devils. Mike Krzyzewski has started three or more freshmen in a game 44 times at Duke, including 27 times during the 1982-83 season.

• Duke’s top-rated freshman class - Grayson Allen, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow - combines to average 45.2 points per game while shooting an efficient 54.2 percent (143-of-264) from the field. The group has accounted for 20 of Duke’s 37 double figure scoring games.

• Quinn Cook has made at least one three-point field goal in each of the past 19 games. He is shooting 42.2 percent (46-of-109) from behind the arc in that stretch. Cook leads the ACC in three-point field goals (2.67 3pg.) this season.

• Duke’s starting frontcourt of Jahlil Okafor and Amile Jefferson combines to average 27.3 points and 16.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 67.3 percent (107-of-159) from the field.

• Jahlil Okafor, a three-time ACC Freshman of the Week selection, leads the ACC in field goal percentage (.655), while also ranking among the league leaders in scoring (2nd - 18.0 ppg.), rebounds (T-5th - 9.0 rpg.), offensive rebounds (1st - 4.2 orpg.) and blocks (T-8th - 1.7 bpg.).

• Quinn Cook is averaging a team-high 18.0 points to go along with 3.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in neutral site contests. He is 18-of-36 (.500) from the field, including 10-of-21 (.476) from three-point range in the three games.

• In Monday’s win over Elon, Jahlil Okafor became the first Division I freshman to record 25 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks in a game since Michael Beasley in 2007. Okafor also became just the second freshman (joining Joe Smith, Maryland) in ACC history to register a 20-20 game.

• Amile Jefferson is 20-of-23 (.870) from the field over the past four games and is averaging 10.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in that span.

• Duke ranks second in the NCAA with a +26.9 scoring margin. The Blue Devils have won all nine games by double figures, including three games by 30 or more points.

• The Blue Devils have shot 50.0 percent or better from the field in the second half seven times and are shooting 55.1 percent (136-of-247) from the field in the second half of play on the year.

• Rasheed Sulaimon has scored in double figures in three straight games and is averaging 12.7 points per game in that stretch. He is 13-of-27 (.481) from the field with a 7.0:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the last three games.

• Duke is looking for its first 10-game win streak since the start of the 2012-13 season. The Blue Devils opened that campaign with 15 consecutive wins.